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Week 7 Game Preview: Bears-Panthers

The Bears look to build off a win but another tough defense stands in the way.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears are coming off a victory, which isn’t a common occurrence these days but another tough opponent is on the schedule.

The team will at least be playing on home turf as they welcome in the Carolina Panthers.

For rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky it will be another tough test against a battle tested defense.

And on the Carolina sideline, it will be a homecoming of sorts for head coach Ron Rivera as he faces the team he both played for and coached as an assistant.

There’s no shortage of storylines as the Bears try to crawl back towards .500 and respectability.

Carolina Panthers

SB Nation site: Cat Scratch Reader

Record: 4-2 (First in NFC South)

Last Week: 28-23 loss on Thursday night to the Eagles

Bears All-Time Record Against: 5-4 (0-1 playoffs)

Historical Match Ups: There was that ill-fated playoff game following the 2005 season, when the Bears came out and got Steve Smith’d and lost 29-21. I honestly didn’t remember that game being as close as it was because all I remember is Steve Smith going off for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

A better game for the beloved was the 2011 Week 4 match up which saw the Bears win 34-29. While the Panthers racked up 543 total yards, Lovie Smith’s bend-don’t-break defense was in full swing, holding the Panthers to three field goals while the Bears scored on an interception, a punt return and a two rushing scores. Matt Forte had 205 rushing yards.

Last Meeting: A 31-24 loss in Week 5 of the 2014 season. Greg Olsen caught two touchdowns while Jay Cutler threw two picks to match his two touchdowns and rushed for another.

Injury Report:

Offense: The Panthers offense ranks 19th in yards per game and 17th in points per game.

The rushing offense is the 22nd in yards but with the 11th most attempts, which is not a great ratio. The Panthers are averaging 3.4 YPC as a team.

Their leading rusher is Jonathan Stewart (85 att./247 yds./0 TD) but he is averaging just 2.9 YPC while Cam Newton (40/161/3) leads the team in average (4.0) and TDs and is followed by rookie Christian McCaffrey (38/104/0) with a 2.7 YPC average. Newton is the only rusher averaging more than three yards per carry for the Panthers (min. three attempts).

The passing game is fairing slightly better ranking 17th in yards and 16th in attempts. Cam Newton has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

While familiar face Greg Olsen is lost for the season, the Panthers still have some weapons in the passing game. Receptions leader McCaffrey (37 rec./293 yds./2 TDs) is proving to the multi-tool he was in college while Devin Funchess (27/305/3) and Kelvin Benjamin (26/371/1) can challenge downfield. Olsen fill-in Ed Dickson (15/307/0) is averaging a team-best 20.7 YPC.

The offense skews pass-heavy (204 pass attempts vs. 170 rushing attempts) and while Newton’s completion percentage is at a career high 64.7 percent, he’s been throwing a good amount of picks. As a runner he’s fumbled four times but has yet to lose one.

Defense: A Rivera-coached team should have a strong defense and this one is no different with the fourth-ranked overall defense in terms of yards allowed and ranking ninth in points allowed.

The Panthers rank seventh in terms of passing yards allowed and just fifth in rushing yards allowed. However, they have given up 20 passing touchdowns, which is tied for the fourth most in the league.

The defensive backfield for the Panthers is struggling, with the team’s only interception being by LB Luke Kuechly. Safety Mike Adams leads the team with four passes defended while CB James Bradberry has three.

The Panthers have the second-most sacks in the league with 20. They are led by former Bear Julius Peppers with 6.5, followed by Kawann Short and Mario Addison with three each and then LBs Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson with two each. Star Lotulelei has just a half a sack and three others have one each.

Kuechly is their best defensive player and is still coming back from a concussion but has had 10 days off to recover.

Key Match Ups: Another week with another tough defense for rookie Trubisky to play against. If he is going to avoid turnovers it will be up to the offensive line to give him time to work his progressions and him to make safe throws.

The Bears again will have to rely on their running game to carry the offense but it’s going to be tough sledding against a stingy run defense.

This is a huge game for the offensive line. They need to open running lanes against a tough front seven and protect their young QB so he can avoid a third straight strip/sack.

On defense the Bears need to work to keep the Panthers struggling rushing attack in check to make them one-dimensional. Kyle Fuller needs to build off his strong performance a week ago as he lines up against the big and physical Devin Funchess.

Let’s see if the defense can continue forcing turnovers against Newton, who has been throwing to opponents often this season.

What to Watch For: This is another big test for Trubisky. He has to do his best not to make big mistakes and take the plays the defense gives him.

Will any receiver or tight end really step up and actually make some plays against a middling secondary? If the pass rush is kept at bay, there will be openings somewhere downfield. Allowing 20 passing touchdowns with just one interception isn’t exactly a mark of a solid secondary. The pass rush is legit though.

The Bears secondary needs to build off their two-pick performance last week and try to keep it going against another interception prone QB.

Key Stats: The Panthers are -6 in the turnover margin but have a winning record.

The Panthers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 13 last season and have allowed only four over the last two seasons.

The Bears are 2-0 when Jordan Howard rushes for 100 yards this season and/or have 200+ rushing yards as a team.

Opposing QBs have a 100.0 rating against Carolina this season.

What do the Bears have to do to win Sunday against Carolina?