Protecting Rodgers key for depleted Packers vs. Bears

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles during a week 16 NFL football game against the Chicago Bears on December 25, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers won 35-21. (AP Photo/David Stluka)

On Sept. 25, 1960, the Chicago Bears, who were coached by the legendary George Halas, beat the Green Bay Packers, who were coached by the future legend Vince Lombardi, 17-14.

At that point in the bitter rivalry, the Bears held a commanding 50-26-6 edge.

With the Packers sweeping last year’s games, the series is knotted 94-94-6. On Thursday night in Green Bay, Wis., the Packers could take the series lead for the first time since 1932.

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“That’s important for our fan base,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s important to your tradition and history of the National Football League, being the longest rivalry. And it factors in your preparation. We make that loud and clear each and every year. We spent time on that today in the team meeting. We’ll be ready to play Thursday night. I can promise you that.”

With Brett Favre and now Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers have dominated the rivalry recently. Including the 2010 NFC Championship Game, Rodgers is 15-4 against Chicago. His passer rating? A sizzling 105.7.

Protecting Rodgers will be the major challenge for the Packers (2-1), who are coming off an overtime victory vs. Cincinnati. Left tackle David Bakhtiari missed the last two games with an injured hamstring. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who missed the first two games with an injured ankle, made his season debut on Sunday but aggravated the injury and missed the final 23 snaps.

Both players were limited participants in practice. Their availability is key because Kyle Murphy, who started for Bulaga in Week 1 and Bakhtiari in Weeks 2 and 3, injured his foot vs. the Bengals and was placed on injured reserve, where he joins second-round pick Jason Spriggs and veteran Don Barclay.

“Protection-wise, we have had to be smart about who’s playing out there and what we can handle,” Rodgers said. “It’s been tough with those guys we’ve had who’ve been out. You’re talking about two starters and then primary backups who’ve been out. So, it’s been a work in progress but those guys are playing hard.”

The Bears (1-2), who are coming off an overtime win against Pittsburgh, will throw an improved cornerback corps at Rodgers. With veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara making his season debut last week, Chicago held Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to 56.4 percent accuracy. Antonio Brown caught 10 passes but the rest of the receivers combined for four catches in 14 targets.

The question for Chicago offensively is whether it can throw the ball at a competent level. Mike Glennon ranks ninth in the league in completion percentage but next-to-last in yards per attempt and 25th in passer rating.

Against Pittsburgh, he threw two interceptions and completed only one pass to a wide receiver. Chicago’s longest pass play this season has gone for just 22 yards.

Where the Bears could make some hay against Green Bay’s defense is with the two-headed running game of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard, who as a rookie finished second in the NFL in rushing, bounced back from a 7-yard performance in a loss at Tampa Bay to pile up 138 yards and two touchdowns vs. Pittsburgh. The diminutive Cohen ranks second in the NFL with a 6.5-yard average, leads the team with 20 receptions and handles punt returns, as well.

“To have a complement (in the backfield) is, frankly, a lot of fun as an offensive coordinator,” McCarthy said. “When you have the ability to put different running styles on the field to attack a defense, I think it’s definitely a benefit to the offense.”

Howard and Cohen lead a rushing attack that’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Green Bay, which has relied on an undersized six-defensive-back package, is giving up 4.5 per carry.

“We’re going to run the ball,” Glennon said. “I think that’s what we’ve established is that we’re going to run the ball against every opponent. I don’t think this week is going to be any different.”

Howard and Cohen could be running behind the Bears’ Pro Bowl guards for the first time this season. Kyle Long (ankle) missed the first two games but started last week — his first game since Nov. 13. Former Packers standout Josh Sitton (rib) missed last week’s game and was limited at Tuesday’s practice.

“We’ll probably be as close to intact as we’ve been all season,” Bears coach John Fox said of his line.

Injuries, as they tend to be for these Thursday games, will be a major story line right up until the inactives are named 90 minutes before kickoff.

Green Bay was down seven starters by the end of the Cincinnati game. Critically for its defense, outside linebacker Nick Perry (hand) and defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) returned to practice and were full participants. Perry wore a club-cast on his surgically repaired right hand. Cornerback Davon House (quad) was the only player not to practice and likely will miss a second consecutive game.

Chicago listed only four players on its injury report, including safety Quintin Demps, who won’t play due to a broken arm.

“It is what it is. Nobody is going to come rescue us,” Fox said. “I think we’re playing a game Thursday night, so we’ll do our best to get ready for it.”