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View from Chicago: 5 things to watch for when the Bears host the Packers

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Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields will get his first taste of the rivalry with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Packers (4-1) arrive having won four straight, putting them atop the NFC North. The Bear (3-2) have won two in a row, including a 20-9 upset of the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5.

As kickoff approaches, here's our snapshot look at the game.

Chicago Bears (3-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (4-1)

1. Player in the spotlight

To the Bears' dismay, Aaron Rodgers steals the spotlight nearly every time they play the Packers.

Rodgers is 21-5, including a playoff victory, against the Bears, and one of those losses came after he left a 2013 game in the first quarter with an injury. His 105.3 passer rating against the Bears is the best of any starter who has attempted 250-plus passes against them, according to the Packers. And in two Packers victories last year, Rodgers threw eight touchdown passes and no interceptions and was sacked once.

You get the idea. So do Bears players and coaches.

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai said his unit must "mentally and physically strain" the entire game as they try to match wits with Rodgers, who can make changes on the fly when he sees a defense.

"He definitely runs the show," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. "You can see being out there on the field how he changes the offense, how he changes routes, how he changes calls, how he really just dissects the defense and really sees what you're in and once he really understands what you're in he molds the offense to beat what you're in. It's really just about changing up disguises, not giving him too much pre-snap indicators of what we're doing. So it's really just about being able to mix it up and give good disguises."

Bears players also discussed this week the importance of taking advantage of Rodgers' rare mistakes. Eddie Jackson, Kindle Vildor and Barkevious Mingo failed to secure interceptions against Rodgers in the Week 17 loss last season.

Rodgers has thrown three interceptions this season but just one in the last four games.

"When we have opportunities to make a play and help our offense out and get off the field on defense and change the game, we've got to make sure that we make those plays," Vildor said. "That's something that we're making sure that we capitalize on this year."

2. Pressing question

Can the Bears offense keep up with the Packers behind a pair of rookies?

Fields isn't the only rookie with a lot of weight to carry in his first Packers game.

Sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert, who rushed for 75 yards against the Raiders, will be needed to step up again after veteran running back Damien Williams tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Coach Matt Nagy said he doesn't expect Williams to be available for the game, and the team is still without David Montgomery, who is recovering from a sprained left knee.

Nagy liked how Herbert responded in his first extended playing time on offense Sunday, but the coach acknowledged there are challenges for an offense when it loses two key experienced players such as Montgomery and Williams.

"They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, so probably the thing we need to do as coaches is making sure we're using those strengths, whether it's a type of scheme in the run game, whether it's a protection in the pass game, just to make it a little easier," Nagy said. "You have a younger guy, like a rookie, like Khalil. You have a guy that hasn't seen as many defenses as somebody like David, whether it's the vision when you get a handoff and how you read the three-tech and whether you cut in or break outside. Or if it's a blitz, that Mike linebacker comes up in the A-gap versus coming off the D-gap. . We just have to temper with a younger guy how much volume we put on him, that he doesn't get tripped."

Leading from the second quarter on against a struggling Raiders run defense, the Bears relied heavily on their ground game in Week 5, while Fields completed 12 of 20 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

There's a good chance the Bears could need more from the passing game against the Packers.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said that while the Bears coaches wanted to do whatever they needed for the win in Las Vegas, he also looked back and wondered if they could have gotten more explosive plays.

"We feel good about some of the things that we had in the last game plan and did not use," Lazor said. "I probably regretted not using some when you looked at the stats, but the stats are secondary to winning, so we did what we thought we had to do to win. We feel good about what we've worked on on the practice field in that regard.

"We would always like to have the balance of being able to spread the field. Quicker throws, medium-range chunks, deep throws down the field in the pass game."

3. Keep an eye on .

Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney hung outside Fields' weekly news conference Wednesday, and when Fields made eye contact with Mooney in the middle of questions, the quarterback knew what he had to do.

Fields stopped for a moment to do pushups and then popped back up to finish his answers, a consequence of a lost bet to Mooney in bowling.

"It was a pretty close game. But a win is a win," Mooney said. "I'm not going to repeat the score. I just won."

Fields and Mooney have connected on and off the field, with the second-year receiver leading the Bears with 20 catches for 261 yards. He had three receptions for 35 yards against the Raiders, including a key 13-yarder on third-and-12 after the Raiders had cut the Bears' lead to five points.

"We repped that a few times in practice, and it wasn't anything I had to do extreme," Mooney said. "I just ran a straight line, and he had a great ball. He actually threw the ball before I even got out of my route. It was a good ball by him, good play call as well. Worked out."

The Bears certainly will count on that connection again Sunday, whether or not wide receiver Allen Robinson is 100%. After missing practices Wednesday and Thursday, Robinson was limited in practice Friday because of an ankle injury and is questionable to play in the game.

4. Odds and ends

The Bears offense has an extra tool this week to prepare for the Packers: senior defensive assistant Mike Pettine, who spent the previous three seasons as the Packers defensive coordinator.

The Bears hired Pettine in the offseason to help Sean Desai in his first season as a coordinator. But Lazor said he also has offered information about some of the Packers players this week, even though the Packers are operating under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

"He has great insight into their people," Lazor said. "Obviously the scheme has changed. There might be some calls that they've kept the same that he could help with. But the personnel and even the mentality of some of the players, I think he has great insight. He's obviously spent a lot of time with them."

Pettine has coached for 17 seasons in the NFL, including as the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2014-15 and as defensive coordinator with the New York Jets from 2009-12 and the Buffalo Bills in 2013. Nagy said he had some sit-down conversations with Pettine in the offseason to get advice about their offense.

"I'd be foolish to not find out what he thought about our offensive personnel and what he thought about the offensive play calling, tendency-wise," Nagy said. "You've got to pick his brain. He's been in this league for a long time and he's been really beneficial to both sides."

5. Injury report

Robinson, outside linebacker Khalil Mack (foot), defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (groin) and kick returner Jakeem Grant (groin) all were listed as questionable for Sunday after missing or being limited in practices this week.

Tight end J.P. Holtz (quad) and inside linebacker Caleb Johnson (knee) will not play.

Several players participated in full Friday but still were listed as questionable: safety Eddie Jackson (knee), defensive backs Duke Shelley (ankle), Xavier Crawford (back) and Artie Burns (foot), inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (hamstring) and running back Ryan Nall (ankle)

Along with Williams, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey is expected to miss the game while in COVID-19 protocol.

Predictions

Brad Biggs (4-1)

The Bears can keep this game close with the kind of stout defensive performance they've had the last few weeks. It's imperative they win on first and second down to keep Aaron Rodgers in uncomfortable positions on third down, which is the one area the defense hasn't been great - it ranks 23rd (43.9%). The Bears probably need to find a way to steal a possession too because even some of the team's best defensive performances haven't been enough to foil the Packers in recent years.

Packers 23, Bears 20

Colleen Kane (5-0)

The Packers and Rodgers have bounced back from that ugly Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints to arrive in Chicago on a four-game roll. But those victories were against teams that are a combined 7-13. Likewise, the Bears' back-to-back wins against the Detroit Lions and the Las Vegas Raiders haven't convinced me they're ready to beat good teams. So I'm going with history. Rodgers has owned the Bears, and even with a fearsome Bears pass rush making his day difficult, that's likely to continue Sunday.

Packers 26, Bears 23

Dan Wiederer (4-1)

The Packers defense has been ordinary against the run and absolutely dreadful inside the red zone. That offers hope. The Bears defense, meanwhile, leads the NFL in sacks and has proved it has enough firepower to really make life uncomfortable for Rodgers. Even more hope. The temptation is there to forecast a season-changing upset. But ... with even a shred of doubt, always side with a three-time MVP quarterback over the league's worst offense.

Packers 26, Bears 17

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