Carolina Panthers-Chicago Bears Week 8 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Carolina Panthers-Chicago Bears Week 8 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
For the fourth time in five years, the Chicago Bears will face the Carolina Panthers in regular season play. The Bears (5-1) won the last two games against the Panthers (1-5), and looks to be in position to make it three in a row.
Carolina has started the season off on a sour note, and it has taken its toll on the organization as a whole. Earlier this week the Panthers fired their general manager, and are now looking for answers on how to get back on course.
Also, the maturity of second-year quarterback Cam Newton has been questioned. Newton’s postgame interviews have stirred controversy and raised the question of whether he is ready to lead a team.
These distractions couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate time for the Panthers, because they have one of the hottest teams in the NFL waiting for them this coming Sunday.
The Bears are riding high after winning their fourth consecutive game this past Monday night. Even though there is still room for improvement, Chicago will enter this game as heavy favorites, and should easily come away with their sixth win of the season.
In looking at the positions of both teams, some are close in comparison on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s obvious whom the advantages go to. Overall, Chicago seems to be the superior team, and will take advantage of the Panthers’ weaknesses.
Now let’s take a look at how Carolina and Chicago matches up for the Week 8 battle.
In Chicago’s Monday night victory over the Detroit Lions, Jay Cutler suffered bruised ribs on his right side after being sacked by Ndamukong Suh. Although Cutler returned to the game after sitting out one play and mentioned to the media that his ribs are fine, Chicago still may limit his passing this game. Cutler has already been limited in practice this week. Besides, the Bears will more than likely lean on their running game against Carolina’s porous run defense. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has shown flashes of greatness this season, but hasn’t met the expectations many had of him after his 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. The difference maker in the quarterback matchup will be Chicago’s stingy defensive secondary. Twelve of the Bears’ 14 interceptions have come from their defensive backs.
Running back Matt Forte has had great success against the Panthers throughout his career. In the three games that he has played against Carolina, Forte has rushed for 463 yards and three touchdowns. With the help of running back Michael Bush, the Bears are ninth in the NFL in run offense (131.5 yards per game). The Panthers’ run defense is giving up an average of 120.3 yards per game. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams will find it hard to find openings against Chicago’s number-one ranked run defense. And might I add, even though Williams is Carolina’s feature back, their quarterback is the team’s leading rusher. Not a good sign for the Panthers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
With the expectancy of Chicago relying more on the run this week, and the challenge that Carolina has going up against the Bears’ secondary, I don’t expect anyone from either team to have a big receiving day. Chicago’s Brandon Marshall is by far Cutler’s favorite target on the field, having hauled in a team-high 41 receptions (27 more than the second most on the team). Carolina can always depend on veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to be a threat. However, I believe that former Bears tight end Greg Olsen will be the difference maker in this matchup. Olsen has knowledge of Chicago’s cover-two defense, and knows were in the zone to settle and get receptions.
The Bears’ offensive line shouldn’t have much to worry about in facing Carolina’s average defensive front. Even though the Panthers have a respectable 14 sacks on the season, they won’t have many opportunities to get to Chicago’s quarterback if the Bears are busy running the ball on their 19th ranked run defense. As for the Panthers’ offensive line, they will have their hands full with trying to contain the Bears’ pass rush and stout run defense. Cutler should come away from this game with a fairly clean uniform, no matter how suspect the Bears’ o-line may seem during pass protection.
Just like the Bears, Carolina’s defensive front has had their share of success with sacking quarterbacks. However, it doesn’t equal the amount of success that Chicago has had this season. The Bears’ defensive front has been dominant since the start of the season. Chicago is tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for first in the league for most sacks by the defensive line with 19. Julius Peppers has a knack for coming up big versus his former team. Last season, Peppers blocked a crucial field goal attempt, and the year before that made an acrobatic interception after batting a Carolina pass attempt.
Unfortunately, for the Panthers, the heart and soul of their group of linebackers, Jon Beason, is out for the season due to cartilage damage in his right knee that requires surgery. This puts a lot of pressure on rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly to try to lead the way and stop Chicago’s running game. As for Chicago, linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will have to be alert of Cam Newton’s ability to scramble and extend plays. Urlacher, Briggs, and the overshadowed outside linebacker Nick Roach are athletic enough to contain Newton and should give Carolina’s quarterback fits all day long.
A legitimate argument can be made saying that the Bears’ secondary is one of the best in the league. Dating back to last season, Chicago has seven consecutive games with at least one interception. In addition, the Bears’ starting secondary has total of 10 interceptions on the season. Carolina’s five picks in six games can’t hold a candle to what the Bears have done so far this year. Chicago’s focus on the running game will decrease the chances of the Panthers adding to their low number of interceptions, and Newton’s inconsistency will give Chicago a much better chance of adding to their theft streak. To make matters worse for Carolina, their veteran cornerback Chris Gamble is out for the season.
I wouldn’t count on Bears return specialist Devin Hester to break out with a monster return this game. Even though Hester did return a punt for a touchdown the last time these two teams met, the Panthers now have the best coverage team on returns in the NFL this season. Bears kicker Robbie Gould has connected on 12 of his 13 field goal attempts (the one miss was blocked), and is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. On the flipside, Carolina’s rookie kicker, Justin Medlock, has only attempted two field goals in his young career. I’ll take experience any day.
It’s hard not to choose a coaching staff that has led their team to a 5-1 record over a coaching staff who’s team is 1-5 and are currently riding a four-game losing streak. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, a former Chicago Bears player and defensive coordinator, has struggled to build on his team’s late momentum of last year (Carolina won four of their last six games in 2011). Bears head coach Lovie Smith will be smart enough to lean on the running game, knowing that Chicago has had major success on the ground against Carolina in the past few seasons.
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