After beating the Lions 13-7 on Monday Night Football, the Bears turn their attention to the Carolina Panthers.
Last Year: Cam Newton's rookie year was a thing - he started out with two 400-yard passing games, albeit in losses. The Panthers finished last year 6-10, good for third in the NFC South and winning four of their final six.
This Year: Currently, they're 1-5, riding a four-game losing streak. They've beaten the Saints, but lost to the Buccaneers 16-10, lost to the Giants 36-7, and lost to the Seahawks 16-12, as kind of a general illustration of how they've overall been this season.
When Last We Met: The Bears and Panthers met up in week 4 last season, Jay Cutler's first matchup against them after missing the 2010 matchup because of a concussion. The Bears took the lead thanks to a DJ Moore interception return for a touchdown, Matt Forte scored a touchdown, and Devin Hester added some separation with a punt return for a touchdown. But the Panthers answered back to make it 24-23 behind two Olindo Mare field goals and a Newton touchdown rush, but the Bears added the final margin with a Robbie Gould field goal and a Marion Barber score. Carolina picked up 543 total yards to the Bears' 317, 224 of those rushing, but the Bears won 34-29.
Total Yardage: 28th
Total Points: 24th
Passing Yardage: 22nd
Rushing Yardage: 13th
Let's do a quick glancethrough at the contracts on the Panthers, particularly on the ground. Jonathan Stewart, six years, 37.8 million. DeAngelo Williams, five years, 43 million. Mike Tolbert, four years, 8.4 million. Cam Newton, four years, 22.0 million (included just because). The Panthers are 13th in rushing (and sixth in yards per attempt with 4.6!), but that's not the galling thing. No, the galling thing is that they have the 23rd most - or, more accurately, 10th fewest - rushing attempts. Partly due to running the second-fewest offensive snaps in the league? Possibly. Partly due to having to abandon the run late in games? Not so much, as they've only been blown out once. The heart of the matter is not that they can't run the ball - they can. It's that they choose not to when they have the ball. But lots of times, they don't.
Turnovers are absolutely killing the Panthers. Cam Newton's thrown for six interceptions and the team's coughed up seven fumbles lost; Newton alone has six of the Panthers' 12 overall fumbles. Return specialist Joe Adams has another three fumbles on his resume. As Stefan Logan can attest, it's not a good thing to hand the ball to the opponent after forcing a punt.
Onto more positive notes for the Panthers, Greg Olsen is having himself a fairly good year - his 26 receptions are second on the team behind Steve Smith, and his 324 yards and a touchdown are both, likewise, second on the roster. Olsen's actually on pace for career highs in receptions and yards (4.3 receptions per game, 54.0 yards).
Points Allowed: 20th
Yards Allowed: 21st
Passing Yards Allowed: 19th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 19th
Things aren't looking so good defensively. Defensive back Chris Gamble is done for the year, as is Jon Beason, placed on IR just yesterday, so the team's missing two of their best in the back seven. Up front, they still have Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, as well as Dwan Edwards, an eight year veteran who spent five years with Baltimore and the last two with Buffalo. The trio's accounted for nine of the team's 14 sacks and can get after the quarterback really well - turnovers, they've forced four fumbles with five interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns), but three of the eventual seven takeaways came against the Seahawks. Draft pick Luke Keuchly leads the team in tackles along with having an interception and a fumble recovery.
If the Bears do this...: The Bears excel at taking the ball away (two takeaways in every game this year), and the Panthers have proven to be proficient at giving the ball away (at least one turnover in every game, four with at least 2). So, if the Bears do what the defense is predicated on and take the ball away, they stand a strong chance to win the game. Getting to the scrambling Cam Newton will go a long way to getting those turnovers, and the Bears' defense is among the fastest in the league. On offense, control the ball, don't give it back, and convert third down.
If the Panthers do this...: If the Panthers can drive and hold onto the football, I'd be a little worried - their passing net yards per attempt is 7th in the league and rushing is 6th (6.9 and 4.6, respectively). So when they get plays going, they can be productive. It's a matter of them not giving the ball away and giving Cam Newton running lanes. Also, Johnson and Hardy have to come up big with Gamble and Beason both down.
Closing Thoughts: It's somewhat of a shame that Ryan Kalil predicts a Super Bowl for Carolina, then has to spend the rest of the season on IR. Also, it should be noted that of Carolina's 682 rushing yards, over 400 of them came in two games - New Orleans and Atlanta. Those two games are the only ones the Panthers scored more than 15 points (35, 28). Yet, the Panthers continue to insist on a 56% passing offense. For comparison, the Bears are at 53%.