Bears offense vs. Panthers defense
And thus the Todd Collins experiment begins. I’d call it more of a Band Aid because he’ll likely only play this week against the Panthers. Lovie Smith is optimistic that Jay Cutler will be ready for next week’s game. Collins was brought to the team before the last preseason game because he’s a veteran who has had some experience in the system that Martz runs. He started the fourth preseason game against the Browns and looked efficient and impressive, but exactly how much can anybody deduce from the most meaningless game on an NFL schedule? I scoff at those who are dreading complete disaster, though. Did anybody seriously expect to see success from Collins last week when he was thrust into the fire after Cutler went out? He was only notified that he’d be playing when the teams were coming back onto the field after halftime. Plus, there was no way for the Bears to turn things around given the way the offensive line was playing. Still, Collins is definitely a step down from Cutler and the offense will be tempered a little. Smith openly acknowledged this week that the Bears need to run the football better and that ought to be the game plan going into the game, but will Martz stick to the game plan? He’s been known to deviate from the game plan as he sees opportunities open up throughout the game. I’d like to see more from Chester Taylor. He’s a got a better rushing average than Matt Forte and he’s a little more savvy with picking his holes and exploding through them. It’s a shame the Bears don’t have a better offensive line and a coordinator who likes to run the ball because Forte and Taylor could be one of the best duos in the league if given an opportunity. The Panthers are struggling on defense as they’re adjusting to life without Julius Peppers. They’re tied with the Bears with just four sacks on the season, second-lowest total in the NFL. Linebacker James Anderson leads the team with 45 tackles and is joined by fellow ‘backer, Jon Beason, a talented fourth-year player who averaged 139 tackles per season in his first three years in the league. Free safety Sherrod Martin is out for the game with a concussion but strong safety Charles Godfrey has three interceptions this season and five forced fumbles over the course of his two-plus year career. The Panthers are not very dominant up front and can be exploited if Martz so desires. With Collins and a weak offensive line, the Bears have their work cut out for them.
Bears defense vs. Panthers offense
Last week, the New York Giants rushed for 94 of their 189 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, including runs of 22 and 29 yards after the two-minute warning. So, while I understand that some fans have concerns about the run defense against the talented duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for the Panthers, I don’t agree with those concerns at all. The majority of those rushing yards last week came after the game was already out of hand. No player or coach will ever admit it, but the defense quit in the fourth quarter, specifically after the two-minute warning. Sure, they were on the field and still going through the motions, but there’s no way they were giving 100% effort. And 100% effort is what I’m expecting them to give against a one-dimensional Panthers offense. Panthers All Pro wide receiver Steve Smith, who has torched the Bears in the past, will not be playing in this game due to an ankle sprain. The Panthers also just released receiver Dwayne Jarrett earlier this week. What this means is that the Panthers are likely to start rookie receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. A lot of pessimistic Bears fans are so worried about the Bears offense and how they’re going to put points on the board, but what about this Panthers offense? I think we’re going to see an invigorated defensive effort, led by Peppers — who is making his return to his home state — as the Bears shut down the Panthers offense.
Panthers kicker John Kasay has just three field goals this year but has long been a steady and reliable player. Punter Jason Baker has 15 punts returned on him this year, more than any other punter in the league. Brad Maynard doesn’t have much distance left in his leg but he’s still a reliable directional punter. Hopefully his leg isn’t spent after punting 9 times last week and 22 times on the season, fourth-most in the NFL. Given the number of stalled drives both teams might have, Robbie Gould could be in a battle with Kasay for number of field goals attempted this week. Gould has missed just one kick this year, a 49-yard attempt against the Packers. Gould has been kicking the ball deep on his kickoffs this year, but he seemed to lose a little bit against the Giants last week. There wasn’t a large sample size, though, due to the lack of scoring. His second-half kickoff landed at the 11 and the kickoff after his field goal was fielded at the 6. Hopefully in the warmer climate this week he can get back to putting it inside the 5. Panthers kick returner Mike Goodson is 25th in the league with a 23.6 yards-per-return average and punt returner Captain Munnerlyn has a 9.3 yards-per-return average, which ranks him 21st in the league. Their counterparts? Johnny Knox ranked 13th with a 25.5 average and Danieal Manning ranked 21st with a 24.4 average. And Devin Hester ranked 18th with a 10.1 average and a touchdown. Bears have the special teams edge yet again.
For as much heat as Lovie Smith takes from Chicago fans and for as warm as his seat is, Panthers head coach John Fox is under much more scrutiny and his seat is much hotter. There have been rumors that he could be the first coach fired this year and that it could happen in the middle of the season. If such a move takes place, usually the bye week is the best time to do it because that gives the interim coach two weeks to prepare for the next opponent. Ironically, the Panthers’ bye is next week. So, the Bears could conceivably give Fox a send-off with a convincing victory that dropped the Panthers to 0-5 on the season. I doubt it would happen so soon in the season, though. The Bears have a better collection of coaching talent on their team and should be able to make the necessary in-game adjustments to win this game. Charlotte is not a particularly football-crazed town, especially when their team is doing so poorly. I think the crowd won’t play much of a factor in this one and with the Bears supposedly wearing their home jerseys — due to the heat, the Panthers are said to be wearing their whites this week — it could feel like a home performance for the Bears. I expect a nice homecoming game for Peppers — and to some extent, Chris Harris — and Collins should play well enough to get the job done and guide the Bears to their fourth victory of the season. I’ve changed my prediction of the final score since I made my picks Friday morning, but the result remains the same.
Final Score: Chicago 16, Carolina 10