Thursday Night Football Preview: All Eyes on the Bears’ Run Game Against the Packers

The Bears’ best chance at beating the Packers on Thursday Night Football comes on the ground, via Jordan Howard and the Chicago run game.
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It appears there’s only one way the Chicago Bears can beat the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football (8:25 p.m. ET, CBS/NFLN), and that would be for the Bears to run the ball down the Packers’ throats.

Green Bay enters tonight’s contest allowing 113.7 rushing yards per game, ranking 27th in the league in rush defense. Meanwhile, the Chicago backfield is carrying the offense with the eighth-best rushing attack and third-best yards per carry mark at five yards per.

After a slow start, Jordan Howard looks to be getting back into the form that let him finish second for the rushing title last season (even though his hands out of the backfield could be more reliable). And rookie Tarik Cohen has cooled from his opening-day showing but still provides a refreshing boost to the offense to spell Howard. Couple that with the return of guard Kyle Long, who missed 10 months as he recovered from ankle surgery, and the Bears’ interior offensive line is paving the way for the running game.

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However, if for whatever reason the run game fails, Chicago has no fallback option on offense due to its quarterback situation. Mike Glennon, the Bears’ current starter, appears to be allergic to throwing the ball past the sticks; he threw for just 101 yards last week against the Steelers in the improbable win with a plethora of dink and dunks. It’s a credit to head coach John Fox that he’s not throwing Mitch Trubisky out there just yet. Some—perhaps many—consider it stubborn: because Trubisky showed enough in the preseason, and Glennon has shown so little through three games, the rookie must take over if Chicago is to win now.

But in my estimation, Fox is smarter than that, and he’s playing the long game. Who knows if he’ll be around in 2018 to coach Trubisky, but he’s not willing to ruin the rookie for the sake of possibly stealing away a game or two. This Bears team, with no legitimate healthy wide receivers, isn’t set to win anything meaningful in 2017, and they are especially ill-equipped in this division where the NFC North crown and a wild card spot will likely again go to the Lions and Packers in some order.

Bold prediction: Aaron Rodgers won’t turn the ball over this game. Rodgers, so far, has not been the Rodgers we know when it comes to holding onto the ball. He has four turnovers through three games, including a rare pick-six against the Bengals. The Bears have created three turnovers so far this season but no interceptions. Rodgers gets it together tonight.

Impact player: Martellus Bennett. The tight end still hasn’t had a big game this season but is poised for a breakout. Bennett has just 11 catches on 21 targets to 102 yards, and so far it’s seemed like he and Rodgers have been forcing chemistry. They haven’t connected on a touchdown, and last week against the Bengals Bennett averaged 4 yards per catch. Outside of Austin Hooper’s big Week 1 day against Chicago, the Bears have held the other tight ends they’ve faced in check so far this season.

Score prediction: Packers 27–14