I don't think it can be stressed enough that the Panthers are not the same team that finished last year 2-14 - the offense has plenty of teeth with Steve Smith, the revamped tight end position, Brandon LaFell starting to come into his own a bit, and oh yeah, two guys named DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. While the focus of the offense seems to have shifted from a heavy run-base to a heavier passing system, it's a unit that's made some things happen through the air, as currently they are fourth in passing yardage. It's not a gimme matchup by any means. That being said, let's take a look at three things that I think will help the Bears beat the Panthers.
If you're wondering why you aren't seeing anything about "Run da ball ya idiot!", there may or may not be a post coming up about that a little later today. Kinda deserves one all its own.
1) Defensive Line Play Must Contain Newton Itself
The problem is that Newton is not a typical rookie. Pressure might rattle him, sure, but he's poised enough and his weapons good enough that he can hit a blitzer's vacated area and not look back. If the tackles can crash the pocket, given the speed of the defense, the damage Newton can cause with his feet can be lessened. As long as the coverage can stay disciplined, the line could have a pretty decent day, especially Melton.
2) The Offense Will Only Be As Good As The Line Allows
Ugh. Same old story, same old song and dance, but I don't think Aerosmith had the Bears' offensive line in mind. Carolina has two pass-rush threats in ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, and don't get me wrong, they are very good. But the Panthers don't have any other pressure threats. It's clear the line missed Gabe Carimi and Lance Louis, but Louis could return to the starting lineup and give the offensive line some needed push.
3) The Tight Ends Are Just As Much A Weapon As Steve Smith Is, And Need To Be Accounted For
Through three games, Greg Olsen has 12 catches for 169 yards and a TD. Jeremy Shockey has 9 catches for 137 yards. That's the third and fourth most receptions behind Smith and RB Jonathan Stewart, and second and fouth in yardage. I realize neither of them is Jermichael Finley, but let's not forget that Olsen is still a very good receiver out of that tight end spot, and has been split out as a receiver similar to his use here. Newton isn't afraid to spread the ball around, and they have lots of guys that can do something with it after the catch. Well, Olsen still falls down when breathed upon, but you get the point.