GREEN BAY, Wis. – Everyone knows the big names for Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. For Green Bay, that includes Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones. For Chicago, it’s Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson.
Looking beyond the obvious, here are two X-factors, one on offense and one on defense, for the Packers.
Offense: G Royce Newman
The spotlight matchup has Green Bay’s offensive tackles facing outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Mack and Quinn have combined for 9.5 sacks as Chicago has posted a league-leading 18. That’s where the pressure starts but it’s not where it ends.
“It starts everywhere,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “They’ve got players on all three levels. Those edge rushers are as good as they get and I think they’re really playing at a high level. I think interiorally, (Bilal) Nichols, (Akiem) Hicks, (Eddie) Goldman, all those guys are just so disruptive.”
Newman, the team’s rookie right guard, has gone to the school of hard knocks in his first five professional games. He’s taken his lumps, especially early in games, but has kept his poise and gotten progressively better. It will be a big challenge this week.
Hicks, who will turn 32 next month, had 22.5 sacks and 38 tackles for losses in 48 games in 2016 through 2018 but only five sacks and nine tackles for losses in 24 games the past two-plus seasons. Goldman is a quality run stopper but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Nichols is the underrated standout; he had five sacks last season.
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Getting back the team’s All-Pro cornerback, All-Pro left tackle and Pro Bowl outside linebacker, to state the obvious, would be a huge lift to the 9-3 Packers.
A quarterback can handle edge pressure so long as there’s a pocket to step into. If Newman can’t provide that pocket against the likes of Hicks, Rodgers could face a difficult afternoon because he has not performed well under pressure this season.
“The challenge is to try to just get him off a read,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai told reporters in Chicago this week. “He's OK playing off a read because he's OK scrambling and extending plays. But at least you get him to the second or third one and you buy some time for the rush and coverage to work together.”
Defense: OLBs Preston Smith, Rashan Gary
The Bears will be without their top three running backs. In their place will be rookie Khalil Herbert and practice-squad call-ups Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce.
So, how will the Bears run the ball? LaFleur mentioned zone reads by quarterback Justin Fields. Fields’ running could be a real issue. At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he ran his 40 in 4.46 seconds at Ohio State’s pro day. Last season, he topped 100 rushing yards against Michigan State and averaged more than 10 yards per carry against Alabama. Presumably, that running ability will really come into play when the Bears get to test Green Bay’s heinous red-zone defense.
Whether it’s zone reads or scrambles, the pressure will be on the outside linebackers to keep Fields contained and let Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell do their work against Chicago’s so-so interior blockers.
“He’s such a dynamic athlete,” LaFleur said of Fields. “He can make plays in the pocket. We’re going to have to do a great job with our rush lanes in terms of not letting him get out of the pocket. And they can implement the zone read, so that’s another layer to the offense. I just think that he’s a really good young quarterback that should have a bright future in this league.”