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NFL Week Four Preview: Panthers at Bears

A pair of immensely skilled signal callers meet in the Windy City on Sunday afternoon, as they both lead their own 1-2 club in hopes of reaching the .500 mark early in the season.  My first thought about this game had me thinking weather implications, yet, an early October meeting in Chicago will not be influenced by precipitation or inclement conditions – 64 degrees, sunny.

While the scheduled forecast looks clear and beneficial for both pass-happy offenses, could we see each team’s game plan calling for more run plays, than pass plays on Sunday?  Will Carolina’s combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart get scheduled for a combined workload of 30-35 carries against a stout Monsters of the Midway run D?  Are the Bears ready to reveal Matt Forte in their ground game? How much of an impact will Marion Barber have in his Bears regular season debut?  Why do I have a feeling for a forecast of heavy ground work, rather than aerial fireworks?

Nonetheless, when the Bears and Panthers collide at Soldier Field (Noon, CT) this weekend, expect lots of scrambling from both quarterbacks and the best improviser to come out the victor.  If the rock isn’t ran consistently, Cam Newton and Jay Cutler will have to run it themselves; as they run for their lives.  Who will escape healthy and the winner may surprise you.

1. Williams and Stewart – The Panthers are going to run the football a lot on Sunday.  I don’t care if the Bears rush defense is rock-solid or not, DeAngelo and Jonathan will each have 12-15 carries apiece.  Count on it.  Add the fact that Rod Marinelli’s unit will be without starting strong safety Chris Harris (hamstring), you can make a case for Carolina being able to impose their will on the ground against Chicago.  Call me crazy, but I believe Ron Rivera will feed a hungry Williams and Stewart, not to mention the scrambling ability of Cam – there’s a reason to be concerned if you are the Bears.  Michael Turner ran for ten yards per pop in Week one and Ryan Grant almost went over the century mark last week with simple up-the-gut calls.  With a competent ground attack, this will leave former Bear tight end Greg Olsen and the always dangerous Steve Smith one-on-one in play-action.  Things begin and end with Williams and Stewart, and they also will open things up for Newton via the air.

2. Lack of firepower – If Jay Cutler cannot have time and opportunity to throw the ball deep and his receivers cannot make big plays – where do the Bears get their offense from?  The tight end is a non-factor in Martz’s system.  Cutler’s best possession receiver, Earl Bennett, is out for at least for two more games.  Roy Williams?  I don’t even want to address his situation.  Dane Sanzenbacher?  A good, intermediate pass catcher.  As for Hester and Knox; they have been major disappointments so far this season.  The reason why?  I don’t know whether it’s more geared to how Martz unsuccessfully uses them, the offensive line’s struggles, or just the two being inadequate starting NFL wide receivers.  Needless to say, it’s time for the Bears to find playmakers outside of running back Matt Forte.  It’s starts Sunday against the Panthers, and it starts with the getting the ball in the hands of Hester and Knox early, whether it be slants in the slot, quick outs after motion, or deep bombs on nine-routes.  If they don’t, Cutler will continue to look erratic because it’s hard to do work with the less than stellar supporting cast he has been given.

3. Turnovers – As simple as it sounds, whoever makes the least amount of mistakes between Newton and Cutler, will come out victorious in this NFC battle.  One bad play here or there, will impact a game that involves two teams that are not the most apt to overcome adversity due to their mediocre offensive lines and up and down quarterbacks.  For the Panthers, Cam is still a rookie who holds the threat to make those “rookie throws” and could put the Panthers out of position to win if he does make those type of throws.  For the Bears, Cutler looks hurried with his passes and its tough to predict whether he will make a great toss or a really bad toss.  It’s a mixed bag of hit or miss plays for both signal callers, and the one that handles the ebb & flow of the game and adjusts quicker will decide the outcome.  I see this being a low-scoring affair, where one badly-timed turnover could be the difference.

Prediction – I’m going with the Cats and an upset in Chicago.  The Bears are struggling not only on the field, but you can see it in their body language/emotions.  I don’t know what to say, but I have a bad feeling about this game.  I see the Panthers running the ball effectively and Newton using his legs to make a few key plays and arm to find Smith and Olsen for a couple of big gains via play-action.  Until I see more from the Bears’ receiving crew and Martz finding balance in his playcalling, I can’t pick them to win.  The current state of the Bears makes this a ripe pick for an upset.  Panthers 20 Bears 16

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