The absence of Chris Harris severely hurts the Chicago Bears secondary. Not only the loss of Harris as a player, but Harris as a leader will have major ramifications on their defense. We saw this when Hitman was playing in Carolina. Jon Beason served as the field general for the defensive front and linebackers, but Harris structured the corners and safeties. With Rob Chudzinki's propensity to pass the ball and stretch the field he'll likely attack the middle with the voracity of a shark smelling blood in the water. Let's examine this match-up, as well as the others this Sunday will provide.
X-Factor: Greg Olsen
I know it's becoming a reliable song and dance to identify either Cam Newton or the tight ends as the wild card on Sundays, but this will be extremely prevalent this week. Despite speaking softly on the matter it's clear Olsen has a huge chip on his shoulder and wants to prove a point this weekend in Chicago. From spending some time speaking to Bears' fans this week it seems they are disappointed Chicago were so quick to get rid of Olsen, but lets be clear, Thor's beef isn't with the fans or the team, but rather offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Now with Rob Chudzinski, Olsen is starting to shine and has become Cam Newton's go to guy in clutch situations.
With Cam he's averaging a career high yards per catch, and is on pace to finish the season with 64 receptions, which would also be a career high. With Chris Harris unable to cover the middle the Bears will rely on Brandon Meriweather to contain seam routes. While Meriweather is a good safety in his own right, he has a tendency to be a high-risk, high-reward and if he misjudges a route, or throws himself at a costly interception it could result in huge Greg Olsen gain.
Carolina run offense vs. Chicago run defense
While the Bears aren't boasting their standard, stout run defense in 2011 that doesn't mean they're a bad unit. So far they're ranked 18th in the NFL allowing 4.6 yards per carry. However, it's important to note that Chicago have seen their fair share of solid running games in 2011 playing against Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay.
For Carolina the Panthers are still trying to find their legs. We've discussed ad naseum the struggles of DeAngelo Williams so far, but Jonathan Stewart is slowly starting to find his ability both on the ground, and receiving out of the backfield. The third element to this match-up is the play calling, which so far has been lackluster in the run game. Rob Chudzinski is still working out how to use double trouble, and they're facing a veteran linebacker unit led by Brian Urlacher.
Carolina pass offense vs. Chicago pass defense
If you're a Chicago fan this part of the game could be very ugly. The Bears are the 26th ranked pass defense in the NFL allowing over 275 yards per game. Meanwhile, the Panthers pass offense is running on all cylinders. Cam Newton is able to complete deep passes, Steve Smith doesn't have a stout CB across from him, and with no Chris Harris the Bears could be giving up a lot of yards through the air.
When we couple these factors with Jonathan Stewart's ability to catch swing and screen passes out of the backfield this scenario could get far uglier. When the Bears played Darren Sproles and the Saints they allowed 43 yards and a TD in the pass game. Stewart may not be as fast, but he's near impossible to bring down.
Later today I'll have a preview of our defense.