After losing out in the Khalil Mack sweepstakes and feeling the pain in two games against Mack last season, the Packers responded by signing linebackers Za’Darius Smith (four years, $66 million) and Preston Smith (four-years, $52 million) in free agency. They not only are getting their money’s worth from both players, but still have their first-round draft picks. That’s why the Packers are the Packers.
The “Smith Brothers” got off to a hot start against the Bears — Preston had 1 1/2 sacks and Za’Darius had one in a 10-3 victory at Soldier Field on opening night. And they’ve kept on going.
Za’Darius Smith, who had 8 1/2 sacks with the Ravens last season, already has 10 sacks, 29 quarterback hits and 73 pressures this season. Preston Smith, who had four sacks in 16 games with the Redskins last season, has 11 1/2 sacks and 22 quarterback hits this season.
Bears tackles Cornelius Lucas and Charles Leno will have their hands full with the Smith Brothers. But based on recent performance, they’re in better shape to do so. The Bears’ line has improved steadily in the second half of the season, with Lucas playing well in two starts against the Lions and Cowboys as a replacement for injured starter Bobby Massie.
The Bears have momentum going in, but playing at Lambeau Field, where communication can be problematic, will be a challenge.
The Bears’ offense still ranks 30th in yards per play, 30th in rushing yards per attempt, 27th in passing yards per attempt and 26th in points. But Mitch Trubisky & Co. have shown marked improvement in victories over the Lions and Cowboys in their past two games. They scored 24 points and averaged 6.8 yards per play against the Lions and 31 points and 5.7 yards per play against the Cowboys.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Trubisky is coming off back-to-back games with 100-plus passer ratings — the first time that’s happened this year. And he especially looked like a quarterback against the Cowboys’ eighth-ranked defense on Dec. 5. Trubisky completed 23-of-31 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for a 115.5 rating. He also rushed for a season-high 63 yards on 10 carries, including a 23-yard touchdowns.
“Much needed,” Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said of Trubisky’s running production. “I think that for his own mental well-being and our general productivity, we have to get that going. We’re going to need that element [against the Packers] as well. [It’s a] very positive sign.”
Aaron Rodgers is 9-1 against the Bears at Lambeau Field and willed the Packers to victory in the second half last season to spoil an otherwise glorious opener for Matt Nagy. To beat the Packers, you have to beat his indomitable will to win.