It’s close, but thanks to a home-field advantage (does that even exist anymore?), the oddsmakers favor the Panthers over the Bears this weekend.
Both the Bears and Panthers have exceeded expectations thus far this season. Chicago’s defense is, once more, among the upper echelons of the NFL. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater is proving to be one of pro football’s more efficient and effective quarterbacks. Something, somewhere, perhaps, has to give.
The Windy City Gridiron’s staff notes for keys to a Bears victory over Carolina on Sunday.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter
Offense: Repeat the broken record that is I, and run the ball. Carolina’s secondary has been nothing to sneeze at lately. Up front, however, the Bears may have an advantage. Plus, running the ball while installing Alex Bars at left guard will help ease the transition on the offensive line.
Defense: Tackle Mike Davis. He’s looking for his own revenge game against the Bears, and now is the time for the defense to step up against the run. Dare Teddy Bridgewater to beat you with his arm, where the Bears’ secondary has a complete advantage over the Panthers’ receiving corps.
Special Teams: Don’t give up any big returns on kicks. In fact, they might be better off just kicking short and forcing one of the up-men to field the ball. Pharoh Cooper is a legitimate threat in the return game.
If the Bears are going to have a chance, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize Sir Purr. Because of COVID-19, Staley won’t be able to travel to cheer on our Beloved, while Purr will be unlimited in his invigorating gyrations from the stands. Take advantage of Robby Anderson thinking Sir Purr is a bear, and make him think it’s cheering for us. Do that and the Bears will have a grizzly’s chance in a blackberry patch of feasting on victory!
I have no idea why some consider this a “trap” game. Folks, the Bears aren’t favored by most to win it. Fortunately I expect Jason La Canfora to pick against Chicago again and that’s some big mojo on our side.
Offense: The bottom line is what it has been all season. Continue to keep turnovers to a minimum. This offense simply doesn’t have the talent (especially with the loss of its best lineman, James Daniels) to blow people off the ball. Running lanes are going to be hard to find. Expect a lot more dink and dunk, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Joe Montana dinked and dunked the Niners to four Super Bowl rings. Yes, a different era, but it still works.
Defense: As much as people are complaining about how the Bears are being “gashed” in the run, in reality they are in the top half of the league in rushing yardage allowed. Not what we are used to, but not gashed either. The Bears aren’t giving up multiple 15-play drives per game indicative of being run over, or losing drastically on time of possession. Chicago is on the plus side of time of possession for the season, although the last couple of weeks they lost by a little over a minute to two good teams. The bottom line remains the same as always. Limit the damage over the middle where the Bears defense is struggling, and keep the pass rush in Cheat Mode again.
The Panthers are a lot like the Bears.
They do a few things well, in this case a patient offense, but otherwise sit at above .500 thanks to well-calibrated smoke and mirrors. The Bears don’t have to change much from their game-plan against Tampa Bay. I fully expect Khalil Mack to play like Khalil Mack.
Where this game will be flipped is on whether Chicago can take advantage of the big plays a porous Carolina defense is prone to surrender. Darnell Mooney will be open, more than once, deep. If Nick Foles doesn’t hit these plays, eventually a calm Teddy Bridgewater will, as he won’t be as rattled by pressure like Tom Brady in the twilight of his career.
Jack R. Salo
Offense: Just stay on the field. This Panthers team doesn’t do a lot of things exceptionally well. They’re middle of the pack in most offensive efficiency rankings for both run (13th) and pass (10th) and if the Bears don’t give them time of possession to establish an identity, I think Matt Nagy’s squad can get out of this one without much trouble. That means convert on third downs, take small bites rather than go for the home run play, and let your offensive linemen crash into dudes on designed run plays rather than confuse themselves with too many RPOs.
Defense: Panthers Coach Matt Rhule used to love to run a quarterback sneak on second and short when he was at Baylor. Besides the obvious strategy of not giving the other team eight yards on first down, when you do get into that situation, try not to outsmart yourself. Stack the A-gaps and hit them harder than they hit you. Mike Davis has gotten over 100 all-purpose yards on offense in both of the previous games, and the receiving yards (60) really jump off the page in their win against the Falcons. Design more zone coverage with blitzes to force Bridgewater to dump it off, and make sure Davis is spied in the flats and on short curls.
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