Bears offense vs. Panthers defense
Things do not play into the Bears favor this week at Carolina. In Week 1 against the Colts, the Bears were able to gash a defense similar to theirs, one which is susceptible against the run. It’s a defense built on speed as opposed to size and strength, something the Panthers have based their scheme on. The Colts also don’t blitz very much, something Lovie Smith acknowledged this week and expects to see from the Panthers. That puts increased pressure on both Kyle Orton and Matt Forte. Since Lovie took over as head coach, the Bears generally haven’t played well against physical football teams. If the Bears want to have any shot in this one, they have to play as physical as, if not more than, the Panthers. If we’re to expect a second straight upset on the road, we’ll likely have to see it from the passing game. Forte’s 123-yard game last week sent a message to the entire league and he’ll no longer take anybody by surprise. And now that teams know the Bears have a legitimate running game, they’re going to take that away and make Orton beat them. It’s up to Orton to prove he’s up to the task.
Bears defense vs. Panthers offense
Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, said this off-season, “We want to be a physical team and we want to be able to run the ball and stop the run.” Which is precisely why they focused their off-season attention on upgrading their running game via the draft. They selected running back Jonathan Stewart and tackle Jeff Otah in the first round. As I watched the Panthers at the Chargers on Replay on NFL Network, the one thing I was most impressed with was how well the Panthers ran the ball against a tough, physical defense. Huge, gaping holes were created by their offensive line and both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams took advantage. If there’s one thing I’m worried about more than any other aspect of this game, it’s the Bears ability to stop the Panthers’ running game. I have no trouble predicting a Bears win if they’re able to shut down the run. Problem is, I don’t think they will. In the passing game, the trio of Muhsin Muhammad, D.J. Hackett, and Dwayne Jarrett don’t scare me. Dante Rosario is a talented tight end who caught 7 passes — including the game-winner against the Chargers as time expired — for 96 yards and a touchdown. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report but will likely play. He’s somebody on whom the Bears need to focus their attention. If the Bears can get after Jake Delhomme like they did three years ago in their 2005 regular season matchup — in which the Bears registered 8 sacks, all by the front four — then the Bears will seriously increase their chances of winning.
I sincerely hope somebody smacked Devin Hester on the back of the helmet after his decision to run the second half kickoff out of the end zone, only to get dropped at the 3-yard line. Maybe it’ll jar some common sense into him. The Bears have to walk a fine line with him because they don’t want to stifle his playmaking ability while also telling him he needs to be smarter. I think special teams coordinator Dave Toub said it best this week when talking about how Hester waited in the end zone to try to fool the Colts. “If you’re going to hesitate, we all need to know that you’re hesitating and are going to come out. If you’re going to come out, come out, but don’t stand there and fool us too.” Nevertheless, even when he makes boneheaded plays, he has to be taken seriously and I don’t expect Hester to get much return action on kickoffs. Carolina kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd pounded all six of his kickoffs last week into the end zone, four of which resulted in touchbacks. If ever the Bears were going to try to get Hester more involved on offense and give him a breather on special teams, this would be the time to do it. Although, he’s not going to get too tired fielding kickoffs and taking a knee. Last week, I had no problems with the Bears’ coverage units, a group that worried me in the preseason. At least, there weren’t any moments that I can remember off-hand that ended up costing the Bears. As for the Panthers, they have a solid kicker in John Kasay who booted four field goals, including a 49-yarder, in Week 1. Still, Hester’s mere presence on returns will cause the Bears to gain good field position and Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard are still among the best in the business at what they do.
I wish I could say the Bears had momentum on their side coming into this week following their upset win over the Colts. But the Panthers had just as inspiring a win over another AFC powerhouse. I’d like to say the Bears will duplicate what they did last week and run the ball effectively, taking time off the clock, keeping the opposing offense on the sideline and keeping their own defense fresh. But the Panthers are going to load the box and make Orton beat them while Carolina’s offense is going to play the role of the ball-control, time-consuming unit. Let’s face it, the Bears are underdogs this week and it’s a role in which they thrive. To beat the Panthers this week, they’ll need the same us-against-the-world attitude and collective chip on their shoulder with which they entered last week. And while I’m not saying they can’t repeat what they did last week, I am saying that the odds are stacked against them and they’ll have to play another nearly flawless game to pull off the win.
Final Score: Carolina 20, Chicago 16