Two Days to Kickoff: 2 Packers-Bears X-Factors

Looking beyond the obvious, here are two players who could be X-factors in this primetime showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – With a victory on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers will make some history with their 100th victory over their longtime rivals, the Chicago Bears. You know the main characters: Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Jaire Alexander for Green Bay, Roquan Smith, Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson for Chicago.

Looking beyond the obvious, here are two players who could be X-factors in this primetime showdown.

Green Bay: WR Equanimeous St. Brown

Davante Adams is slowed a bit with an ankle injury. Allen Lazard is finding his form following core-muscle surgery. Marquez Valdes-Scantling didn’t practice on Friday after suffering an Achilles injury on Thursday.

Suffice it to say, Green Bay’s receiver corps won’t be firing on all cylinders against a strong Chicago defense. That could throw St. Brown into a bigger role than usual. His playing time has come and gone, with 22 snaps during a rough outing vs. Minnesota, four the following week vs. San Francisco, 31 vs. Jacksonville and 15 last week at Indianapolis, when he took a receiver screen 23 yards.

“There’s obviously been flashes since I’ve taken over the room, from training camp until now,” receivers coach Jason Vrable said last week. “He’s a really big target and he’s fast. He’s not just a big guy with a big body. He is fast. As the knee has been getting better and better each week, I think if you watch the tape from last week (against Jacksonville), it was his best blocking and best route-running game. He had two or three routes where he actually did a better job working releases and he was really open on the plays. The ball didn’t go to him but I texted him when I watched the tape and I said, ‘Hey, man, this is the standard, the level we need you to play at if we want our group to get where we need to be.’ He kind of gave me the thumbs up and said I agree with you. I think he’s just getting better as the knee is healing up and I’m excited about him going forward.”

Chicago’s pass defense is strong, ranking seventh in yards per attempt and second in completion percentage.

Chicago: WR Darnell Mooney

In a loaded receiver class, Mooney was lost in the background. Perhaps that’s because he played at Tulane. Perhaps it was because he didn’t put up monster stats; his best season came as a junior in 2018, when he caught 48 passes for 993 yards and eight touchdowns.

At the Scouting Combine, Mooney measured 5-foot-10 and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. Chicago selected him in the fifth round at No. 173 overall, two picks before Green Bay grabbed linebacker Kamal Martin. He was the 25th receiver off the board.

The Bears might have found a gem. Among all rookies, Mooney is seventh with 33 receptions and 351 yards. He has not dropped any passes. With speed and reliability, Mooney has played at least 60 percent of the snaps in each of his last nine games, including at least 81 percent in the last four. So, while Allen Robinson is Chicago’s star receiver and go-to player, Mooney has turned himself into a big factor. While he’s caught only 3-of-16 deep passes, that speed makes him a potential game-changer who the Packers must be aware of at all times.

“I've been able to be a playmaker for us,” Mooney said recently. “Not as much as I've wanted to, but we have a lot more games left, a lot of big games, as well, a lot of division games coming up. And we have to win those as well as the non-division games. Hopefully, I can continue to be more of a playmaker and make sure that we get the Dub.”

Countdown to Kickoff

Five Days: Five Keys to the Game

Four Days: Four Insider Views on the Bears

Three Days: Three Reasons to Worry

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