Welcome to preseason, where everything's made up and the points (and the wins) don't matter. Or maybe everything doesn't matter, I'm not sure. But either way, we're finally here, breaking down the first preseason game of the year. After all, we need our practice too before things zip into high gear, and that includes a weekly Pleased to Meet You feature, where we introduce you to the opponent flavor of the week that will hopefully be used as a prop in a re-united Drew Carey edition of Whose Line en route to a Bears win.
I'm not sure what that last sentence was.
Either way, preseason week one brings us Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Last Year: 7-9, tied for second in the NFC South with everybody else. Three teams with losing records, what a horrible division.
So Far This Year: ...Yes, those are actual crickets, not just some piped in crowd noise.
When Last We Met: Just last year, the Panthers started the season on a long losing stretch, hitting the 1-6 mark with a 23-22 last-second field goal by Robbie Gould. Something about scoring 16 fourth-quarter points. You can read about that game here, along with the accompanying Notes from the next morning. Yes, I may just be plugging our weekly game-routines at this point.
Total Points: 357 (18th)
Total Yards: 5771 (12th in NFL)
Rushing Yards: 2088 (9th)
Passing Yards: 3683 (16th)
Remember how at the start of last season the Panthers weren't running the ball for anything? No, really, they weren't running the ball with Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, along with Mike Tolbert. That's why they fell to 1-6 after losing to the Bears. They finished the year 7-9 - well, that means they went 6-3 the rest of the way.
What happened, offensively? They figured out that running the ball might be a good idea. The passing numbers took a much deserved spike upwards (and boy, did they ever have to!), but including the Bears game, the Panthers ran for at least 100 yards in 9 of their final 11 games. (Hint: They lost the two they didn't, in the final 9.)
Oh, and that Steve Smith guy too. Maybe a bit of Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen, who added 69 receptions and 843 yards with 5 touchdowns. Yeah, he's a receiving tight end who's used like... a receiving tight end. That's not a bad club to have in the golf bag as your second-leading receiver. They haven't invested many recent draft picks into the offense (at least not in 2012 and 2013), but 2013 sixth-round running back Kenjon Barner could make a little noise.
Now let's hit the other side of that coin - a defense that played pretty damn well to close out last season:
Total Points: 363 (18th)
Total Yards: 5329 (10th)
Rushing Yards: 1761 (14th)
Passing Yards: 3568 (13th)
So a top-10 yardage defense and a borderline top-10 defense overall, and where a lot of eyes will be on Friday night. Luke Kuechly begins his second year manning the middle of the Panthers' defense, a defense that held the final four opponents to 215 rushing yards combined - and held the Saints to 38 points while the offense scored 44. And the defense added to ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson (11.0 and 12.5 sacks, respectively) with first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei and second-round draft pick Kawann Short. (And with Kyle Long and Jermon Bushrod, I'm not sure I'd want to have the Bears with Short with you guys around...)
If the Bears do this...
It's preseason, so of course we're looking more at players than plays and outcomes, but I'd like to see some execution up and down the roster to show the offensive players are getting the scheme. I'm also interested to see how Isaiah Frey looks in the nickel packages against the ones, as well as how the new linebackers look tracking down the Carolina run game.
If the Panthers do this...
Expect that offensive line to be tested, heavily. You don't have Hardy and Johnson, add a first and second round pick to it at defensive tackle, and expect to not get anything out of it (And DT Dwan Edwards himself had six sacks last year). Might not be the Lions of Cliff Avril, Ndomakung Suh, Nick Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but this could still be a really good unit by the end of the year.
If you wanted to see something for the Bears to handle, this game, you're probably getting it. A matchup against a man-receiver, a matchup against a Cover-2 Destroying Tight End (TM), a matchup against a fierce and heavily-invested defensive line, and oh yeah, a solid running game to take on the linebackers? The Bears should have a pretty good early gauge on the depths of the roster.
More from Windy City Gridiron:
- 2013 Stats over/under: Charles Tillman
- Chicago Bears 2013 Position Battles: Defensive End
- Chicago Bears 2013 Position Battles: Defensive Tackle
- Chicago Bears Training Camp: 8/7 Practice Recap
- The Bears Den: August 07, 2013 - Training Camp news and notes
- The first unofficial Chicago Bears 2013 depth chart has been released