Are the New-Look Packers Ready for the Bears?

The 2019 season is finally here! The Packers and Bears will square off tonight looking to get the inside track on the NFC North division title. There are plenty of new faces and storylines, but none are more interesting than the changes to the Packers Offense.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but by the time Mike McCarthy was fired in 2018, the Packers’ passing game had morphed into a predictable attack that failed to force the defense to cover every inch of the field. Green Bay basically took the approach of spreading out the defense and allowing Aaron Rodgers to pick the best iso route to attack. This became less effective as the talent and experience around Rodgers slowly disappeared. The Packers’ quick passing game became easy to defend (That’ll happen when you call roughly 50 slant-flat route combos per game). Three-level stretch concepts were seldom seen. The running game was an afterthought.

We’re all anxious to see how Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Offense will look under new head coach Matt LaFleur. We anticipate more snaps under center, more route concepts that put defenders in conflict, and more play calls that work off each other.

More so, we expect to see an added emphasis on the running game (especially outside zone runs). The Packers were bottom of the league in run play percentage in 2018. That will likely change (it needs to) if the Packers want to keep Aaron Rodgers upright and get back to being a serious contender.

The good news for Green Bay is that they have the players to do this effectively. They might not have run the ball frequently in 2018, but they were effective when they did, averaging 5.0 yards per carry (2nd in the NFL) and gaining 10 or more yards on 15.6% of their running plays (also 2nd in the NFL).

On the other side of the ball, the Bears are coming off a tremendous 2018 season. After finishing as the best overall defense in football, however, this talented group will now have to adjust to new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s more aggressive tendencies. We are likely to see a little more blitzing and man coverage this season than the Bears employed under Vic Fangio a year ago.

The Bears were not a unit that needed to blitz to get consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2018, although they were still effective when they did. Aggressiveness on defense can create big plays, but it can also lead to big mistakes. It will be interesting to see how Pagano adjusts his approach to this unit, considering they didn’t allow many big plays and still were able to generate the most turnovers and 3rd most sacks in the NFL last season.

I wrote about the key things to watch when Chicago has the ball earlier this week. While there are some new faces in this matchup, the Bears and Packers are returning the same coordinators and schemes from a year ago. Last season, both sides were pretty evenly matched, which means this side of the ball will likely come down to who can execute in those critical moments – 3rd down, red zone, 4th quarter, etc.

One thing to note is that the Packers were able to keep Tarik Cohen from taking over either game with his explosive playmaking ability last season. They kept him relatively quiet in the passing game (8 rec, 47 yds, TD) primarily by handling him with zone coverage.

Cohen can and does align all over the formation. We’ve seen him align in the backfield, in the slot, on the perimeter, and even at quarterback. If the Bears aren’t able to find ways to generate mismatches for him, they at very least will be able to let him act as a coverage indicator for his quarterback. How the defense reacts to his alignment can provide a tell that should help Mitch Trubisky navigate Mike Pettine’s complex disguises.

Check out how these teams match up below based on their 2018 numbers: