GREEN BAY – The Packers know they’re facing a Bears team with a new coaching staff, new schemes and some new personnel.
They’re also planning on possibly a new Jay Cutler.
Cutler is 1-10 as Chicago quarterback against Green Bay, and the key to beating him has been intercepting him. He’s thrown 22 interceptions in those games against the Packers, an average of two per game.
Green Bay’s defense won’t be chalking up two more as automatic come Sunday at Soldier Field, not based on what they’ve seen of Cutler so far in 2015.
“You can tell on film that John Fox has been doing a great job with him,” said cornerback Casey Hayward, referring to Chicago’s new head coach. “I think they only had one turnover in the preseason.”
The Packers’ defense has long thrived on turnovers against the Bears. It was Cutler’s two second-half interceptions in the Week 4 matchup in Chicago last year that turned a back-and-forth battle into a 21-point rout.
Taking those mistakes for granted would be a mistake of its own, though, as Cutler’s arm strength always has the Packers on their toes.
“We’ve been fortunate in the past to get some balls off of him, but that’s not going to help us on Sunday,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “It’s a new game … We’re going to try to get as many balls as we can, but at the end of the day, the past doesn’t really matter. We have to do it ourselves on Sunday.”
Hyde could have an increased role in the secondary in the opener. Starting safety Morgan Burnett sat out practices on Wednesday and Thursday this week with a calf injury.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he was hoping Burnett would “make progress” on Friday, but his availability remains uncertain. He’s officially listed as questionable on the injury report.
Hyde could start in his place, which would elevate rookie Damarious Randall to the third corner in nickel. Sean Richardson would be the next option at safety.
Up front, the Packers have five defensive linemen on their roster, with Letroy Guion and Datone Jones on the suspended list. B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels and Mike Pennel are backed up by Josh Boyd and Bruce Gaston.
Don’t tell Daniels his unit is shorthanded, though.
“I don’t think we’re short,” he said. “I think we have more than enough to get done what we need to get done, and that’s play good, hard football. I completely trust the guys that we have, or else we wouldn’t have them.”
Pennel is the curiosity, as the mammoth second-year pro graduates from playing a bit part as a rookie to a potentially more extensive role in Guion’s place.
“I just want to continue to play at a starting level,” Pennel said. “I had a good preseason, a good training camp. Now I just have to try and transition that to the regular season.
“The coaching staff, they’ve had a lot of confidence in me. I worked a couple different positions. They have the confidence and so do I, so it’s time to show it on Sunday.”
Right behind the defensive line on a large number of snaps promises to be Clay Matthews, but fellow inside linebacker Sam Barrington (ankle) is questionable.
Matthews played his first game at inside linebacker last year against the Bears after the midseason bye and was the key to turning around the run defense in the second half of last season, until the struggles returned in the playoffs against Dallas’ DeMarco Murray and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch awaits in Week 2, sandwiched between two other formidable, accomplished running backs in Chicago’s Matt Forte and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles.
“I think that’s what everyone wants to see is where we’re at as far as stopping the run,” Matthews said. “We made a big turnaround last year after Week 8, but it’s a new year, a new start, so hopefully we start off the right way and resemble that defense you saw late last year.”
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