When the Bears take on the Green Bay Packers Thursday night, keep an eye on these matchups.
Bears receiver Allen Robinson vs. Packers safety Adrian Amos
There's a good deal of personal history between these two. College teammates for three years, both on the Bears last season. Amos told reporters this week that Robinson was the former teammate he was most looking forward to tackling—in a friendly way, of course. The Packers unofficially swapped Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for Amos, in the form of a long term contract, so there is no lack of storylines to be had here.
The big reason to watch these two, however, is that how this matchup shakes out will give both teams a sense of where their season is going. Robinson had 55 catches for 754 yards and four touchdowns last year. He should be in a different space healthwise this year, and logic would dictate that he should be even more of a threat. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich agrees.
"He's a pro's pro type of guy," said Helfrich. "He's playing with more confidence. Before you could kind of see, this type of route cut or this angle to certain directions, you could see it. You could feel it. I don't think that's the case right now."
Robinson will try to prove that against a young Packers secondary that is hoping the veteran Amos will cover for the fact that it returns only 17 combined starts from last season.
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
This will be the marquee matchup: two of the most famous players in the league face off. Beyond the brands though, there's a good chance that the player who comes out the better in this matchup will also watch his team take the win. It's hard to imagine Rodgers having time to throw not having a big game. It's equally unlikely that the Bears would come up short with Mack playing anything like he did the last time the Packers came to town; he notched two-and-a-half sacks, and the Bears won 24-17.
Rodgers has a new coach, Matt LaFleur, for the first time in his professional career. Even though last season was disappointing for the team as a whole, Rodgers was as efficient as he's ever been. He's long been one of the league's best at avoiding interceptions, and that went to absurd levels last season when he only threw two picks. He ended up with the lowest interception percentage, 0.3, in the history of the NFL.
It's that skill that makes Mack the ideal foil. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano calls Mack "a game-wrecker," the type of player that can up-end an entire game plan. Mack's disruptive pass rush and his ability to create turnovers will be critical on Thursday. The Bears won each of Mack's three multi-sack games last season and went 5-1 in games when he forced a fumble.
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller vs. Packers receiver Davante Adams
The Packers, on average, targeted Adams 11 times a game last season. That volume of opportunity led to career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Adams accounted for 27.4 percent of Green Bay's passes and 28.3 percent of its receptions. It seems like a good bet that Rodgers will look to get the ball to his top target at least a dozen times against a Bears defense that doesn't have any apparent weaknesses.
Enter Kyle Fuller, the Bears' All-Pro cornerback. Fuller snagged a league-high seven interceptions last season and has earned a reputation as a lockdown defender. Adams and Fuller figure to cross paths at times Thursday, and Pagano expects his cornerbacks to be a handful.
"They've got to do a great job disguising things and playing tight coverage," said Pagano. "Playing off, playing great situational football, making plays on the football. Don't let the ball go over your head, obviously, and you know, they're going to have to challenge these guys."