CHICAGO – Week 1 was Matt Nagy’s first Packers-Bears game as a head coach. This will be Joe Philbin’s first.
Here’s what to watch for:
1. Big-play guy: Outside of Aaron Rodgers, no single Packers player has influenced Green Bay’s recent victories in this rivalry more than Randall Cobb. And it’s not just fourth-and-8 from the 48 in 2013 or the 75-yard scamper earlier this year, which prompted fellow receiver Davante Adams to nickname Cobb “Bear killer.” Cobb had 115 yards in a big, late-season game in 2012. The miracle finish in ’13 capped a two-touchdown day, and he had another two-score game the following year, with 113 yards. Then it was 11 catches for 95 yards and a TD in 2016 before the career-high 142 yards and game-winning score back in Week 1. Cobb has missed a handful of games this season due to a hamstring injury, but he was a full participant in practice on Thursday this week for the first time in quite a while, and the Bears are in the midst of replacing nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan, who broke his foot and is out for the season. Stay tuned.
2. Up front: The two stars of Chicago’s defensive front, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, were a two-man wrecking crew back in September, helping the Bears take a 20-0 lead before the Packers rallied. Guard Justin McCray gets another shot at Hicks, while third-year right tackle Jason Spriggs is likely responsible for Mack with Bryan Bulaga (knee) doubtful. Mack and Hicks have combined for 16 of the Bears’ 40 sacks and nine of their 19 forced fumbles. They are the toughest matchups for any offense that faces Chicago’s vaunted defense.
3. Key stat: There’s no question this game starts, and perhaps ends, with the turnover margin. Chicago has a league-leading 25 interceptions and 34 total takeaways. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has a league-low one interception and the Packers have just 10 giveaways this season with Rodgers under center. The Bears’ defense has scored six touchdowns, returning five picks and a fumble for scores. The Packers’ defense got its first TD in a calendar year last week on Bashaud Breeland’s pick-six. Whoever does better at protecting the ball and taking it away very likely wins.
4. Trickery: In the last two weeks alone, on the goal line, the Bears have run a halfback-option pass for a touchdown, and a tackle-eligible pass for a score on a play that featured QB Mitch Trubisky and 10 offensive and defensive linemen on the field. How many other tricks does Nagy have up his sleeve, and will the Packers be able to react accordingly?
5. Milestone monitor: Adams is eight catches away from his first 100-reception season, which would be the first by a Packers player since Robert Brooks in 1995. He’s also 104 yards away from 1,300, which only one other receiver has reached in the Rodgers era (Jordy Nelson did it twice). Running back Aaron Jones has a rushing touchdown in five straight games, the longest by a Packers player since Ryan Grant hit six consecutive games in 2007, and two off the franchise record set by Paul Hornung in 1960.