Here are a few things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:
How the game is called offensively: Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer maintain the club won’t change the way they’ll call a game with Josh McCown as the quarterback. But Kromer admitted there could be a few subtle changes because of McCown’s involvement in putting together the game plan for Green Bay.
Kromer also said that a strong running game is every quarterback’s best friend, which means the Packers can expect to see a heavy dose of Matt Forte.
"Last week, we continued on the game plan that we had (with Jay Cutler at quarterback), and Josh handled it very well,” Kromer said. "When you have a week to plan, you’re going to have a few things that Josh might like better than Jay, and usually they like it because they feel like they’ll have success, they’re confident before the ball is snapped that something good is going to happen, and that’s important in a quarterback’s mind, and in an offensive line. So we let Josh help us in ways like we let Jay help us in ways (by asking) ‘What do you like best? What are you going to take the snap from center and feel like you’re going to have success with?'"
How Josh McCown handles adversity: Surely, the Packers will find a way to get to McCown and pressure him, and the veteran will sometimes wind up taking sacks or throwing the ball incomplete. What’s important for him is to settle in and get into the flow of the game without making costly mistakes before that happens. So McCown needs to weather Green Bay’s initial storm so to speak, and he’s proven perfectly capable of doing that.
But McCown should know going into this game that he's going to get hit quite a bit.
“I feel like we’ve shown this year with our offensive game plans and our ability to move the ball that hopefully I feel like we’ll be prepared,” McCown said. “I feel like we’ll be ready to put our best foot forward as good as we ever have here in the past. That obviously gives you a comfort level as a quarterback going into this game.”
Special teams: With the defense continuing to struggle, it’s important for the Bears to win the field-position game with big returns and strong coverage on the punt and kickoff teams. The Packers gave up a 109-yard kickoff return against the Vikings last week, and have surrendered kickoff returns of 86, 56 and 51 yards so far this season. Chicago, meanwhile, is coming off a performance against Washington in which Devin Hester busted an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I think things started to get more consistent towards the Washington game. We still have a lot work left to do,” Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “But I thought overall both the coverage game and the return game were more consistent as we went. Really when you look at it, there are three plays that you’d like to have back, and there were several plays that they made. We just need to make sure we’ve got a lot more positives than negatives in the second half (of the season). These guys have worked, and I think we’ll do that.”
The rookie linebackers: The coaching staff gave the responsibility of play calling to veteran James Anderson, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said rookie Jonathan Bostic will also play a role in getting the defense set. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Packers look for ways to keep Chicago in its base defense in an attempt to match up against Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene as much as possible.
“We’re really not worried about inexperience. It’s next man up,” Tucker said. “Guys have a role to play. Guys know what’s expected. It’s our job to get them ready to play. I feel good about what we’ve done so far in preparation. We’re not worried about experience or inexperience.”
Although there’s no trepidation on the coaching staff’s part, the reality is Bostic and Greene are rookies, and prone to the mistakes that come with inexperience.
The safeties: Trestman and Tucker gave safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte votes of confidence last week, but how the duo plays Monday night should go a long way toward determining Chicago’s success against the Packers.
Quarterbacks have completed 68.8 percent of their throws directed at Conte in coverage, and 77.8 attempts against Wright for a passer rating of 135.2. Obviously, the duo faces one of the league’s best in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, but the duo must also do its part in run support against Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Lacy currently ranks No. 1 among all rookies this season in rushing yards (446).
“Major and Chris Conte are playing well,” McCarthy said. “I think they’re going through what we’re going through a little bit with some injuries to their front seven, but they still do a great job of taking that football away, and once they do, they know what to do with it; dangerous defense.”