We're looking at how the Bears can beat the 1-5 Panthers on Sunday to reach 6-1 and put some more distance between them and the rest of the NFC North.
1) Win the Turnover Battle
Yep, first off, it's the ballhawking Chicago Bears' defense versus the giveaway tendencies of the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton's struggled to hold on to the ball, both in the run game (6 fumbles) and in the pass game (6 interceptions). For a Bears team that's led the league in forced fumbles as well as interceptions, not to mention interceptions returned for touchdowns, as well as a team that has given the ball away at least twice in every game, picking up turnovers and killing Panthers' possessions will go a long way to the Bears winning.
2) Make Cam Newton Share the Ball
Between pass attempts and rushing attempts, Cam Newton has his hands significantly on the ball for 70% of the team's offensive plays. His 5.9 yards per carry lead the team, and his 7.7 rushing attempts per game are right up there with the numbers for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. So Newton is a huge part of the Panthers' offense, as he should be. His 273 rushing yards and 3 overall touchdowns lead the team in both departments. He'll have the ball in his hands most of the game; as the team's best player, shut him down and make other players make plays.
3) Matt Forte. Just, Matt Forte.
Matt Forte has been huge against the Panthers the last two years. In 2010 he was the lone offense of the Todd Collins-led team, and in 2011 even with a healthy Jay Cutler the Bears continued to stick with Forte. His 6.61 yards per carry are the best he's had against any opponent; his all-purpose yardage is 176 per game, with three touchdowns. Much like the last two years, Forte's involvement is huge for the Bears' offense, especially when it comes to getting the offense on track to begin with.
4) The Three-Headed Rushing Game
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have both been paid handsomely to carry the ball for the Panthers, and the pair have combined for 85 carries on the season. Some of that is due to the Panthers having far below the average number of total offensive plays, but some more of that is due to the lack of usage in the offense (the Panthers pass at a 55% clip anyway, and Newton takes a third of the carries). However, the trio still has Newton's 5.9 YPC, Williams' 3.9 and Stewart's 4.1. When they get the ball, they can still do things with it. They'll run some option looks and misdirection to disguise who has the ball, but the Bears have the speed to negate those types of plays.
The key stat to note here is that in the two games where the Panthers have scored most of their points, they've run for 219 and 199 yards. The Bears can't let them get off the bus running.
5) Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.
And furthering the cause of chasing down Cam Newton, we have Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin, not to mention Corey Wootton, who's also having himself a pretty nice year. I'm highlighting the ends not just because of the need to get to Newton in the passing game, but also in regards to playing contain in the running game. If Newton or DeAngelo Williams get to the edge with room, they can turn it upfield pretty well. Sacks will largely need to come from Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, and if they do, it'll be because Peppers, McClellin and Wootton set the edge in their favor and didn't give Newton any escape room.
6) Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy
To the ends on the other side of the ball, with the exception of the Panthers missing Jon Beason for the remainder of the year, their defense reminds me of St. Louis with two pretty good defensive ends in Johnson and Hardy, who've combined for 5.5 of the team's 14 sacks. The pair each has a sack against the Bears in three career games (Johnson; Hardy in two) - and over the last two years, we know how many chances the Bears have given them (not many).