There are several close calls this week as far as who people will choose in the win column. You have showdowns with teams like Tennessee who have the #1 defense in the league against a team on the rise like Cleveland. The Detroit Lions could go either way as they head to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that has pulled off some incredible, 4th quarter victories. But what about the match up between Carolina and Chicago? I mentioned in my last article that the percentage is drastically in favor of the Bears, but the numbers lean a little more the Panthers way. What will help the Cats come away with a victory in this one?
There are a few factors that give analysts a safety net to fall back on in choosing Chicago for the win. The first is without a doubt the defense. A team that includes players like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, and Henry Melton will cause plenty of problems for any offense (refer to Atlanta from game one). Another factor is experience. These guys have seen a Super Bowl in recent years and have plenty of tricks up their sleeves that will shake a young team on the road. The last factor is the home field advantage. For a team that hasn’t won an away game since that crushing 41-9 victory against the New York Giants in 2009, playing the Bears in Chicago presents an obstacle that the rookie coach and QB will be hard pressed to overcome.
That being said, I like the Panthers to win this game for several reasons that don’t require Cam to throw for another 400 yard week. As an offense, they have established some things that work in a big way. Not only can Cam get the ball in the hands of #1 WR Steve Smith, but his tight ends are really making the difference in picking up big yards and first downs. Not to mention that former Chicago TE Greg Olsen was responsible for the game winning TD in last week’s game. He will definitely be running on all cylinders against the team that gave him up in the off season. Carolina’s offense is almost centered around a TE heavy offense and will be pitted against a Bears defense that, even with their starters, struggles to defend against TE’s. It is the safety’s job to cover the tight end and Chicago’s starting safety, Chris Harris, is questionable to play on Sunday.
Running the ball will be difficult against this defense with only half of Double Trouble getting any decent yardage. If the Panthers run the ball, they need to put it in the hands of JStew, who is 90 yards rushing and 140 yards receiving so far in the season. Their best bet to confuse the defense will be to call dump off plays to the running backs when Cam sees a big blitz in his face. Running, once out of the pocket, will be a lot tougher against guys like Peppers and Melton in week four.
Defensively the Panthers will have a good shot at keeping Chicago to under 20 points this week. Tackle Gabe Carimi will sit out this game and increase an already glaring hole in the Bears’ offensive line. Jay Cutler has been sacked 14 times already this season and I feel good that Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can tack on at least 2 more. Another upside is their ability to knock the ball out when tackling since the Panthers’ D has forced 5 fumbles, even though only one was recovered by the Panthers. As I predicted against Green Bay, I believe that Carolina can force at least one turnover in Chicago territory and with a short field Cam will have a good opportunity to cut into the redzone.
The Bears will see RB Marion Barber on the field for the first time this season to help out a running game that has given more passing yards to starting RB Matt Forte than hand offs. The biggest task for the Panther linebackers will be to contain Forte and force Cutler to pass to other receivers, who have yet to produce big numbers so far this season. Roy Williams is also returning to give them a little more depth at WR and having Chris Gamble out, it out may cause some issues in completely shutting down Chicago’s passing game.
Though the Panthers defense probably won’t put a huge dent on Chicago’s offense, there are two factors that most people haven’t accounted for that I think will create a big advantage in favor of Carolina’s offense. Those factors are Greg Olsen and Coach Ron Rivera. Rivera was the defensive coordinator in Chicago from 2004-2006 before Lovie Smith booted him out to find his replacements. More than motivation for a little revenge, Rivera’s knowledge about the blitzing scheme and players’s personal attributes will give Cam some important insight where he lacks experience. Also, Olsen is practically fresh from Bears’ practices with the team’s starting defense. He already has the ability to exploit starting safeties, but knowing their habits and weaknesses will translate to big numbers for Olsen on Sunday.
As I said, I like Carolina to pull this one out. It will be another day dependent on a strong defense, but even more so for a consistent offense. Cam will have plenty of chances to exploit some holes in the secondary, but the offensive line without Jeff Otah will have to work even harder this week than they did against Green Bay in week two to protect their QB. It will be a close game but I predict Carolina to win it 23-17.