A few words came to mind for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers when he learned eight days before the Week 1 opener against a division rival that pass-rushing force Khalil Mack would be coming to Lambeau Field with the Chicago Bears.
“Really good player in his prime,” Rodgers said.
Green Bay admitted to going into scramble mode when the Bears swapped a fistful of draft capital to the Oakland Raiders for Mack and a 2020 second-round pick. Head coach Mike McCarthy said the offensive staff broke down game film and ramped up their work when Bears coach Matt Nagy confirmed what the opposition already suspected, that Mack will be on the field Sunday night.
“He’s a premier guy,” Bulaga said. “You gotta be ready to play. You gotta be ready to go. Study tape and making sure you’re comfortable with their defensive scheme and try to execute.”
Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, signed a contract worth $141 million, trumping the total value of the deal Rodgers received ($134 million) days before and eclipsing a pact defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($135 million) signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Mack has drawn a strong endorsement from his new teammates. Defensive end Akiem Hicks said of Mack facing the Packers’ maligned offensive line: “I know those five guys can’t block Khalil Mack. ... I think the question every team is going to ask is, how do you block Khalil Mack?”
Of Bulaga, who is coming back from an ACL tear in November, Hicks said, “I don’t think he had a chance to block Khalil Mack in the first place.”
The Packers are hoping the age-old recipe for slowing down a pass rusher — run right at him — is a good place to start.
Green Bay is using a committee at running back, with Jamaal Williams projected as the closest thing McCarthy has to a featured back and Ty Montgomery playing on third downs. Aaron Jones is suspended until Week 3 after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
McCarthy said he’ll count on experience on the offensive line, which features four tested veterans, and veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis to help hold down Mack and Vic Fangio’s ever-aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Green Bay’s own defense is remodeled with coordinator Mike Pettine. New faces include a young group of defensive backs led by preseason standout Josh Jackson and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The former All-Pro had his best seasons in the NFL when Pettine, the former Browns head coach, was defensive coordinator of the Jets.
The Bears are also banking on young blood.
First-round pick Roquan Smith might be limited after a protracted contract holdout, but second-round wide receiver Anthony Miller has already carved out a niche in Nagy’s offense. Along with free agent tight end Trey Burton, signed away from the Philadelphia Eagles, and speed receiver Taylor Gabriel, the Bears have several threats for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to lean on this season.
With heavy focus on where Trubisky might throw the ball, Nagy and running back Jordan Howard continue to stress the running game. Run-pass option looks are designed to put the ball in Howard’s hands moving downhill, and the Packers allowed 112.1 rushing yards per game in 2017.
“The running game will be great,” Howard said. “It’s been great the past few years, but this pass game will make the (running game) go even higher.”
The Packers went 7-9 last season, largely without the injured Rodgers, with two wins against the Bears. Chicago is 1-8 in the past nine meetings.
—Field Level Media