THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Help Collins by running
The Bears can’t afford to let Carolina exploit Todd Collins’ lack of mobility. So the worst thing that could happen would be for Chicago to become one-dimensional due to an inability to run the ball. The Bears need to run effectively to take the Panthers out of attack mode, which would also buy Collins some time on play action. To gain large chunks of yardage, running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor need to make Carolina’s athletic linebackers miss at the second level. However, if the offensive line continues to sputter, and fails to open up the rush lanes, the Bears could be in for another long day.
Stuff the ground game
The Bears know they need to find a way to make Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen beat them. The best way to do that is to take an early lead, and stuff running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to put the Panthers in pass mode. That could open up the door for turnovers, and possibly defensive touchdowns as well. The Bears should be leery of Williams’ and Stewart’s ability as cutback runners. Cutback runs gave the Bears fits last week against the Giants, and it’s a given the Panthers will look to go the same route. Sure tackling from the backside defenders will be key in neutralizing the cutback runs.
“Two years ago… both backs had 1,100 yards; first time in the history of the league,” Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “They know how to run the football, and they’ve got really good backs. We’ve got to gear up and do our jobs.”
Clausen has shown improvement in each of the past two weeks, but let’s not forget he’s a rookie quarterback susceptible to the mistakes that come with inexperience. With Julius Peppers returning to his home state to play against the team that originally drafted him, Chicago needs to take advantage of the added intensity the defensive end will bring by winning the one-on-one matchups he’ll create. The front seven can also help themselves before the snap by disguising fronts to confuse Clausen. The Bears don’t typically do it, but they should be able to manufacture some pressure with linebackers on occasion. The secondary could add to the harassment with tight coverage. In addition to a rookie quarterback, the Panthers are starting two rookie receivers.
“He is a rookie, and we realize that,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Clausen. “But [he’s] a rookie with a lot of talent. It’s not like it’s his first game.”
THREE KEYS FOR THE PANTHERS
Find the cutback lanes
After giving up 189 rushing yards last week, mainly due to missed tackles on cutback runs, the Bears will look to force Williams and Stewart to the outside edges, which would buy time for defenders to get to the ball and neutralize the running backs’ ability to cut against the grain. Carolina’s running backs can’t allow that to happen, and need to utilize their vision to attack even the slightest of backside holes. By hitting big runs, Carolina’s backs would also take some of the pressure off Clausen, and the club’s inexperienced receiving corps.
Attack interior and right side of line
The interior and right sides of Chicago’s offensive line have proven to be the best route to getting to the club’s quarterback. Of the Bears’ 18 sacks, 12 have come from those areas. So it’s important to attack there, which would also prompt Chicago’s coaching staff to disrupt cohesiveness by playing musical chairs with personnel up front. There’s a good chance the Bears will start rookie J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. Carolina needs to test him early with twists and blitzes that could cause the rookie to blow an assignment. Carolina should also test the mobility of Bears guards Lance Louis and Roberto Garza, who have been hobbled by knee injuries.
The Panthers have turned over the ball 13 times through four games, with seven coming on fumbles. Interestingly, the Bears rank second in the league with 11 takeaways. The Bears have recovered seven fumbles this season, with Peppers and safety Chris Harris forcing three of them and Brian Urlacher forcing another two. Williams, Stewart and Clausen, especially, need to make sure to hold onto the ball because the Bears will definitely be looking to strip it. Carolina’s rookie receivers need to be on the lookout too, because cornerback Charles Tillman has proven to be the club’s best at stripping the football.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: JULIUS PEPPERS VS. JORDAN GROSS
Peppers and Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross lined up across from one another at practice for several years, which makes this matchup one of the game’s most interesting.
The Bears will line up Peppers on both sides throughout the contest, but when he and Gross clash it’s worth watching because the left tackle says he’s never been more familiar with an opponent. Peppers says basically the same thing about Gross.
Interestingly, Peppers claims to have developed a few pass-rushing moves since his departure from Carolina that Gross and the Panthers haven’t seen.
Tight end Greg Olsen has scored four touchdowns in Chicago’s six last regular season games, dating back to last season.
Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Olsen and Forte have caught a pass in every game this season. With 258 yards through the first four games, Knox is on pace to finish with the season with 1,032 yards, which would make him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Marty Booker).
The Panthers won their last two outings against the Bears, including a 29-21 win in the 2005 playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS
7: Average margin of victory in the five-game series between the Panthers and Bears
32: Where the Panthers, which average 11.5 points per game, rank in points scored this season.
9: Career takeaways for Zack Bowman, who has played in 21 games for the Bears.
392: Punts landed inside an opponent’s 20 by Brad Maynard, which ranks as third in the league since 1976.
.500: Chicago’s road record against NFC opponents since 2004 (19-19).