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Pleased To Meet You: Week 4, Carolina Panthers

I don't know what there is to say about the loss to the Packers that hasn't already been said except that it's only three games into the season, and a lot can happen in the remaining thirteen. That being said, things have to get turned around quickly in order for the division to still be in reach - namely, receivers getting open and making catches, offensive linemen protecting Jay Cutler and opening running lanes when they're supposed to, stupid penalties not happening on a regular basis, that sort of thing. I'm not sure how that gets turned around overnight, but things have to get fixed up. 

The Bears finished up their rough opening three games at 1-2, and the likewise 1-2 Carolina Panthers come to town on Sunday. Follow me past the jump and let's take a look at our new challenger...

What'd They Do Last Year: NFC South cellar-dweller, finished at 2-14, good for the first overall pick in the draft, which was promptly spent on Cam Newton. You may have heard of him, and maybe about his quarterbacking (heyo!). To be fair, so far, he's looking pretty good.

When Last We Met: If bad quarterbacking makes you puke, stop reading, or at least skip this segment. The infamous Todd Collins showed up in place of Jay Cutler's concussed self, and Matt Forte and Chester Taylor carried the load as the Bears beat the Panthers 23-6. Think about this. Not only did Forte have more carries than Collins had pass attempts, Chester Taylor had more carries than Collins had pass attempts. Collins was six for sixteen, Caleb Hanie came in and was two for his three attempts, Forte scored twice and Robbie Gould kicked three field goals. Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore were marginally better than Collins, as they combined to go 14-32 for 96 yards. If you're a fan of offensive football, well, you sure got offensive football, am I right?

Okay, it's safe to read again.

So Far This Year: Cam Newton started off almost as hot as his recruitment pursuit, throwing for 400 yards in each of his first two games this season. Last week against the Jaguars, he only threw for 158 yards, as a low-scoring, fight-for-every-yard-in-an-absolute-flood affair ended in the Panthers' first win of the season, 16-10. They currently sit at 1-2 and in 3rd place in the NFC South.

Wideout Steve Smith is starting to have a resurgent year (16 receptions, 349 yards, 2 TDs) with the addition of the rookie Newton throwing him the ball, something Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore just couldn't figure out. The Panthers' offense is built on the talents of Newton primarily throwing the ball to any number of available targets, especially fostered with the acquisition of two receiving tight ends in Jeremy Shockey and our former Bear Greg Olsen, and on Newton's own natural running ability (25 rushing attempts with two touchdowns). Historically, the Bears have had success on shutting down quarterbacks with mobility - Michael Vick comes to mind - but this one is different, as he actually appears to be able to pass more consistently. DeAngelo Williams currently has a Chester Taylor-like 2.3 yards per carry on the young season, compared to Newton and Jonathan Stewart's 3.9. Stewart's also used more in the passing game than Williams is, with his 13 receptions.

The Panthers' base defense is a 4-3 with a pair of solid defensive ends and a tendency to bring pressure through the blitz. The team has five sacks so far, three through end Charles Johnson and two through other end Greg Hardy. It doesn't go for turnovers, it doesn't really attempt to do anything except stop the offense from moving forward. It's a unit that's faced only 78 passing attempts on the year - the fewest in the NFL - and has given up the 14th most passing yardage, good for the worst yards-per-attempt against in the league. The 80 rushing plays it's faced are in about the middle of the pack, and on those it's given up the 25th most yards. It's not necessarily a great defense by any stretch, but good enough. The biggest thing to fear, of course, are those ends. ... Why does Carolina always end up developing defensive ends? Does Jerry Angelo have something to do with this? Are we signing these guys in three years?

If the Bears do this...
The big thing this week will be protection, namely from J'Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale. Tackle play hasn't been a bright spot for the Bears. If they can keep those ends from pounding Cutler, this could be a decent week for the passing game. And if the line ever remembers what run-blocking is like, the Panthers' run defense isn't to be feared either. But again, it all stems from the weakest point of the Bears - if protection and blocking are there, this could be a big game for an offense that needs it.

If the Panthers do this...
I'm not terribly afraid of Cam Newton if the offense plays one-dimensional - like I said, the Bears handle Michael Vick better than almost any other team, except that Newton so far throws better. My worry is if the Panthers running game shows up. If the offense becomes fully three-dimensional (air attack, ground attack, and mobile quarterback), especially given the Bears' history of not handling Steve Smith and refusal to stop Jermichael Finley last week, this might be a tough one for the Bears to handle. Watch for the tight ends to continually attack in the passing game and see if Olsen continues to produce - after all, no one shut down Greg Olsen better over the last four years than the Chicago Bears

Closing Thoughts:
Newton's been sacked 8 times on the year with his running around - I'd bet on Peppers and Melton getting him at least once or twice. And of his four interceptions, three were against Green Bay. He could throw one against the Bears with a rookie mistake or two.