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Same players, new assignments for Packers in rematch with Bears

Mitch Trubisky, David Montgomery have Chicago’s offense looking different

Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky and RB David Montgomery
Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky and RB David Montgomery

GREEN BAY – The Packers faced Mitch Trubisky and David Montgomery in Week 1. Sort of.

It's almost as though Green Bay will be defending altered players on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Bears' quarterback and top running back are playing very differently now compared to early September when the NFC North rivals met for the first time.

With Trubisky, it's about the third-year QB's legs. In the first two years of his career, Trubisky never hesitated to take off running when the pocket or play broke down. When Matt Nagy took over as Chicago's head coach last year, designed read-option runs became more frequent as well.

So much so that over the 2017-18 seasons, Trubisky had at least 20 rushing yards in 13 games, and at least 40 rushing yards eight of those times, including four straight contests last year. Trubisky racked up 232 rushing yards from Games 4-7 for the Bears in 2018.

This year? Trubisky didn't hit 20 rushing yards in a game once, until last week, when suddenly the running version of the QB returned to post 63 yards on the ground in a big victory over Dallas. It's the second-highest total in a single game in his career and accounts for almost half of the 143 rushing yards he's compiled in 2019.

Don't think the Packers didn't notice the change.

"He's a guy who can make plays with his feet," said outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had 1½ sacks of Trubisky in the opener. "We know we have to contain him and keep him from being able to scramble and get big runs out of broken plays, and make plays when there's no play to be made for his team."

Head Coach Matt LaFleur has used the word "disciplined" several times at the podium this week. With Trubisky, it applies to both defending the run and rushing the passer.

The Packers have to carry out their assignments with the read-option and not sell out to stop the running back, because he might not get the ball. They also have to keep integrity to their rush lanes when Trubisky drops back and not give him easy openings to escape.

"We have to keep him in the pocket more now, … make sure he can't use his feet effectively," inside linebacker Blake Martinez said. "That's our main assignment now."

The increased use of the read-option could be a product of Montgomery, the rookie running back, getting more comfortable in the offense and as the No. 1 back.

In the opener, the Bears used veteran Mike Davis and Montgomery equally, but Montgomery is definitely the guy now. Scat back Tarik Cohen is still employed as a change-up, but it's a given Montgomery will get more than the six carries he received against the Packers in the first meeting. He might have that many by the end of the first quarter.

The rookie third-round pick from Iowa State, who was actually the Bears' first draft pick last spring because they didn't have a selection in the first two rounds, only has one 100-yard rushing game to his credit so far. But his 86 yards last week vs. Dallas are his second-highest total, with the 20 carries third most.

"That's very common," Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said of skill-position players seeing their responsibilities grow significantly as their rookie years progress. "He's certainly one who sticks out to us. He's playing well."

At 5-10 and 222 pounds, Montgomery possesses plenty of power. He hasn't been used a ton as a pass catcher (23 receptions, 173 yards), but he did have his first career receiving TD on Thanksgiving at Detroit.

"We were really impressed with him coming out of the draft," LaFleur said. "Big, he's a physical back, and from what I've seen from him he's running that way. I think he's a versatile guy, as well. So, we've got to have to have a good plan for him this Sunday."

For two runners, playing different positions, and potentially run-happy QB like Trubisky is something the Packers haven't really had to deal with all season.

Nagy said "for whatever reason" Trubisky wasn't running with the ball as much this year previously, but the second-year head coach certainly has opponents thinking more about his QB's running ability as the Bears try to make a late run for a playoff spot.

"His legs are a weapon and any defensive coordinator will tell you, when you have to defend a quarterback's legs, it just adds another element to where he's at on any down and distance," he said. "That's a good thing for us."

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