Last Year: Finished 12-4, finishing first in the NFC South; in the playoffs, they fell to the 49ers, 23-10, in the divisional round. (This appears to be the tour of Teams that Lost to San Francisco in the NFC Playoffs.)
This Year: So far, they're 2-2, which is tied for the NFC South lead with the Falcons. (Other fun notes, the NFC North is the only division where every team is .500 or better.)
When Last We Met: Back in Week 8 of 2012, the Bears beat the Panthers 23-22 on a last-second Robbie Gould field goal. Louis Murphy took a fumble for a touchdown and Justin Medlock kicked five field goals, but Gould's was the one that mattered. Jay Cutler threw for 186 yards, 98 of which went to Brandon Marshall, and a touchdown toss to Kellen Davis (!).
|Points||73 (28th)||96 (17th)|
|Total Yardage||1,311 (25th)||1,495 (23rd)|
|Passing Yardage||1,027 (13th)||932 (12th)|
|Rushing Yardage||284 (29th)||563 (27th)|
Offense: If you're interested, I found ex-Bears quarterback Matt Blanchard - he's on Carolina's injured reserve with a concussion.
In other ex-Bears news, Greg Olsen's still doing some work as a pass-catching tight end. He's built himself into a pretty effective cornerstone of the Panthers' offense since his departure from Chicago for a third round pick. Right now, he's second on the team in receiving yardage, behind Kelvin Benjamin. The receiving corps rounds out with the ageless Jerricho Cotchery, the nearly-as-ageless Jason Avant, and fellow youngster Philly Brown. No more Steve Smith, who's now off with Baltimore, after what he now alleges was a personal dispute with the Panthers' GM.
To the actual strength of the Panthers' offense, running the ball, they're running out of healthy bodies to run the ball. DeAngelo Williams is down with a high ankle sprain. Mike Tolbert is on IR/designated to return with a knee injury. Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker are both questionable with a knee and a quad injury, respectively. Darrin Reaves has all of 26 yards on 12 carries, and the team just picked up Chris Ogbonnaya, who may have to play significant time against the Bears. Cam Newton himself was hampered by a rib injury and also tweaked something in his leg, so he's not quite as mobile as he'd like to be.
As far as protection goes, the Panthers have allowed ten sacks through the first four games, and the Bears picked up just one against the Packers (when Ego Ferguson gently escorted Aaron Rodgers out of bounds).
Defense: Greg Hardy's again marked inactive at this point, so lining up across from Charles Johnson is Wes Horton, who hasn't yet notched a solo tackle, but six assists and no sacks. The folks who've been picking up the sacks this year for the Panthers are 33-year-old defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (2.5 sacks) and former Bears' DE Mario Addison (3.5 sacks). Youngsters Kony Ealy and Kawann Short haven't made much noise at this point of the season.
Luke Kuechly has himself a sack on the year, but he's also putting up a pretty good season in the early going, with three passes defended, a forced fumble, and leading his team in tackles. Safety Roman Harper comes over from New Orleans, so players may have to be aware of helmet missiles; Thomas DeCoud also comes over from Atlanta, as the Panthers raided the other NFC South teams.
Ron Rivera sends an occasional blitz, but he also lets the front four work.
If the Bears do this: Offensively, the Bears have the ability to match up. They showed last week against the Packers they can run the ball against a non-elite rushing defense, and Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery can work against most defensive backs.
Defensively, with how banged up the Panthers' run game is, and with the lack of reliable deep game in the Panthers' offense, the Bears can focus on closing down the short and intermediate plays and staying on top of Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin as the prime threats.
If the Panthers do this: Defensively, the Panthers have the personnel to get after Jay Cutler, and Kuechly can match with Matt Forte out of the backfield while leaving Harper or DeCoud to match with Martellus Bennett. Getting early pressure on Cutler can make things difficult for the Bears, and the Panthers can do that.
Closing Thoughts: If the Bears are going to make plays for the division, winning this week and next week can go a long way to getting there.