This week the Panthers are facing a real challenge.They are visiting the Windy city, and once again the Bears are Monsters of the Midway. There is something different about this Bears team, they can score. The defense is just as dangerous as the offense when it comes to putting points on the board. If we were to look at scoring units on teams, whether it be offensive or defensive units, the Bears defense would be a highly ranked unit. They have had an uncanny ability to force turnovers and take them back for scores this season. Ball protection will be crucial for the Panthers Sunday.
Jay Cutler leads an explosive offense. Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte are 2 of his favorite targets. Anytime either of them has the football they are a real threat to take it to the house. The Bears offense uses a good mix of run and pass, and Forte has had success doing both. Marshall with his size and speed is a tough matchup for most corners in the league.This will be especially true when it comes to the Panthers somewhat diminutive corners. If Chicago’s offense has one weak spot it is their offensive line. This became crystal clear when the Bears played the Packers. Clay Matthews was in the offensive backfield so much that game I thought he had been traded to the Bears and they had moved him to fullback. This is the weakness the Panthers will have to capitalize on if they want to have any chance of winning this game.
Now when the Panthers have the ball they will be facing the #1 rush defense, the #1 scoring defense, and the #1 defense in forcing turnovers. Sounds really scary does it not. Sometimes numbers can be deceiving. Overall the Bears defense is ranked 6th which is among the top of the league’s defenses, we haven’t played too many tougher defenses so far this season. Sure the offense has it’s work cut out for them but I believe with a sound game plan we can score on this defense. The Panthers have stated publicly they will be making a serious commitment to run the ball. They will be getting away from the, now ineffective, read option play and getting back to the more traditional style offense. It’s about time! We can also see this by the Panthers naming Stewart the starter this week. He will be more effective out of a more traditional style running attack than Dwill. A real commitment to the run game will prove to be invaluable to Cam. That was the one thing our offense has been lacking this season.
Committing to running the ball will open the passing game. Now I’m not talking about the vertical passing game I mean short crossing patterns. The underneath stuff will be key to bring up the safeties. Once that has been accomplished then we can look to go over the top. But it is vital that we feed Olsen and LaFell early in the contest to draw up Major White and Chris Conte. I personally like the matchup of Smith against either of the Bears corners. “Peanut” Tillman and Tim Jennings will have a difficult time covering Smith due to his quickness. They are good corners like the Seahawks have, but without the skills of Sherman and Browner. When we look back to last season’s trip to Chicago the Panthers had a stellar day offensively. Cam went 22 of 46 for 374 yards and he tossed a touchdown to Olsen. Double trouble combined for 134 yards rushing, and Steve Smith broke bad with 8 receptions for an eye popping 181 yards. Cam and this offense put up 29 points last year and I believe we can do it again. That was against basically the same Bears defense as what we will be facing this week. What lost the game for us last season was the play of our special teams, and Matt Forte’s 205 yards rushing. Cutler had an absolutely abysmal day offensively. He went 9 for 17 and only threw for 102 yards and he even threw an interception. However with the success the Bears had running the ball, Cutler didn’t need a big day. If we can’t stop Forte then it doesn’t matter what our offense does.
The defensive game plan should focus on penetration. Our defensive line is going to have to get into the Chicago backfield. When Forte is given the ball we must keep the offensive lineman off our linebackers so they can make the tackle on him. That is a key to the game plan as well, tackle Forte on 1st contact. Don’t allow him to get into the 2nd level and break off long runs. When Cutler drops back to pass we MUST pressure him. As we have seen too often our defensive backs can’t cover receivers for more than just a few seconds so we will have to get to Cutler. We need to hit him and knock him down every chance we get to try and frustrate him so he starts trying to force the ball. That will give us a chance for turnovers which will be an important statistic in determining the winner of this game.
Special teams will be a disadvantage for us. The Bears have the greatest return man in the history of the NFL on their team. Knowing this we MUST kick the ball away from Hester EVERY time!!! I cannot stress this point enough. Don’t let him be the difference in this game.
The game on paper looks like a really bad matchup. I believe the Panthers have a good chance in this game. The game plan needs to truly have a commitment to the run, short controlled passes such as underneath crossing routes, and screens to keep the Bears defensive line honest. Defensively pressure has to be our main focus. We must get Cutler out of rhythm, and disrupt the timing of passing plays. When Forte has the ball it’s imperative to bring him down on 1st contact. If we protect the football and execute this game plan, we will pull off the upset. Leaving Chitown with a win will go along way in getting this Panthers team back on track. My prediction: Carolina 23 Chicago 19. Go Panthers!
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