CHICAGO – A team captain in his first official start as a member of the Packers’ roster, Za’Darius Smith delivered a simple rallying cry to the defense prior to Thursday night’s regular-season opener with the Chicago Bears.
“Let’s shock the world on three,” said Smith as he broke the huddle. “Shock the world on me.”
And they did.
Behind its three biggest offseason acquisitions – Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos – the Packers’ new-look defense put together a near-flawless performance in a suffocating 10-3 win over the Bears at Soldier Field in the kickoff to the NFL’s 100th season.
Green Bay sacked Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky five times – 2½ of which came courtesy of the Smiths – with nine passes defensed, including Amos’ interception in the Packers’ end zone with 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining.
The Bears were forced to punt nine times and turned the ball over on downs twice in the second half, including on their final offensive play when Preston Smith sacked Trubisky on fourth-and-8 from Chicago’s 16-yard line to seal the win.
“I keep harping on it, man. If we all do our job and come together as one, we’re going to be dominant,” said Za’Darius Smith, who had three tackles, three quarterback hits and a sack in Chicago. “It doesn’t matter who it is – Amos, ‘P,’ 23 (Jaire Alexander), 50 (Blake Martinez) – we’re all going to come together and play as one.”
The Packers permitted the Bears only 254 total yards of offense and held them to 3-of-15 on third downs. Despite playing the entire game with only one inside linebacker (Martinez), the Packers still held Chicago to only 46 rushing yards on 15 carries.
The only points Green Bay’s defense conceded came after Chicago started from the Packers’ 36-yard line in the first quarter. The Bears picked up 16 more yards for the Eddie Pineiro 38-yard field goal.
Other than that, it was mostly tough sledding for Chicago, which went three-and-out on three consecutive series between the second and third quarters. Due to penalties, the Bears even were forced to face a first-and-40 situation in the fourth quarter.
The defense’s success on third downs was perhaps the biggest highlight for Green Bay Thursday night, considering it’s been a major point of emphasis going into its second year under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Pettine threw an array of different looks at Trubisky, opening the game in 3-3-5 base and nickel looks that rotated hybrid safety Raven Greene and cornerbacks Kevin King and Tony Brown depending on the situation.
Pettine also mixed up how he deployed the Smiths, rotating them around the defensive front on third downs and frequently having them run stunts together out of the dime package. The two combined for six of the defense’s nine hits of Trubisky.
“I think we made a lot of people aware of what this defense can be tonight,” said Preston Smith, who finished with five tackles, three quarterback this and 1½ sacks. “I think we woke a lot of people up. A lot of people didn’t believe in us. They had us ranked low, but we don’t care about none of the outside noise. We’re going to worry about what we control – and that’s going out there and that’s playing hard defense, and helping win games.”
By shutting down the run early and applying consistent pressure to Trubisky, the Packers’ secondary was able to play aggressive against Chicago’s receiving corps.
Even when the Bears managed to build a little momentum, the Packers always seemed to have a counterpunch. With Chicago threatening midway through the third quarter, cornerback Tramon Williams made a heads-up play in pushing receiver Allen Robinson out of bounds to break up a pass that would’ve put the Bears inside the Packers’ 10-yard line.
In the fourth quarter, on the Bears’ longest drive of the night, Williams forced Trubisky to overthrow Robinson, which led to Amos’ end-zone interception.
“We know what we’re capable of; we just didn’t know how it would go,” Williams said. “We had to come out and play. These first four games of the year, it becomes your identity. You try to identify who you are those first four weeks. Week 1 was a success.”
The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears kicked off the NFL's 100th season at Soldier Field.