This Sunday we face a opponent in the Chicago Bears with a very fascinating statistic. They rank 7th in the league in defending against the rush. At first glance, that sounds just like the typical Bears defense. It doesn't sound too good for our Carolina Panthers. Jimmy Clausen will throw 10 interceptions since we can't get the running game going. We will surely lose another game.
That is, until you look at the Bears schedule.
Game 1: Lions at Bears, 19-14, Opposing RB Jahvid Best: 14 carries for 20 yards
Game 2: Bears at Cowboys, 27-20, Opposing RB Marian Barber: 11 carries for 31 yards
Game 3: Packers at Bears, 20-17, Opposing RB John Kuhn: 6 carries for 31 yards
Game 4: Bears at Giants, 3-17, Opposing RB Ahmad Bradshaw: 23 carries for 129 yards
As you can see, until Week 4 the Bears didn't face any running teams worth their salt. The Packers and the Cowboys both relied heavily on the pass for the majority of the game, throwing a combined 96 passes against the Bears 4-3 defense. And the Lions are, of course, the Lions. They're one of those teams who you cheer for not because they're winning, but that they are actually competing against another real, live NFL team and are managing to keep the score close! Oh boy!
When the Bears finally faced a team built on running the football, they were gashed beyond recognition. Jacobs and Bradshaw ran for a combined 171 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries, and both of the backs broke for long runs at some point in the game. With this in mind, you can put together a pretty strong case to make the claim that the Bears run defense is overrated. It's only 4 games into the season and the Bears have not played enough games against good teams to see where their run defense stands.
The Panthers must get their blocks off at the 2nd level.
The strength of this Bears defense lies within it's linebacker core. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are both on pace for 120 tackles, which are pretty typical seasons for them. It will be highly important for the Panthers O-Line and our fullback to get penetration and start blocking on the 2nd level. They did a pretty fair job against the Saints battling their 8 man fronts. If they pull that same effort against the Bears, I think they etch out their first game of the season.
Double-Team Julius Peppers and keep him contained.
Outside of Julius Peppers, the Bears don't have anyone on their defensive line that worries me. New starters all the way down the line, especially on the left side. We'll probably keep 6 or 7 people on the offensive line the majority of the game, so we can spare that extra defender to keep Julius Peppers contained. While he's a good defensive end, we all know what happens when Julius Peppers starts getting frustrated because he's not having success.
As a matter of fact, we're counting on it.
Don't Panic in the Pocket
Jimmy Clausen had a decent game against the Saints. He complete 11 out of 21 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. However, his game would have been a lot better if he trusted his O-Line more and quit dancing in the pocket. I saw a lot of his completions were throws under pressure that wasn't there. No one had broken free from their blockers to put Pickle's perfectly crafted nose in danger. This is a problem will probably go away as Jimmy Clausen spends more time starting this team, but it is something that needs to improve.
Our Wideouts have to do something. Anything at all.
With Steve Smith gone, the Panthers undoubtedly have the worst receiving corps in the league. The Bears are not going to double-team Steve Smith again coming into this game, so the Panthers will have to work and give them something to fear so that they don't stack the box against us. My guess is that Devin Gettis and Brandon Lafell will take on the primary starting duties, with David Clowney taking on the 3rd receiver role.
We may very well see nine players in the box a good majority of the game if our wideouts can't catch balls. We will get lots of 1 on 1 coverage. Just like every game beforehand, we will need to be successful in the passing game in order to start freeing up our running attack. Even more-so with Steve Smith gone. If we get a good deep ball to someone early on like we did with Jonathan Stewart, I can see our running attack being very successful.
And who knows? We might just win our first game.