Bears-Packers PreviewBy MIKE LIPKA
2012-09-12 16:55:47 -
Despite matching their regular-season loss total from all of last year with a home defeat in Week 1, the Green Bay Packers aren't about to panic.
They'd be significantly more worried if the Chicago Bears come into Lambeau Field and make them 0-2.
The Bears have a prime opportunity to make an early statement in the NFC North on Thursday night when they try to end a four-game losing streak in the NFL's oldest rivalry.
The Packers were the only team in the division to lose their opener Sunday, falling 30-22 to San Francisco in a game that exposed problems with Green Bay's defense and rushing attack. Aaron Rodgers did his best to compensate, throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had a key interception in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers, though, is the least of the Packers' concerns. New running back Cedric Benson, a former No. 4 overall draft pick by Chicago, managed just 18 yards on nine carries, while the 49ers rolled up 186 yards on the ground - 5.8 per carry - for the league's second-highest Week 1 total.
Green Bay was 15-1 in 2011 despite ranking last in the NFL in total defense, and the team's first six draft picks this year were on that side of the ball.
"We're just getting started here," veteran defensive back Charles Woodson said. "It's been a long training camp, and we're trying to figure out pieces and how we're going to run this defense going forward. I'm going to keep saying, we're going to be a good defense, trust me."
The unit should get another stiff test from Chicago. After his first three dropbacks Sunday resulted in a sack, an incompletion and an interception returned for a touchdown, Jay Cutler had the Bears humming in a 41-21 opening win over Indianapolis.
Cutler threw for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns as his favorite target quickly became Brandon Marshall, who caught nine balls for 119 yards and a score in his Bears debut. Marshall's two biggest seasons in terms of receptions and yards were in 2007 and '08, when Cutler was his quarterback in Denver.
"It was fun to watch," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "Hopefully, that's a sign of things that are going to happen all year."
Cutler is hoping his new weapon helps change his fortune against the Packers. Since arriving in Chicago, he has thrown six touchdowns and 12 interceptions in losing five of six meetings, including the home defeat in the NFC championship game two seasons ago that he left with a knee injury.
He missed the Bears' 35-21 loss at Green Bay last Christmas with a broken thumb.
Rodgers threw five TD passes in that game and finished with eight - four to Jermichael Finley - along with one interception in two wins over Chicago last year. He has won all four of his home starts against the Bears.
He may, however, have to get by without one of his top targets Thursday. Greg Jennings suffered a groin injury Sunday and his status is in doubt given the quick turnaround before the NFL's first Week 2 Thursday game in 26 years.
Then again, the Bears' defense also has a couple of major question marks. Linebacker Brian Urlacher made a quick recovery from knee surgery to play in the opener, but he was pulled early for precautionary reasons. He's listed as probable for Thursday's game.
Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman is questionable for this contest after suffering a lower right leg injury, although Bears coach Lovie Smith seemed optimistic about his prospects for playing Thursday.
"The glass is half-full, always," Smith said.
Matt Forte will definitely be on the field, and he may be the key figure if he can take advantage of the vulnerable Green Bay run defense.
The Bears' star back has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the Packers over his career, and he was held to two yards on nine carries in his last meeting with Green Bay. Like Cutler, he missed the trip to Lambeau last year due to injury, although the Bears ran for 199 yards in that contest.
Chicago also has newcomer Michael Bush, who scored twice from one yard out against the Colts. Stopping the run figures to be a primary focus for a Green Bay team trying to extend an eight-game winning streak against division opponents.
"For the most part, when (the 49ers) really needed it, they found a way to run the ball on us," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Obviously any coach from any level will tell you to win a game, you need to stop the run first."
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