Mack puts new twist into Bears’ visit to Lambeau

Packers to unveil revamped defense

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace, left, and head coach Matt Nagy, right, flank newly acquired player Khalil Mack who displays his jersey after speaking with the media during an NFL football news conference Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill. (Tim Boyle/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is familiar enough with the pass-rushing prowess of Khalil Mack to know what to expect when the Chicago Bears visit Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

No film necessary of Mack playing with his new team.

It’ll be up to Bulaga, the veteran Green Bay Packers lineman, to keep Mack out of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ face.

“Well I mean he’s a complete player,” Bulaga said. “He has power, he has speed, he has good hands, so from a pass-rushing standpoint, he is a complete rusher. Then he plays the run really well too. … He deserves all that money.”

A blockbuster trade sent Mack from the Raiders to the Bears last weekend to bolster what could be a dangerous pass rush. Chicago made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with a six-year, $141 million extension that guarantees $90 million.

Muhammad Wilkerson

Mack, who missed the whole offseason with Oakland, practiced for the first time Monday with the Bears. He’s just getting up to speed, though coach Matt Nagy seems hopeful the prized acquisition will suit up for the latest edition of one of the NFL’s marquee rivalries.

“We’ll see. We hope so,” Nagy said. “I know he wants to, and so as we go here day by day, we’re just going to judge it and kind of test him out and get a good feel.”

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks is downright giddy about Mack. Asked about Green Bay’s starting offensive line Wednesday, Hicks responded: “I know those five guys can’t block Khalil Mack.”

The Packers passed when given ample opportunities to respond.

“I don’t need to react to every comment that’s made,” Rodgers said. “I think I’ve made that pretty clear.”

The Packers have faced Mack once before, when Green Bay won 30-20 at Oakland on Dec. 20, 2015 . Then a second-year player, Mack had one of his 15 sacks that season in that game, though he had just two tackles.

The Packers, especially the offensive linemen, might take a look at the film again, though there’s not a direct correlation to preparing for Mack with the Bears.

“We’re focused on (Bears coordinator Vic) Fangio’s defense. They’ll plug him in accordingly,” Rodgers said. “Not sure how he’s going to play, but I would guess they’re going to try to get him out there as much as possible. But we’ll be ready and look forward to the challenge.”

Just in time for Bulaga’s first game since Week 9 last season, too. The nine-year pro is back after tearing his right ACL last year, the second major knee injury of his career. A quick healer and hard worker, Bulaga is meeting his goal of being ready for the season opener.

As for Hicks’ bulletin-board comment about Mack being unblockable?

“Any offense? It is what it is. Yeah, I have to be prepared to get ready to block him. I have to play a really clean game and block him,” Bulaga said. “He’s a good football player. It’s just a matter of trying to execute your job to the best of your ability throughout the entire game.”

SERIES RECORD – Packers lead 96-94-6

LAST MEETING – Packers beat Bears 23-16, Nov. 12, 2017

AP PRO32 RANKING – Bears No. 28, Packers No. 9

BEARS OFFENSE – OVERALL (30), RUSH (16), PASS (32).

BEARS DEFENSE – OVERALL (10), RUSH (11), PASS (7).

PACKERS OFFENSE – OVERALL (26), RUSH (17), PASS (25).

PACKERS DEFENSE – OVERALL (22), RUSH (17), PASS (23).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES – 197th meeting in NFL’s oldest rivalry, dating to 1923. … Bears have lost four straight and eight of last nine vs. Green Bay. … Eighth straight night game at Lambeau Field for Bears.

… Head coaching debut of Bears’ Matt Nagy. … QB Mitchell Trubisky set team rookie records last year with 193 completions and 2,193 yards. … Jordan Howard first Bears RB to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of first two seasons. … WR Allen Robinson makes Bears debut after signing as free agent, his first game since tearing ACL in Week 1 in 2017 with Jaguars.

… Bears hopeful Khalil Mack will play after Chicago acquired pass-rushing LB in blockbuster deal with Raiders. Mack sat out all of preseason and training camp. … Mack ranks second in NFL since 2015 with 36 1/2 sacks. … LB Leonard Floyd has 3 1/2 sacks, forced fumble and fumble recovery in four career games vs. Packers.

… S Eddie Jackson last year became only rookie in NFL history with two 75-yard defensive TDs in season.

… Packers open franchise’s 100th season. … Joe Philbin returns for second stint as offensive coordinator. … QB Aaron Rodgers healthy again after being limited to seven games in 2017 because of collarbone injury. Rodgers’ career 104.7 passer rating against Bears is tops for QB with least 175 attempts.

… RB Jamaal Williams had 818 scrimmage yards and six TDs as rookie in 2017. … WR Davante Adams’ 22 TD catches since 2016 most in NFL. Adams suffered concussion in teams’ meeting last year at Lambeau following hit by Bears’ ILB Danny Trevathan.

… TE Jimmy Graham makes Packers debut. Graham led NFL TEs with 10 receiving TDs last year while with Seattle.

… Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine makes Green Bay debut. … Defensive line fortified with addition of free agent end Muhammad Wilkerson. … LB Clay Matthews led team with 7 1/2 sacks in 2017. … LB Blake Martinez had NFC-leading 142 tackles last year. … Veteran CB Tramon Williams returns for second stint with Packers. … Team took CBs with first two picks in draft, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.

… K Mason Crosby has played in 176 straight games, third most in Packers history behind QB Brett Favre (255) and T Forrest Gregg (187). …

Fantasy Tip: Graham and Rodgers have already shown chemistry in camp, connection that should especially carry over into red zone in new season.

Packers to unveil revamped defense

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are debuting their own defensive changes this weekend against the Bears , even if they may not initially make as much of a splash as Chicago’s acquisition of star linebacker Khalil Mack.

But the effectiveness of those new wrinkles could be just as important to the fortunes of a team looking to return to the playoffs.

After playing it safe in the preseason, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can finally take the wraps off the Packers’ revamped scheme when the Bears visit Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

“It just opens up everything,” linebacker Nick Perry said Thursday about the new defense. “I think from attacking it off the edge, attacking it inside, you have more options to attack.”

The Packers ranked 22nd in defense last year. It was especially a problem given that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was limited to seven games because of a collarbone injury.

Rodgers has the talent to be able cover up deficiencies in other areas of the team. With Rodgers out, everyone else had to step up. Instead, the Packers finished 7-9 and had its streak of eight straight postseason appearances snapped.

Changes in the organization included the firing of longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He was replaced by Pettine, the former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, who stuck with the 3-4 defense as the base scheme.

So far, so good for the transition.

“I know in preseason, we’re keeping it basic,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said. “So it’ll be cool to kind of dive into the playbook on Sunday and see how we kind of compete and get the job done.”

They will be expected to get pressure with just four outside linebackers on the roster. Perry and fellow veteran Clay Matthews will be backed up by Reggie Gilbert, who emerged in the preseason to become the top reserve; and Kyler Fackrell, a third-round draft pick in 2016.

“It’s a demand,” Perry said. “But at the end of the day, the big guys have got to kind of take the big load. That’s what they pay us for.”

More pressure might come from up front. Green Bay added Muhammad Wilkerson as a free agent in the offseason, making the line perhaps the strongest position group on the team. Stalwarts Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark lead the front, along with emerging third-year player Dean Lowry and promising second-year pro Montravius Adams.

More inside pressure might lead to more 1-on-1 opportunities on the outside. And that’s assuming that Pettine isn’t disguising from where the pressure might come on a particular play. Even Rodgers has been impressed this preseason by some different looks on defense.

“We can line up in different spots and attack you. I don’t think we’re just going to sit there in spots and let people try to pick us apart,” Clark said. “I feel like if Aaron is saying it, you can only imagine how other quarterbacks can struggle with it.”

A more effective pass rush can also have the effect of forcing quarterbacks into making bad throws, which in turn could lead to better pass coverage, which was another problem area in 2017.

A cornerback group prone to injury the last two seasons has also been revamped, with veteran Tramon Williams returning to provide leadership. The Packers also took promising rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with their first two picks in the draft.

Matthews estimated that the Packers showed just 5 percent of the defensive playbook during preseason games.

“We definitely have a number of pressures, base defenses, little wrinkles that we like to think will play in our favor,” Matthews said. “At the end of the day, we’re going out there and playing defense, and the name of the game is tackling the ball. That doesn’t change.”

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