The Green Bay Packers open Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season by hosting the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, September 13th. The Packers swept both games against Chicago last year, but the Bears have significantly upgraded their offense for 2012 and pose more of a challenge than they did in 2011.
The Bears picked up the big play wide receiver they lacked when they acquired Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins in exchange for draft choices. Marshall had over 1200 yards last year with Miami, and he put up some big numbers in Denver in 2007 and 2008 when his quarterback was current Chicago QB Jay Cutler. The two picked up where they left off in Chicago's 41-21 opening game win over Indianapolis, as Marshall caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Another newcomer, rookie Alshon Jeffery had three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears now have some depth at wide receiver, which is bad news for the Packer secondary. Despite putting a lot of effort and draft choices into improving the defense, 49ers QB Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the Packers' 30-22 season opening loss to San Francisco. The secondary missed tackles and looked confused at times, problems that plagued the team last year. With one home loss already, the secondary will have to get it together now rather than later. One aspect of the pass defense was encouraging. With No. 1 draft pick Nick Perry at left outside linebacker, right outside linebacker Clay Matthews was able to pressure the quarterback more and picked up 2.5 sacks after getting just six all of last season.
The Bears also added some help at running back, signing former Oakland RB Michael Bush to compliment Matt Forte. The Packers gave up on alarming 186 yards rushing to the 49ers; in 2011 they allowed an average about 112 rushing yards per game. I'll be a optimist and assume that the 186 was a one time occurrence by a very good team and not the new normal for yards allowed.
The Packers' running game was nearly nonexistent against the 49ers, with only 45 net yards on the ground. I didn't expect much against last year's top rushing defense, but if the Packers are to establish any sort of respected running game, they'll have to achieve some success against the better defenses. It will be interesting to see how former Bears RB Cedric Benson does against his old team. James Starks' turf toe is still bothering him, but Alex Green is available to back up Benson and I'm looking forward to seeing him in action.
As usual, the bulk of the Packers' offense will be via the passing game. Wide receiver Greg Jennings is bothered by a groin injury and will see limited, if any, action. The Packers have a lot of depth at the position and Jennings' absence will be adequately covered by the other receivers. This could mean more playing time for Donald Driver, who saw little action against San Francisco. I think we'll see Driver primarily in short yardage situations. Randall Cobb had success operating out of the backfield; if Jennings is out, I'd expect to see Cobb also line up at wide receiver with Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Tight end Jermichael Finley had seven catches against San Francisco and figures to again be one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets.
While it seems too early in the season to label this as a "must win" game for Green Bay, an 0-2 start would put the Packers in a big hole in the very competitive NFC North. The Packers need to approach this game with a sense of urgency.
A Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Mark Hudziak has been a fan of the Green Bay Packers since the Vince Lombardi era.