The Carolina Panthers have, for all intents and purposes, lost all hope of making a playoff run. They find themselves at 1-5—bottom of the NFC South—and with a whole mess of problems. Just this week the team fired general manager Marty Hunter, who drafted Cam Newton.
They are neglecting the run game, and head coach Ron Rivera's job is now in serious jeopardy. The Panthers are dive-bombing this year with another top pick likely on the way in the 2013 Draft.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, are thriving coming off their fourth consecutive win against the Detroit Lions. The defense is ranked among the top in the League, and the team is becoming progressively healthier every week. The chemistry is forming, and the coaching staff is finding creative ways to get this team to produce at a high level.
The Bears have made the lives of opposing quarterbacks miserable, and now they face a young talent in Cam Newton who has been a mere shadow of his rookie self.
Attack the Panthers
The Panthers have a number of problem areas on both offense and defense, and the Bears have the weapons and personal to exploit those areas. The Bears’ offensive strategy needs to stay balanced and disciplined.
The Panthers rank 19th in both pass and run defense and are currently ranked 20th in total points allowed (24.0 PPG) and 21st in overall defense (366.2 YPG). Teams have been able to beat the Panthers’ secondary handily, especially when teams stay grounded and run the ball a decent number of times before unleashing the passing game. The Panthers have yet to face a team with the balance in the pass and run game that the Bears have.
The Panthers have yet to establish a consistent pass rush, and opposing quarterbacks have had plenty of time to go through their progressions and deliver good, timed passes. The strength of this defense is in the middle of the field with rookie Luke Kuechly, who has been as good as advertised this year.
The Bears’ running attack needs to extend outside the ends and give Forte and Bush one-on-one with the corners, who are not great tacklers. The Panthers as a whole do not wrap up well as a team, outside of the linebackers, who lead the team in tackles.
The Bears, at times, abandoned the running game against Detroit, and the offense faltered because of it. The Bears need to get Forte out to the edge and get blockers down field. Michael Bush should be able to get a consistent push through the tackles and pick up big yards. Teams who have stayed patient vs. this Panthers front have been able to gash them for touchdowns and large gains. The benchmark number of carries should be over 20 for the Bears’ rushing attack.
The passing attack will also be prevalent this weekend, and Marshall should have his way with his physical style. Cutler will have more time in the pocket this week, and the Bears should be able to move the ball down field at a consistent rate. It is time this offense gets back on track against a team heading in a downward spiral.
The defense vs. Cam Newton
Cam Newton had no trouble tearing apart this Bears front in 2011 with 374 yards passing, 181 of those going to Steve Smith. Luckily for us this year, Newton is not coming into this game bleeding with confidence like he was last year. He rushed for two touchdowns, and threw for one more. If it wasn't for Matt Forte's 205 yards rushing the Bears would have had no chance in that game.
Newton has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions this season. The Panthers are -6 in turnovers, and that should extend vs. a Bears defense that at every opportunity has taken the ball away from the opposition (+13 in turnover differential). Newton has not thrown for over 300 yards this season, and he's been contained inside the pocket, not allowing him to use his feet to beat defenses.
The Bears have taken struggling quarterbacks and added more concern with their coverages and ability to get a consistent pass rush.
The Bears’ defense can be beat through the air considering most teams have been able to rack up the passing yards. The Bears will give up large chunks of passing yards, but have been excellent in keeping teams out of the end zone and forcing turnovers in key situations. Newton has been struggling, as has Matt Stafford, in putting the ball in the end zone this season with only five touchdown passes.
With virtually no options at running back, and the blatant ignoring of the running game from Ron Rivera, the Panthers have very little options in the red zone. Newton has been forced to make tough throws when he would usually run in short yardage and goal line situations.
Expect the Bears to be aggressive early and to bring a heavy pass rush to try and disrupt Newton's confidence. I see more of the same happening at home against a team who is placed at the very bottom of the NFL in terms of standings.