Know your opponent: Carolina Panthers
The Chicago Bears look to get back on track Sunday when they travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers. I talked to Cat Crave, a Carolina Panthers blog from Fansided to get their perspective on the Panthers and the game on Sunday.
Here’s your Know Your Opponent for this weekend:
2013 record: 12-4 (Lost NFC Division Playoffs to San Francisco)
Key returners: Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy
Key newcomers: Kelvin Benjamin
Key losses: Steve Smith
Pass DEF: 13th (233 YPG)
Rush DEF: 27th (140.8 YPG)
Pass OFF: 13th (257 YPG)
Rush OFF: 29 (71.8 YPG)
Three Key Players
Cam Newton; QB
Luke Kuechly; LB
Last time they met…
The two teams last met October 28, 2012 at Soldier Field as the Bears overcame a late deficit to win the game. Going into the game, the Bears had just one loss on the season while the Panthers had just one win on the season. The Bears found themselves trailing 19-7 with just under 7 minutes left before two touchdowns and a Robbie Gould field goal gave the Bears a 23-22 win.
During the game, Cam Newton made life tough on a good Bears defense but he did throw two interceptions. Just a few years later, Newton has struggled but so has the Bears defense. Newton could ultimately be the biggest factor in Sunday’s game.
One player to pay close attention to is former Bears tight end Greg Olsen. The talented tight end has been a favorite target of Cam Newton since his arrival a few years ago.
The Bears decided to part ways with Olsen because ‘he didn’t fit Mike Martz’s system’. The relationship was a little rocky after talks between the Bears and New England Patriots fell through and the organization said that Olsen “demanded a trade”. Olsen later denied that report.
For Olsen the Bears did acquire a third round pick which they used to acquire wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
One rookie to make an impact:
While opposing defenses focus on Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin in the passing game, the Panthers might have a weapon that can make a big difference in the game. Rookie wide receiver Philly Brown won’t start in the game, but his speed and ability to stretch the field is something the Bears will need to pay attention to when he enters the game.
When he develops, Brown can be another key piece to an offense who is trying to re-build after losing a surplus of receivers from last year. Here’s what CatsCrave has to say on Brown:
Carolina needs to find a way to get the ball in his hands and let him use that 4.36-speed. He’s a wild-card for me and think that Benjamin and Olsen draw the attention, so Brown could break off a home-run. Brown is still learning the game and is still an unpolished rookie, but he answered the call a few weeks ago against Detroit when he was thrust into the starting lineup.
The Panthers like to utilize the read-option out of their Air Coryell system that counts on downfield plays. The Panthers use timing routes and try to rattle off big chunks of yards while keeping the defense on its heels.
With Newton at quarterback, the offense has a good place to start.
It wouldn’t shock me to see the Panthers come out and throw it down field early and often. Their running back depth has been depleted by injuries, so Newton airing it out might be their best shot at winning this game. The Panthers will look to utilize Benjamin’s big frame against this Bears secondary.
The big story will be if the Bears defense can get pressure on Newton, unlike last weeks game with Rodgers. If the Bears let Newton scramble and set his feet to throw, they will be in for a long day. Of course getting Jared Allen back this week should help.
Their run defense has been one of the worst in the NFL and the Bears should be able to take advantage of it. The Panthers have been gashed for about 140 yards per game on the ground and have failed to remain in their gaps defensively on run plays.
With their 4-3 base defense, the Panthers will go with a lot of off-man coverage. That includes Luke Kuechly matching up with Martellus Bennett. The tight end has been spectacular this year for the Bears and should have the advantage against Kuechly this Sunday.
Here’s what CatsCrave thinks are the keys to the Panthers defense on Sunday:
- Take Forte out of the equation. ” The Panthers have been gashed by RBs the past two weeks, and Forte will be much better than any back they have faced thus far. Containing his running and keeping a LB or creeping a safety up to spy Forte’s abilities as a receiver will be crucial.”
- “Martellus Bennett scares me the most because LB Luke Kuechly is not the best in coverage.”
- ” Pressuring Cutler and forcing him to make mistakes, and keeping Forte in check should be the formula to a Panthers’ win.”
Kelvin Benjamin vs. Kyle Fuller
Fuller and Benjamin won NFL Rookie of the Month honors for September for their spectacular play. Lucky for us, we get to see these two go head-to-head on Sunday.
From CatsCrave on Fuller-Benjamin:
This is the battle I’m looking forward to the most. In last year’s draft, Kyle Fuller was my favorite CB coming out an wouldn’t have minded if the Panthers had taken him. That being said, I think both players will shine on Sunday. I think Benjamin has the obvious 5” height advantage, and has around 45-pounds on Fuller, so the Bears’ DB will have his hands full. However, Fuller is a smart cornerback that picks his spots to gamble and make a big play, so Benjamin can’t be lazy on his routes. Expect Benjamin to work a few quick inside slants for short gains, and lull Fuller to relax, before breaking off the double-move. Once Benjamin gets Fuller in the open field, the former can use his enormous frame and hands to beat Fuller. I see both players making big plays. I predict Benjamin will grab seven catches, 110-yards, 1TD and Fuller will have some good break-ups and play solid defense as well.
Why have the Panthers struggled?
Two reasons: Non-existent running game and a defense that can’t stop the run. The Panthers looked like one of the NFC’s elite teams after two games, but have been a smoldering dumpster-fire over the past two. The Carolina backfield is onto their eighth running back of the season this week, and it has killed the confidence of the overall offense. Newton is being asked to do too much since the offensive line can’t open holes for the running backs. Defenses have been able to send the house and still sag five players back to cover the receivers. Carolina’s offensive line needs to step-up and help the running backs out. The Panthers’ defense hasn’t looked this bad since pre-Kuechly. A depleted defensive line, injured linebackers and miscommunication in the secondary has made this once-powerful defense look mediocre of late. The old adage that a solid running game and good defense wins championships is ringing true right now. Overall, this has to be Carolina’s most difficult offense to face with three nasty receiving threats and a top-5 running back.