Bears-Panthers preview

Despite their 0-4 record, there’s a lot more people picking the Panthers to upset the Bears this week than I originally thought. The injury to QB Jay Cutler probably has something to do with that…okay it has a lot to do with that but the Panthers are pretty banged up, as well. Jeff Otah is still hurt, Steve Smith was ruled out for Sunday’s game earlier in the week and recently added to the injured list was FS Sherrod Martin. All are huge blows to the team but the Bears are in a pretty vulnerable position right now so it’s a good opportunity for the Panthers to finally get a win in 2010. Let’s find out how.

Matchups:

Panthers running game vs. Bears run defense

Our running game had a bit of a spark last week with DeAngelo Williams having a good game but Jonathan Stewart still doesn’t look like himself. The Bears play tough against the run, too so it could be difficult for us to get any momentum going on the ground to start off. Williams is also listed as “probable” with a sore leg so I think we might use Stewart more as a result. We will need to do a lot of work to get through DTs Anthony Adams and Tommy Harris for the running game to be effective. Also, the running plays we’ve been calling have been extremely predictable. 85% of them are between the tackles or up the middle. Defenses know they’re coming now and have led to a bunch of three and outs. Granted, Williams is always great at trying to turn those kinds of runs into bigger gains but still, the playcalling is very stale. How they do once they get to the linebackers and safeties is a mystery to me right now.  Interested to see how they challenge Urlacher and Chris Harris, though.

Panthers offensive line vs. Bears defensive line:

Most anticipated matchup since long-time Panther Julius Peppers will be on the other side of the ball this time. Peppers gets to choose which side he plays on and  I have to think he will elect to pick on Geoff Schwartz instead of long-time practice buddy Jordan Gross. Why? Because Gross is our best lineman and Schwartz is a newcomer. Schwartz did a pretty decent job at blocking Alex Brown last week when Mackenzey Bernadeau was ineffective so maybe he can surprise Peppers..unlikely. The reality is we will probably have to double team him with those two and Jimmy Clausen is going to be doing a lot of scrambling come Sunday. Travelle Wharton and Ryan Kalil are going to need to do a good job at blocking Anthony Adams and Tommie Harris if we want the running game to succeed, too.

Panthers passing game vs. Bears passing defense

This might be a favorable week to not have Smith in the lineup because the Bears secondary hasn’t been great. However, the effectiveness of their secondary relies on their pass rush (much like the Patriots) and they can force a lot of QB’s into bad throws. Peppers is one of the best in the league at rushing the passer and him getting double teamed will open the door for other DE Isreal Idonije who is a capable pass rusher, too. Peppers getting all the attention also leaves opportunities for LB’s Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to get to the QB untouched.

Clausen has been improving over the weeks and he’s got an even bigger test this Sunday since the receiving corps he has to work with are three rookies and someone just claimed off waivers. This is THE game where Brandon LaFell and David Gettis need to step up. Gettis has been showing a signs of greatness while Lafell has mostly been inconsistent. Armanti Edwards is likely making his first start as the slot receiver too and I am hoping he’s learned something from sitting on the bench for four weeks. I don’t know much about David Clowney other than he’s really fast but never made much of an impact. How do they match up with the Bears secondary, though? As I said earlier, the effectiveness of their secondary depends on if they can get to the QB. Charles Tillman and Zachary Bowman are both decent but can give up big plays.

Panthers defensive line vs. Bears offensive line

I see this as the most important matchup because the Bears offensive line is one of the worst in the league and is the best chance for this awful Panther front four to establish some sort of pass rush. That’s the biggest problem with the Cover 2 defense, it’s not that effective if you can’t get pressure from the front 4. That’s why it worked so well for the Giants last week, they have one of the best d-lines in the league. Charles Johnson has been our best pass rusher so far and he is either going to be matched up with Kevin Schaffer or Frank Omiyale depending on where he lines up. I’m looking forward to that… I also want to see if Everette Brown can look any better against weaker competition. I don’t want to get too excited, though. Like I said, the Giants have one of the best front 4 in the league and half of the 10 sacks they had last week were Cutler’s fault because held onto the ball too long. He was looking for the big play downfield constantly and ended up getting nailed. Collins will be more open to throw the ball away, especially after that Giants game.

Bears passing game vs. Panthers pass defense

I like what our defense has been doing in general the past couple of weeks. They are giving up a lot of yards but they’re keeping the opponents off the board and limiting big plays. I’m not sure what the Bears gameplan is with Todd Collins but I’m guessing it’s the same Mike Martz system only with more short passes. Saints murdered us in the TOP game because of the short first downs last week and the Bears are probably taking note of that.  For us, the biggest receiving threats on the Bears are Johnny Knox and TE Greg Olsen. We have been awful at covering tight ends all year and Olsen is top 10 material so it’s important linebackers James Anderson and Jon Beason get to him quickly. The injury to Sherrod Martin might cause us to give up a couple big plays, too since I don’t have a lot of confidence in Jordan Pugh and Knox has great speed. Richard Marshall better show up to play on Sunday because covering Knox is crucial.The Bears also love to use screen passes to Matt Forte but I’m confident that Beason and Anderson can sniff those out fast before they turn into anything. Whether or not Collins can get the ball to his receivers is up for further discussion. He’s been in the league long enough but he’s perennial backup. Expect lots of checkdowns.

Panthers run defense vs. Bears rushing offense

Forte has become more of a threat on screen passes than in the running game because the Bears don’t run the ball terribly much. However, he’s still very dangerous and defensive tackles Derek Landri and Ed Johnson better be ready. Same goes for our defensive ends because getting Forte in the backfield on those screen passes is very critical. Chester Taylor is also used to spell Forte and he’s always been solid in his role. We tend to give up a few yards on the ground anyway with the system we play in. There’s always a 5-10 yard cushion in the Tampa 2 defense but it’s all good as long as we don’t give up too many big plays. We really need to do better at stopping teams on 3rd down, though. Not allowing Forte and Taylor any breathing room will be important.

What I Want to See In Sunday’s Game

A win. Yeah, I’ll be obvious.

One of our receivers to have a big game... this is their opportunity to step up here. I don’t care who it is.

Have more time of possession than the Bears. That’s what killed us against the Saints.

Better play clock management. It was beyond awful last week. Clausen didn’t look on the same page as the offense for the whole 1st quarter.

More longer drives. I feel like I’m asking too much at this point, haha.

2 or more sacks. Sounds reasonable, right?

I’m going to say that this will be a very low scoring game with a lot of ugly play and a couple turnovers thrown in here and there. Going to be interesting how Peppers will be received by the Carolina crowd (or whoever shows up…..) because I don’t think they’ll be happy after some of the comments he made earlier in the week. It’s a great opportunity for the Panthers to get off the Shnai. I think they can do it.

Prediction: Panthers 17, Bears 9

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