W2W4: Bears vs. Panthers
CHICAGO BEARS (5-1) vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-5)Noon Sunday at Soldier Field on Fox
|Despite all the criticism he's taken thus far, Cam Newton's statistics are very similar at this point in 2012 compared to what they were through six games in 2011. Newton is the most physically gifted quarterback the Bears have faced up to this point, and in 2011, he 374 yards and a touchdown and rushed for two more. Jay Cutler enters the contest with sore ribs after Monday's win over the Lions, but the injury isn't expected to be an issue. Cutler's winning percentage since Week 16 of 2009 is .727.|| |
|Matt Forte has established a history of success against the Panthers and appears poised to rush for 150-plus yards against the team for the third consecutive time. Michael Bush has averaged more than 6 yards per carry in each of his last two games. But Carolina's duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart is deadly, too. They rank No. 1 and No. 2 on Carolina's all-time franchise rushing list, but Williams is currently averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt.|
|Cutler has completed better than 60 percent of his passes to new Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, while hitting just 47.8 percent to the rest of the receivers and tight ends, which makes Jeffery's absence somewhat of a big hit for the club. The Bears need player such as Earl Bennett and Devin Hester to step in and pick up some of the slack. Carolina's Steve Smith has put together some lights-out performances against the Bears, but the Panthers need meaningful contributions for Brandon LaFell and former Bears tight end Greg Olsen.|
|Part of Carolina's struggles up front come as a result of the staff being too cute with the play calling. Besides that, the Panthers have struggled to open holes in the running game with center Geoff Hangartner struggling and rookie left guard Amini Silatolu still trying to find his way. Left tackle Jordan Gross will be the best offensive lineman on the field. But collectively, the Bears are actually a little better up front even though Gabe Carimi continues to struggle.
|Defensive tackle Henry Melton should give Hangartner fits all game, and Julius Peppers will be looking to tally his first sack against his former team. In three career games against the Panthers, Israel Idonije has produced 3 1/2 sacks in addition to forcing a fumble. The Panthers feature a talented young defensive tackle in Dwan Edwards, while Charles Johnson appears to be the club's most established pass rusher. The Panthers are allowing 120.3 yards rushing per game, while the Bears feature the league's second-based run defense.
|The Panthers recently put Jon Beason on the injured reserve, which is a blow considering he was coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl season. Carolina remains talented at the position with James Anderson (franchise-record 174 tackles in 2011) and rookie Luke Kuechly, who leads the Panthers with 66 tackles. The Bears lean on experience at linebacker with Lance Briggs still performing at a high level, while Brian Urlacher is coming off arguably his best game of the season.|
|It would be difficult to find another pair of corners in the NFL playing as well as Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, who have combined for five interceptions and six combined turnovers. Throw in young safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte (four combined INTs) along with talented reserves such as D.J. Moore (two INTs), and collectively, the Bears warrant consideration as one of the league's best groups. Carolina has been ravaged by injury and could struggle at the corner spots manned by Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman.|
|Bears return man Devin Hester is under scrutiny for his decision making Monday in the team's win over the Detroit Lions. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hester play more aggressively and call fewer fair catches. The field goal unit allowed a Robbie Gould attempt to be blocked in the last outing, so look for the Bears to try to shore up that area. Carolina's Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams have been merely average on kickoff returns, while Munnerlyn has averaged 5 yards per punt return. Interestingly, the Panthers have attempted just two field goals all season.|
|Lovie Smith has topped the Panthers in his last two meetings against the club, and most indicators point to the coach notching his third consecutive victory Sunday at Soldier Field. Ron Rivera finds himself in a difficult situation on the heels of ownership firing general manager Marty Hurney, and considers this to be an evaluation period. Rivera's staff is plenty talented on offense with Rob Chudzinski serving as the coordinator and Mike Shula tutoring Newton. But there's the perception that the Panthers do so much on offense it's actually limiting Newton's production. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, meanwhile, might finally be hitting his groove.|
|The Bears might have been poised for a breakout performance on offense last week had Cutler not suffered the rib injury. Given that Cutler might be hindered somewhat by soreness, the Bears will look to take the load off the quarterback by feeding the ball to Forte, who has run all over the Panthers in recent history. The Panthers appear to be in a freefall situation given the message sent by ownership with the firing of Hurney. But the tenuous situation makes the Panthers even more dangerous with so many people ranging from the staff to the players fighting for future job security.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 31, Panthers 21|
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ABOUT THIS BLOG
Dickerson is a Bears beat reporter and weeknight host on ESPN 1000. He's been covering the Bears since 2004.
Michael C. Wright
Wright joined ESPNChicago in April 2010 after spending the previous four seasons covering the Jaguars. He also covered the Redskins for two seasons. A native Texan, Wright was a four-year football letterman at West Texas A&M University.
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