The Chicago Bears (5-1 overall, 3-0 at home) face off with the Carolina Panthers (1-5 overall, 0-2 on the road) for the eighth time since the Panthers joined the NFL in 1995. The Bears have won four of six regular season meetings, but lost to the Panthers in the playoffs in 2005 when WR Steve Smith smoked CB Chris Thompson and the Bears defense for 218 yards and two touchdowns. The last time these two teams met, the Bears beat the Panthers and QB Cam Newton 34-29 in his fourth career start in 2011.
The Bears defense has dominated this season with 21 takeaways and 21 sacks, led by CB Charles Tillman (2 INTs, 2 TDs, 3 FF, 1 FR) who won NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his dominant performance against Lions WR Calvin Johnson (3 catches for 34 yards) last week.
Newton has struggled in his sophomore season (214.2 Passing YPG, 5 TDs, 6 INTs, 79.3 QB rating) and is looking to get a lethargic Panthers offense (17.7 points per game) back on track. Head coach Ron Rivera seems to have forgotten that he has three dominant running backs in Jonathan Stewart (7 carries per game over last two games), DeAngelo Williams (4) and Mike Tolbert (2). Newton is currently the team’s leading rusher with 273 yards and three touchdowns. It’s going to be a tough challenge if the Panthers want to get off and running against the Bears, who allow 71.0 yards per game and have allowed on one rushing touchdown.
Let’s take a look at some numbers of interest for this Sunday’s game.
3-0: Bears record against the Panthers at Soldier Field during the regular season.
543: Total yards gained (374 passing, 169 rushing) by the Panthers in the game against the Bears last season (third most total yards given up by a Bears defense in franchise history).
205: Rushing yards by Matt Forte in the game against the Panthers last season (career high).
529: Total yards from scrimmage (463 rushing, 66 receiving) by Forte in three career games against the Panthers.
3: Punt/kick returns of 50+ yards by Devin Hester in three career games against the Panthers.
6-0: Bears record under Lovie Smith in home games the week following a Monday night game.
166.25: Average receiving yards per game for Panthers WR Steve Smith in four career games against the Bears.
20: Number of field goals attempted and made against the Panthers this season.
2: Number of field goals attempted and made by the Panthers this season.
1-10: Panthers record when QB Cam Newton rushes for less than 50 yards.
41: Number of receptions by Brandon Marshall through six games this season, more than any Bears wide receiver had in all of the 2011 season (Johnny Knox and Roy Williams had 37 each).
18.5, 7.8: Average yards per kick return (1st in NFL) and punt return (14th), respectively, by opposing players against the Panthers this season.
27.6, 24.3: Average yards per kick return (5 returns) and punt return (6) by Hester in three career games against the Panthers.
20: Number of third downs converted by the Panthers this season (worst in the NFL).
0: Number of players on the Bears, other than Cutler, who have turned the ball over this season.
6: Number of combined points allowed by the Bears defense in the first and third quarter this season.
With four consecutive wins, the Bears are trending up and with four consecutive losses, the Panthers are trending down. Add to the Panthers woes, a QB who is looking for answers and the abrupt firing of GM Marty Hurney, and you have yourself a desperate team. The Bears should be careful not to take this team too lightly. Their defense has 14 sacks and two INTs returned for touchdowns. And while the Panthers running game has been mediocre so far, they have four players (Newton, Williams, Stewart, Tolbert) who have rushed for 10 or more touchdowns in a season. The Bears need to get the offense going to give their overachieving defense a little break. The Panthers might be the perfect medicine to boost the production of Cutler, Marshall and the Bears offense.