The Packers' defense made their mark in the preseason with an NFL-best 13 takeaways, and they will look to carry that trend over to the regular-season opener vs. Chicago against a team that is one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers themselves.
During Mike McCarthy's three seasons as head coach, that turnover ratio has proved to be a crucial component of the Packers' games against Chicago. The Bears have won four of the last six contests between the teams, and in those four wins have a plus-eight takeaway ratio. In Green Bay's two victories it holds a plus-five edge in takeaways.
"You have to take care of the football, you have to be smart with the football," McCarthy said. "No different. We've had some big games against them when we took the balls away from them. We have to do the same this week."
The biggest game during McCarthy's tenure came in the 2006 season finale, when the Packers posted six takeaways at Chicago to the Bears' one in Green Bay's 26-7 win over the eventual NFC champions. Two of those turnovers went for scores with safety Nick Collins and cornerback Patrick Dendy each returning interceptions for touchdowns.
The flip side of that came in 2007 at Green Bay, when the Bears forced five Green Bay turnovers, three of them fumbles, in Chicago's 27-20 win at Lambeau Field in the teams' last matchup on Sunday Night Football.
"It's on your mind every time you play Chicago," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw four touchdowns to two interceptions against the Bears last season. "We played them two years ago and we were really moving the ball well at home, and then we had a couple of fumbles that kind of gave them the momentum back.
"We played them well at home last year and took care of the ball except for my one ill-advised interception and scored 37 points on them. They thrive on turnovers. They get a lot of guys around the ball. (Charles) Tillman and (Nathan) Vasher and (Lance) Briggs like to slap the ball out, and Alex Brown is very opportunistic up front."
The Packers' first-team offense didn't turn the ball over at all in the preseason, with Rodgers throwing six touchdown passes to no interceptions, as the unit looks to carry that over into the regular season. Rodgers took care of the ball for the most part in his first season as the starter in 2008, posting seven games with no interceptions and seven more with just one pick.
Since Lovie Smith took over as head coach of the Bears in 2004, Chicago has recorded the most takeaways in the NFL with 172, and is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (103) with Baltimore. The Bears' 69 opponent fumble recoveries during that time rank tied for third most in the league.
The Bears are also the only team in the NFL to record at least 30 takeaways in each of the previous four seasons (2005-08), and they enter Sunday's game at Green Bay with at least one takeaway in 25 straight contests, the longest active streak in the league.
"They do a great job taking the ball away," McCarthy said. "They play with a lot of vision. They play very well, as far as second and third reaction. Their defensive pursuit I think is a strength of their defense."
That vision is an aspect of Green Bay's new 3-4 defense that cornerback Charles Woodson pointed to as a factor in the Packers' success taking the ball away in the preseason.
"I think the way we play now, more of a zone concept playing off, you get tips and overthrows and those type of things, so those will factor into it," Woodson said. "As it was last year, always having our back to the ball and chasing receivers, you never really got those opportunities. You almost had to be perfect.
"Now, you're able to read, sit, attack, and just see the ball in the air. We've got athletes on this team. We've got guys that can run to the ball well and pluck that thing out of the air. We look forward to some big numbers this year."
Regardless of the success they had in the preseason in the turnover battle, they know the true test starts Sunday against a division rival when the games count in the standings.
"In the preseason you hold a lot of things back," Woodson said. "You run maybe 10 or 12 defenses. We have 100 and some defenses, so there will be a lot of things that we can pull from the packages we have. It will be fun to finally go out there and just give it everything we've got.
"We're ready. You ever see those horses on the race track before they open those doors? It's kind of like that. We're ready to run."
McCarthy said rookie nose tackle B.J. Raji, who sustained a sprained ankle in the preseason finale at Tennessee, did not test as well as the team had hoped on Tuesday. The team's medical staff will test Raji's injury again on Thursday.
Raji plays primarily left end, but also is expected to provide depth at nose tackle behind veteran starter Ryan Pickett. If he is unable to play Sunday, defensive end Johnny Jolly is expected to see some snaps at nose tackle. McCarthy said Jolly took reps in practice there on Monday and Wednesday.
"As long as I've got my technique and my assignment down, I'll be all right," said Jolly, who last played nose tackle in a similar scheme during his freshman season at Texas A&M. "It's not a big adjustment."
Cornerback Will Blackmon (quad), running back Brandon Jackson (ankle) and Raji did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Blackmon also returns both punts and kickoffs for the Packers, so if he is unable to play Sunday night, McCarthy said wide receiver Jordy Nelson and cornerback Tramon Williams were a few of the potential replacements. McCarthy added that cornerback Charles Woodson, who returned punts for Green Bay in 2006-07, could fill in as well.
McCarthy said Jackson was making "slow progress" from the sprained ankle he sustained two weeks ago at Arizona in the preseason. If Jackson is unable to play, DeShawn Wynn would handle the No. 2 running-back duties.
Quarterback Matt Flynn (throwing shoulder) and safety Aaron Rouse (hamstring) were full participants.
For Chicago, defensive tackle Israel Idonije (hamstring) was limited and cornerback Charles Tillman (back) participated fully.