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Week 6 Game Preview: Bears-Panthers

The Bears hit the road to face a surprisingly upstart Panthers team.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s back to Bears football after a long weekend off.

There’s little rest in the NFL, other than your bye, so the “mini-bye” that comes after a Thursday game almost makes up for the quick four day turnaround that comes with kicking off the football weekend.

The Bears hit the road to take on the Panthers and it kicks off a stretch of games that will tell us more about this Bears team and how they stack up against a competitive NFC than the first five games.

The Panthers themselves are an interesting test. They’re 3-2 but beating just about everyone’s expectations with a pretty good balance of offense and defense.

This is a game that when the schedule came out looked easier than it would appear now that it’s game week.

Carolina Panthers

SB Nation site: Cat Scratch Reader

Record: 3-2, first in the NFC South

Last week: 23-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons

Game day, time, TV: Sunday, noon CT, FOX

Bears all-time record against: 6-4 including postseason

Historical meetings: Week 11, 2005, the 6-3 Bears meet the 7-2 Panthers at Soldier Field.

In a playoff preview, the Bears and Panthers meet in an anticipated defensive slugfest and it met the hype.

I remember this being one of the hardest hitting games I had ever watched up to that point in my life. The Bears sacked Panthers QB Jake Delhomme eight times and forced him into two interceptions.

By the end of the game, it appeared like Delhomme wanted no part of the Bears’ defense.

In an unfortunate playoff preview, Steve Smith did have 14 catches for 169 yards, but the defense held the Panthers out of the endzone all day.

The Bears managed only one touchdown (to Muhsin Muhammad) but won 13-3. Adewale Ogunleye had three sacks, Alex Brown had two and Tommie Harris, Alfonso Boone and Michael Haynes each had one.

Last meeting: A 17-3 Bears win at Soldier Field in what I am calling The Eddie Jackson Game. I don’t know if it’s too early to name a game, but let’s face it, that’s what it is.

Week 7, 2017, the 2-4 Bears hosted the 4-2 Panthers and expectations among Bears fans were low.

In his second start Mitch Trubisky was allowed just seven passing attempts in a true John Fox gameplan that recalled the early Kyle Orton years. Jordan Howard ran 21 times for 65 yards and the offense didn’t score a single touchdown.

The defense played out of it’s mind, sacking Cam Newton five times and picked him off twice.

The Bears scored on two Eddie Jackson plays: a 75-yard fumble return in the first quarter and a 76-yard interception return in the second quarter.

It was the game that established Jackson (then a rookie) as a forced to be reckoned with.

Injury report: The Panthers had seven players listed on Wednesday’s injury report as either limited or not participating.

Limited: CB Eli Apple (hamstring), CB Donte Jackson (toe), DT Zach Kerr (toe), WR Curtis Samuel (knee)

Did not participate: DE Brian Burns (concussion), DE Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle), DT Kawann Short (shoulder)

Offense: The Panthers offense is 20th in points scored but sixth in yards.

Their passing offense is fifth, while their rushing offense is 14th.

Led by the resurgent Teddy Bridgewater (73 pct. cmp./1,460 yds./6 TD/3 INT), throwing to weapons such as WRs Robby Anderson (36 rec./489 yds./1 TD), D.J. Moore (22/381/1) and Curtis Samuel (19/183/0).

Despite missing the great Christian McCaffrey, former Bear Mike Davis (30/206/2) has stepped up in the passing game, as well as a rusher (46 att./220/1 TD). Samuel (15/63/0) and Reggie Bonnafon (12/69/0) spell him and it’s worth noting that Bridgewater (15/73/1) also gets involved in the running game as well.

Offensive coordinator Joe Brady (of LSU fame a year ago where he tutored Joe Burrow) is running an offense that plays to Bridgewater’s strengths, short and intermediate throws mixed in with the occasional deep shot. Bridgewater isn’t a QB who often puts up gaudy stats but he gets wins by being smart with the football and taking shots downfield only when they’re there.

The offense hasn’t missed a beat without McCaffrey, who is the best all-around back in the NFL.

Defense: The Panthers defense comes into the game ranked 14th in yards and 13th in points allowed.

Their rushing defense ranks 25th but their pass defense ranks fourth.

Linebackers Tahir Whitehead (27 tkls/1 FR) and Shaq Thompson (41 tkls/2 TFL/2 PD/1 FF) and safety Jeremy Chinn (44 tkls/1 PD/1 TFL/1 QB hit) are patrolling the field along with Brian Burns (2 sacks/2 FF/3 TFL/4 QB hits), Marquis Haynes (2 sacks/2 TFL/2 QB hits/1 PD) and Yetur Gross-Matos (1 sack/1 FF) up front.

In the secondary Donte Jackson (2 INT/4 PD) and Juston Burris (1 INT/2 PD/2 TFL) are also lurking.

Key match ups: Bears OL vs. Panthers DL - Check that injury report up there, the Panthers d-line is banged up and they’ve been generous against the run. The Bears have no excuse not to have a good day running the ball. The only thing that could stop them is the offensive line or Matt Nagy getting away from the run.

They also need to score touchdowns. This isn’t really an earth-shattering key to winning a football game, but the Panthers are sixth in yards but 20th in points: they move the ball well but aren’t scoring a ton. They’re 50 percent on red zone offense. If the Panthers are settling for field goals, the Bears need to be scoring touchdowns.

Open up holes for David Montgomery and let him work. Set up the pass and play action or at least some of those RPOs that Nick Foles is good at running. Only three Panthers have sacks through five games and two of them are on the injury report. Open running lanes and give Nick Foles time to find his weapons.

For the defense, pressure Bridgewater. He’s best when he has time and he isn’t the most fleet of foot quarterback.

You also have to shutdown Mike Davis. Not facing CMC is a big win but Davis has been good and talk of a “Mike Davis Revenge Game” isn’t just talk, he’s been very solid and is probably the most consistent weapon Carolina has had.

Receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson have some speed on the outside so Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson keeping those guys in front of them will assure that Teddy will checkdown. He’s methodical with his deep throws so make him check down and earn yards and drives.

Key stats: Teddy Bridgewater is 4-1 against the Bears in his career, with nine touchdowns, three interceptions and a 100.4 quarterback rating.

Panthers rank 22nd in defensive red zone percentage, with opponents scoring on 66.7 percent of their red zone trips. The Bears’ offense ranks 25th in red zone percentage.

Also, they rank 29th in third down defense, with opponents converting 50.8 percent of their third downs. The Bears rank 29th in third down offense.

Mike Davis averaged 1.6 yards per carry with the Bears last year (only 11 attempts though). His career average is 3.8 and he is currently averaging 4.8 YPC.

The Panthers are sixth in offensive third down conversions at 49.2 percent. The Bears defense ranks second in third down defense, allowing just 33.3 percent of opponents’ third downs.

What are the keys for the Bears to beat the Panthers? Are you worried about a Mike Davis revenge game?