Up front, I don't like the Packers. I just don't. They've been ruining my hopes for the Bears on a pretty consistent basis for the entirety of my adult life, and a significant portion of my childhood. I hope that every Sunday they lose their car keys and can't make it to the stadium.
That said, I really like the guys over at Acme Packing Company. They know their football, they love their team, and they're usually not too mean when they rub the Packers' victories in our faces. We talked to the head bro, Evan "Tex" Western, about a variety of subjects. We also answered some questions for them, which you can find right over here.
Last year we saw Clay Matthews in various places at linebacker. Do you think that move worked out last year, and should we expect the same this year?
Matthews is very much an inside linebacker at this point, despite what the "unofficial" depth chart posted on Packers.com says. Expect him to play inside extensively on first and second down, then shift back outside to rush the quarterback in obvious passing situations.
His move there at mid-season last year was a huge help to the defense, especially against the run. The Packers finally had an athletic inside linebacker with speed and the ability to get off blocks, rather than the human tackling dummies that A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones had become. That helped the team cut their average rushing yards allowed almost in half, from 153 before the shift to 86 afterwards. With a full offseason to learn the nuances of the position, Matthews should be even better working from the inside this season.
Randall Cobb's shoulder - is it going to be good enough to go Sunday, or is there concern it could nag through out the season?
I see those as two separate questions - it's a mild AC joint sprain, which is somewhat painful but isn't a major structural issue. Therefore, for this week at least, it's a question of whether or not Cobb can play through the pain. I think he'll gut it out and play, but that he'll be somewhat limited and will concede some snaps to Ty Montgomery out of the slot.
As for the season itself, I think that as long as Cobb and the team don't try to push his arm too far during the week, he'll heal up fully by week 3 or 4 and be good to go at 100% for the rest of the year.
I've seen several articles over the preseason suggesting that the Packers' special teams can sometimes leave something to be desired. Can you speak to what's going on there, and is there enough to cause concerns about field position for opponents?
That is one of the most generous descriptions of the Packers' special teams that one could possibly give. Shawn Slocum was fired as Special Teams Coordinator after the Packers had seven (!!!!!!!) kicks blocked last year, not to mention the debacle of the onside kick at the end of the season. (Fun fact: Slocum is now running the special teams at Arizona State, who allowed a punt return touchdown in their opening game last weekend.) There was a ton of personnel changeover as well, and a number of young players like Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo, and Jayrone Elliott have begun to take leadership roles on those units as they replace departed veterans like Hawk, Jones, and Jarrett Bush.
Packers fans are hoping that the youth movement and the change in coaching helps those units. Then again, fans of Illinois football know about Ron Zook all too well, so his hiring hasn't inspired a ton of confidence in the Packers' fan base.
Were there any surprises that made the 53-man roster this year, or any up and comers you're really excited about?
What qualifies as a surprise for the Packers' roster might only be a blip on the radar for other teams, largely because of the way Ted Thompson sticks to his guys. Arguably the biggest surprise this year was at the third-string running back, where undrafted rookie Alonzo Harris (from Louisiana-Lafayette) made the squad over second-year player Rajion Neal. Harris is a bruiser at 6'1" and almost 240 pounds, and has a similar running style to Eddie Lacy. Neal, on the other hand, was a versatile back and showed great ability as a receiver, qualities which we thought would earn him the job.
The two other players to watch out for are Mike Pennel, a second-year defensive lineman, and LaDarius Gunter, the undrafted rookie corner from Miami. Pennel has expanded his role from being a backup nose tackle and now can play any position on the three-man line, while Gunter constantly impressed on the perimeter in training camp and could be another great undrafted find by Thompson and company.
Coming back around to defense, Davon House, Tramon WIlliams, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are no longer around. Are their replacements upgrades, or is their concern about the stoutness of the 2015 Packers defense?
I'll go back to Matthews to address the linebackers - he would be an upgrade over just about anyone, but especially Hawk and Jones. Personally, I love A.J. and while his brain is very much still in the game, his body just can't keep up any more.
The corners are a different story. Casey Hayward is expected to take over on the outside for Williams/House opposite Sam Shields, and to shift inside in the nickel and dime packages. That leaves some combination of the three rookies - Damarious Randall, the first-round pick, Quinten Rollins, the second-rounder, and Gunter - to man the outside in sub packages. Randall probably will get the first shot, as he has been impressive so far. There will definitely be some growing pains, though - the youth and inexperience will be the biggest hurdle for those players to overcome, as they've all got good instincts and measureables.
Bonus: Give us your prediction for this game, and for the Bears final season record.
I have a difficult time seeing the Bears slow down the Packers' offense, even without Jordy Nelson and with a limited Randall Cobb. As long as the Packers at least break even in the turnover battle, I think they will win comfortably. You said 31-17, and I'm right there with you at 31-20.
For the season, I think it all depends on how the defensive scheme comes together under Fangio and if Alshon Jeffery can get back to full strength. That should win them a handful of games during the middle and later parts of the season, but going through the schedule game-by-game I keep coming up with a record of 6-10.
Again, a big thanks to Tex for sitting down with us. Here's to hoping for a very solid 0-16 season for Green Bay!