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Sunday, October 2, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Panthers 29

By Michael C. Wright

CHICAGO -- Running back Matt Forte ran for a career-high 205 yards and a touchdown, proving he can carry the often-ignored rushing attack, while electric return man Devin Hester proved Sunday why Chicago’s special teams units rank among the league’s most dynamic in the team’s 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Here are a few quick-hitting thoughts from the game.

What it means: For a team that breaks the year up into quarters, it was important for the Bears to break a two-game skid to finish the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record. In defeating the Panthers, the club proved it could improve upon several highly-scrutinized areas such as the ground game, pass protection, and receiver play on offense.

But defensively, the Bears know they need to shore up a few areas. The secondary has been seemingly decimated by the loss of safety Chris Harris, and the front four hasn’t generated sufficient pass rush to take pressure off the back end. The team is also allowing unacceptable numbers against the run, which is something the Bears hope to correct with extra prep time for next week’s game.

Moore scores: Third-year nickel corner D.J. Moore definitely shows no problem morphing into offensive playmaker mode when he intercepts passes.

Moore returned his second career interception for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Panthers. With the Panthers backed up at their own 9, Cam Newton misfired on a pass that ricocheted off the mitts of linebacker Lance Briggs and into the hands of Moore, who raced 20 yards for the TD.
Moore now has five career INTs, with two returned for TDs.

Ratio rectified: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz took criticism over the past two weeks for a wildly lopsided pass-run ratio. Coming into Sunday’s game, the team had run the ball 24 times in losses to the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers while throwing 82 passes.

Martz made amends for the playcalling mishaps against the Panthers, and the Bears benefitted. Chicago ran the ball 12 times in the first half while passing on just four plays. Led by Matt Forte, the team averaged 9 yards per carry in the first half in rushing for 108 yards.

More importantly, the constant run threat kept the Carolina defense off balance. Perhaps that’s allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to complete three of the four passes he attempted in the first half.

For the game, the Bears ran the ball 31 times, netting TDs on the ground from Forte and backup Marion Barber.

Secondary struggles: Despite increased focus on stopping Panthers receiver Steve Smith, the veteran still managed to haul in six catches in the first half alone for 132 yards. His 53-yard reception to start the second quarter set up a Newton 1-yard run which tied the score at 10-all.

The Bears did a better job on Smith in the second half by holding him to only one catch.

Run D lackluster, too: Chicago entered Sunday’s contest with No. 18 rush defense, and it’s quite apparent the club’s ranking will drop further after a dismal performance against the Panthers.

Opponents averaged 109.3 rushing against the Bears over the first three games. By the end of the first half Sunday, the Bears had given up 100 yards to the Panthers, which were averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Given Smith’s preference to snuff out the run above all else, look for this team to spend extra time working to correct run fits in the week of practice leading up to Monday night’s showdown with the Detroit Lions. The Bears have been gashed two weeks in a row now (the Packers rushed for 100 yards on the club last week), and it appears teams are using wider splits along the offensive line to exploit the run defense.

What’s next: The Bears face the Detroit Lions on the road on Monday night in a crucial NFC North clash. Chicago trails both the Lions and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North standings. So the Bears can’t afford to fall further back if they want to remain in contention for the divisional crown.