The last time the Bears beat the Packers twice in the regular season was during the 2007 season. Brian Griese was the quarterback for one of the wins, three months later, Kyle Orton pulled it off; both times Brett Favre was still gunslingin' in Green Bay (and Aaron Rodgers was in Year 3 of learning by watching).
The Bears finished 7-9 that year while the Packers went 13-3. And in the nine-plus seasons since, Chicago is 4-15 against its NFC North rival and has had three winning seasons and a lone playoff appearance. Green Bay has had just one losing campaign to go along with eight straight playoff appearances and a Lombardi Trophy in February 2011.
For the Packers, who finally turned to Rodgers in '08, three years after they drafted him in the first round, things got worse before they got better. The team limped to a 6-10 record in his first season After Favre (he retired in the offseason only to un-retire and play for the Jets). But that was the lone bump in the road; Rodgers immediately became one of the league's best quarterbacks, helping the Packers to double-digit win totals in seven of the next eight seasons. In that span he was a two-time NFL MVP, six-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl MVP, holds the NFL record for passer rating in a season (122.5 in 2011) and led the league with 40 touchdown passes in 2016. Exactly how good has Rodgers been? Here is where he has ranked in QB efficiency since he succeeded Favre:
- 2009: 9th
- 2010: 4th
- 2011: 2nd
- 2012: 4th
- 2013: 10th
- 2014: 2nd
- 2015: 17th
- 2016: 6th
- 2017: 15th
We mention all this because the Bears used the second-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to take quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as the next face of the franchise after phasing out veteran Jay Cutler, who was released in March. And like the Packers a dozen years ago, the Bears aren't in any hurry to get Trubisky on the field, even though the alternatives include Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez. This development doesn't sit well with a lot of people -- both tormented Bears fans and critics who are of the opinion that the best way for a young quarterback to learn is by playing. Rodgers, who didn't start a game in his first three seasons and threw just 35 completions in that time, is firmly of the opinion that sitting on the bench can be a good thing.
"There's a lot of growth that can happen sitting on the bench," he said this week. "You can really gain in confidence every single day of practice. You can come along at your own speed. You're obviously not dealing with the pressure every week of having to perform, which is a real thing. You come along and learn the league, learn how to be a professional and learn how to take care of your body.
"You're taking some chances on the (scout team). Knowing how to fit balls in spots or use your eyes for some major eye-control stuff and some look-off plays. Just working on things every single day."
There's also no pressure to win games -- and wins have been damn-near impossible to come by in Chicago -- and instead improvements can take place at a pace unaffected by artificial, unreasonable and public expectations.
"Work on my fundamentals," Rodgers continued, explaining that his focus was on throwing completions in practice. "Work on my footwork; try and get my timing down. Try and put some of the plays that we were running of the other team's into our language, so you start to work on timing up drops with the receiver routes. And just going through your progressions. Putting together some of the fronts with the shell and the coverage and the pressures. Just trying to treat those like really important reps every day."
Even after the Bears were outscored 52-24 in their first two games -- both losses -- and with Glennon attempting just 22 passes in Sunday's overtime win over the Steelers, their are no plans to rush Trubisky onto the field. Coach John Fox made that clear a week ago and didn't change his mind in the days leading up to Thursday's showdown with the Packers.
"I think that would probably be a fairly proper assessment," he told reporters on the prospects that Glennon remains the starter. So for now, Glennon maintains his tenuous hold on the job. Not so much because he's earned it, but because there's no reason to throw Trubisky out there before he's ready. Barring a miracle, the Bears aren't a playoff team and Glennon, while not the long-term answer, can do the job for 13 more games.
Put another way: It was good enough for Rodgers.
The plan appears to be working
There was never a question about the Packers' offense; as long as Rodgers is on the field, relatively speaking, everything will be fine. The same couldn't be said for the defense. Before looking ahead let's look back nine months. When the Packers' season came to its inglorious end on the Georgia Dome turf in the NFC Championship Game, Damarious Randall and Ladarius Gunter had played virtually every snap at cornerback. Randall, the team's 2015 first-round pick, and Gunter, a 2015 undrafted free agent, had been forced into extensive duties because of injuries. And while the hope is that their trial-by-fire experiences will serve them well going forward, both were routinely exposed down the stretch last season.
Among all NFL cornerbacks, Gunter ranked 97th and Randall ranked 108th, according to Pro Football Focus. Against the Falcons, the Packers allowed Matt Ryan to throw for 392 yards and four touchdowns, and didn't register a sack.
So it wasn't surprising that Green Bay targeted physical defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones with its two second-round picks. King is currently the Packers' highest-rated cornerback (79th among all CBs, according to PFF) and Jones is the No. 11 ranked safety in the NFL, two spots ahead of teammate Morgan Burnett. There's still work to be done; through three games, the unit ranks 19th in defense (20th against the pass, 22nd against the run) which is a slight improvement on how they ended 2016 (20th overall, 23rd against the pass and 14th against the run).
But we've seen glimpses that King and Jones can be special. Last Sunday, Jones had two sacks and 12 tackles (two for loss), including this huge takedown in overtime. With the Bengals facing a 3rd and 6, Jones' held Tyler Kroft to one yard with this open-field tackle.
Jones starts in the middle, picks up Kroft out of backfield, falls back in perfect coverage & makes a nice tackle. #Packers #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/c5h8XICI8R— Dusty All 22 (@All22Talk) September 26, 2017
One drive later, the Packers kicked the game-winning field goal.
King, meanwhile, was tasked with trying to cover A.J. Green. In the matchup Green was targeted seven times and caught four passes for 59 yard. For the day, Green had 10 catches for 111 yards though he didn't find the end zone.
"I think I did well. I think I did well," King said of covering Green. "Like every game we just want to improve. It's a quick turnaround on Thursday. Good plays, bad plays, you've got to move on to the next."
There will be considerably less for the Packers' pass defense to do against the Bears, an outfit that features a 28th-ranked passing offense.
Bears have set the passing game back 100 years
And that may be by design. During his five-year career that spans 24 appearances, Glennon has completed just 60.5 percent of his throws. That coupled with the loss of young wideouts Kevin White and Cameron Meredith is a reality that doesn't lend itself to a lot of looks down the field. Also making the decision easier for offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: Running back Jordan Howard picking up where he left off last season and the emergence of Tarik Cohen.
Bears RB Jordan Howard presses cutback, becomes owner of Steelers CB Artie Burns' (25) ankles. Lures Burns outside, cuts in.18-yd run in OT. pic.twitter.com/bcTOaKp08R— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) September 25, 2017
A couple things: That's Steelers cornerback Artie Burns (No. 25) getting roasted there. And Howard had 23 carries for 138 yards on the day. The Bears ran outside-zone schemes all game and the Steelers had no answers -- not in the first half, not in the second half and certainly not in overtime. But Howard wasn't alone. Here's Cohen abusing 11 Steelers on the way to the end zone for the game-winner:
Tarik Cohen touchdown! He never stepped out! pic.twitter.com/p8yvxgbsj7— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 24, 2017
These two will be the Bears' best chance to score points. By the way: Cohen's 20 receptions are twice as many as the next closest wide receiver, Kendall Wright.
None of this has escaped the Packers.
"I think they're an excellent combination when you look at running backs," coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "I think when you want to feature a runner to have a complement is frankly a lot of fun as an offensive coordinator. When you have the ability to put different running styles on the field to attack a defense, I think it's definitely a benefit to the offense."
More Josh Jones love:
GB S Josh Jones had 8 stops. It was just the 12th time in 12 years a S had 8+ in a game. List includes Barber, Berry, and Polamalu— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) September 27, 2017
More Jordan Howard love:
Jordan Howard had 11 players miss tackles on his carries. Only 16 times in the last 12 years a runner had 11+. Marshawn Lynch has 6 of 16— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) September 26, 2017
It's been lost in the conversations about Howard and Cohen, but the Bears' secondary was stout last week. Yes, Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 110 yards but that was it. No other wideout had more than two receptions. A big part of that? Marcus Cooper:
It was a mistake for the Steelers to go after Marcus Cooper in coverage today pic.twitter.com/1OLeI6nA0v— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 24, 2017
Protests to continue
Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday that the team would ask fans at Lambeau Field to join them linking arms during the national anthem as a show of unity. Here's the official statement released by the team.
"The NFL family is one of the most diverse communities in the world. Just look around! The eclectic group of players that you root for, the coaches you admire, the people you sit next to in the stands, those high-fiving on military bases, fans at the sports bar or during tailgate parties—we all come from different walks of life and have unique backgrounds and stories.
"The game of football brings people together. As NFL players, we are a living testimony that individuals from different backgrounds and with different life experiences can work together toward a common goal.
"This Thursday during the national anthem at Lambeau Field, Packers players, coaches and staff will join together with arms intertwined—connected like the threads on your favorite jersey. When we take this action, what you will see will be so much more than just a bunch of football players locking arms. The image you will see on September 28th will be one of unity. It will represent a coming together of players who want the same things that all of us do—freedom, equality, tolerance, understanding, and justice for those who have been unjustly treated, discriminated against or otherwise treated unfairly. You will see the sons of police officers, kids who grew up in military families, people who have themselves experienced injustice and discrimination firsthand, and an array of others all linking together in a display of unity.
"Those of us joining arms on Thursday will be different in so many ways, but one thing that binds us together is that we are all individuals who want to help make our society, our country and our world a better place. We believe that in diversity there can be UNI-versity. Intertwined, we represent the many people who helped build this country, and we are joining together to show that we are ready to continue to build.
"Let's work together to build a society that is more fair and just.
"Join us this Thursday by locking arms with whoever you're with, stranger or loved one, wherever you are—intertwined and included—in this moment of unification."
- The Packers Players
They said it...
"On this team, we're going to keep choosing love over hate, unity over division, and that's what it was to us. In talking last night and this morning, the few of us who linked arms just wanted to show a united front." -- Aaron Rodgers, after Sunday's win over the Bengals "We appreciate the troops. We appreciate every policeman who goes out and risks their lives for us. But we also appreciate our fans and the people that lose their lives. For one person to call shame on multiple people, to say we should lose our jobs because we care, it's just not right." -- Jordan Howard, after Sunday's win over the Steelers.
Who ya got?
All seven CBSSports.com experts think the Packers will beat the Bears, and six experts expect them to do it by more than seven points.
"The Packers won a close one last week in overtime, while the Bears upset the Steelers. This will be a lot tougher for the Bears. The Packers have been banged up, but some of those players are expected back. Aaron Rodgers has a big day." -- CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco, who has the Packers winning, 31-14.