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What to watch for in Bears-Packers on 'TNF'

These are not your older brother's Packers.

Green Bay's offense is in a rut, and has been for some time now. Gone are the days when cheeseheads and fantasy owners could rely on Mike McCarthy's unit to produce at a high clip. Aaron Rodgers dances in the pocket with no partner. His wide receivers can't separate on their routes. The Packers' running backs are dropping like flies.

After back-to-back poor performances at home against the Giants and Cowboys, is it too soon to P-A-N-I-C in Wisconsin?

The perfect remedy for the Packers' woes should be the Bears, who are coming off a home loss to the Jaguars and Arrelious Benn, who emerged from the trough of irrelevance to burn Tracy Porter and the Chicago secondary for a game-winning score. If a wide receiver who hadn't caught a pass since 2012 can burn the Bears' defensive backs, then the Packers' wideouts can slice and dice them with ease, right? Right?!

Here's what we'll be watching for as the Bears (1-5) and Packers (3-2) clash on Thursday Night Football, set to air on both CBS and NFL Network, plus you can live stream it on Twitter:

  1. There's plenty of blame to go around in Green Bay, but let's start with reviewing Rodgers, the two-time MVP who has looked like a middle-of-the-road passer as of late. Since the Pack's hot 6-0 start in 2015, Rodgers has been one of the worst quarterbacks in football in the ensuing 15-game span, ranking 24th among 30 qualifying QBs in passing YPG (233.3), 25th in passer rating (84.0) and last in completion percentage (58.1). He's thrown for less than 300 yards in 14 straight games. Heck, Brian Hoyer is outperforming the All-Pro this season. Rodgers' performance against a middling Bears pass defense Thursday night in front of an impatient Lambeau faithful will go a long way toward explaining his standing in the league's echelon of QBs.
  1. After Chicago's loss to the Jaguars, Alshon Jeffery was visibly livid about his side's offensive performance, exclaiming, "We've got to score (expletive) touchdowns." Jeffery's displeasure stems from his low target total, which was just 31 in five games heading into last Sunday's matchup. The Bears' franchise player is in a contract year, and needs to put up some serious numbers to validate a top-tier offer in the spring. There are worse places to start than at Lambeau. The Packers' secondary is banged up -- Green Bay placed Sam Shields on injured reserve Tuesday -- and is allowing the seventh-highest opponent passer rating in the league (101.7), and has already given up two big games to NFC North wideouts; Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones torched the Pack for 182 and 205 yards in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.
  1. On a related note, is the Bears quarterback gig Hoyer's to lose? The former Texans and Browns starter joined Chicago in the offseason to backup Jay Cutler, but the distant starter has yet to return from a thumb injury suffered in Week 2. In Cutler's absence, Hoyer has put up historic numbers (by Chicago standards). Hoyer's streak of four straight games with 300-plus passing yards is the longest by a Bear since 1960 and the longest active streak in the league. In his four games as starter, Hoyer has yet to throw an interception (a Cutler staple) and has earned a 101.4 passer rating. For a city distracted by the Cubs' playoff run and tired of Cutler's "Don't care" shtick, another standout performance from Hoyer on national television could cement him in the starting role.
  1. Who's toting the rock in Green Bay? Eddie Lacywill need ankle surgery and will be placed on injured reserve and James Starks is slated to miss several weeks with ankle and knee injuries, respectively -- that's more than 76 percent of their rushing production. Look no further than Kansas City castoff Knile Davis, for whom the Pack traded for on Tuesday. Davis is probably best known for taking the opening kickoff back for a score in the Chiefs' Wild Card win over the Texans last season and less known for his inefficiency in the ground game (a career 3.3 YPC). Davis is a stop-gap that won't threaten the Bears, who have allowed 72.7 rush YPG in the last three games, a rate that would be good enough for third in the league. What this lack of a Packers ground game means is we may be subjected to our third straight game of Rodgers dancing endlessly behind a sturdy offensive line for endless seconds waiting for his receivers to break free. Zzz. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that newly promoted running back Don Jackson will be the main back against the Bears.
  1. Can Jordan Howard become the second rookie running back in a row to conquer Green Bay's acclaimed run defense? Ezekiel Elliott gashed the Packers for 157 yards in the Cowboys' dominating victory last week, but Elliott is the league's leading rusher and a once-in-a-generation dynamo at the position. Howard, meanwhile, is 17th with 330 yards after beating out Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey for the starting position through the first six weeks. The outcome of this matchup will prove not only Howard's comparative worth, but that of the Green Bay run defense's as well. Elliott was the first "legitimate" back the unit had encountered all season -- the Packers led the league in rush defense after facing T.J. Yeldon, one half of Adrian Peterson, Dwayne Washington and Bobby Rainey. A weak showing against Howard could poke holes in that narrative.
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