Four Downs: Keys to beating the Panthers (10/28/12)

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With Jay Cutler battling a rib injury, the Panthers offer the Bears a perfect opportunity to test the full capability of their 1-2 punch at running back.
With Jay Cutler battling a rib injury, the Panthers offer the Bears a perfect opportunity to test the full capability of their 1-2 punch at running back.

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Carolina Panthers.

1. Pound the rock and limit Jay Cutler’s workload

We don’t know the extent to which Jay Cutler’s ribs are injured and he might have to battle the pain and difficulty in his range of motion for a while. But the Bears couldn’t have asked for a much better opponent to give Cutler a bit of rest against than the Panthers. Carolina is ranked No. 19 against the run and this could be the perfect week to allow Matt Forte and Michael Bush to have a heavy workload. If the two of them combine for 30 or more carries, Cutler won’t have to worry as much about battling the rib injury or taking a beating from the Panthers’ pass rush.

2. Force Cam Newton to move in pocket

After a stellar rookie campaign, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has had a rocky start to his sophomore season. His accuracy and decision making have taken a major hit this year. When pressured — as the Bears defensive line is most definitely capable of doing — he’s likely to make errant throws and possibly turn the ball over. Newton has made it this far in his football career thanks in large part to his ability to make plays with his legs. So the key for the Bears is to prevent Newton from setting his feet to throw in the pocket, while at the same time not letting him escape the pocket where he can make plays while on the run. It’s a tricky combination, but one that will most definitely lead to trouble for the Panthers offense.

3. Get back to concentrating on defending the run

The Bears run defense — still ranked No. 1 despite getting gashed for some big runs by the Lions on Monday night — have to refocus their efforts on stopping the run. Newton is ranked 27th in the league in rushing and has the second-most rushing yards for a quarterback behind Robert Griffin III. So, aside from containing him and not letting him scramble for big plays, the Bears have to worry about stopping running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The point may become moot by the second half, anyway, if the Bears happen to build a big lead. But in the early going, the Panthers offense will go as their run game does.

4. Funnel Steve Smith, Greg Olsen into the short middle

In the passing game, the Bears will have to contain the Panthers’ two leading receivers, wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen. The team is familiar with both players, having faced Smith several times over the years and remembering Olsen as a teammate a few years ago. Both players — even Smith at age 33 — have explosive talents and only need a little space to make plays after the catch. The Bears safeties need to remain lined up deep as they’ve been playing all season to make sure all the action stays in front of them, and that includes against Olsen who is versatile enough to split the deep middle of the field. With Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings getting help over the top and the linebackers sticking with Olsen over the middle, the Bears should be able to defend against big plays.

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