It has been an eventful week for Panthers fans. First we saw Marty Hurney fired, then we saw Beason put on IR, a small flurry of free agent signings, and cap it all off with every sports show talking about Cam's reaction to last weeks loss. The Panthers are going in the direction of change, and the direction of the future. However, the Panthers MO over the past few seasons has been to finish strong, and the Panthers look to start the push this week against Chicago.
This matchup is always intriguing, given the fact that the two played on the same team for most of their careers. Gross and Peppers used to line up every day opposite each other, making each other better. Now, we see Peppers on a team who is in playoff contention, where Gross, who stayed with his team, is looking to the future, a future where he doesn't have many years left in the NFL.
Last week, Gross allowed Demarcus Ware to beat him a few times, causing Cam to get sacked. However, the offensive line as a whole failed last week, as the Panthers offense stumbled. This week, the Panthers offensive line faces the number one rush defense in the league, and one of the better front sevens at that. Gross is going to need to keep Peppers off Cam if we want to see any form of success in the passing game.
Steve Smith vs. Charles Tillman
In recent history, when Steve Smith has a quarterback who can get him the ball, he has torn up the Bears defense. Steve Smith has recorded 34 receptions for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 3 career games vs. the Bears (he played them twice in 2005, once last season. Steve Smith missed the 2008 Chicago game due to suspension and the 2010 game he didn't play in due to injury). However, the passing attack has not clicked as of late, and the number six defense in the league will look to try and stop Smith's streak of dominance against them.
With Beason going on injured reserve this week, Kuechly will step into his natural position for the remainder of the season, and Thomas Davis will take over duties at the Will linebacker spot if he can stay healthy. Kuechly has been "as advertised" thus far after stepping into the Mike linebacker position, racking up 26 total tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery in two career games at middle linebacker. Kuechly hasn't missed a beat since coming out of college, and it is clear that he will be most effective at this position. The Panthers rush defense has put in their best two performances of the season in the two games Kuechly has played at Mike, holding the Dallas Cowboys to less than 100 yards rushing and holding sure-fire Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch to 85 yards rushing.
This week, Kuechly faces the always dangerous Matt Forte. Us Panthers fans know what Forte can do all too well, as he has shredded the Panthers rush defense in both games he has played against us. Kuechly will make a lot of tackles this week, but how many yards Forte runs for maybe a different story.
Jonathan Stewart vs. Chicago Front-7
As I said before, Chicago right now has the best statistical rush defense in the entire league. And the Panthers have one of the worst rush offenses. Not a formula for success right?
Well, Jonathan Stewart has been named the starter this week as the Panthers usher in a new era of change. Stewart is the only Panthers RUNNING BACK (Cam is a quarterback, guys) still averaging 4 yards per carry this season. The Panthers rush offense has played much better when Stewart plays/gets touches this year, common sense would dictate that if he becomes more involved, the results will be better. But, he may not have his coming out party this week after having won the starting spot from Williams. This Chicago rush defense can be brutal. But if the Panthers can get the run game established, and pound the running backs between the tackles, we may see some success.