Following a 2-14 record in the 2010 season, the Carolina Panthers held the first pick in the 2011 draft and selected Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Some questioned whether or not Newton's abilities would transfer to the NFL level, but under the guidance of offense coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Newton made the transition seamlessly, finishing the year with more than 4,000 yards passing, 21 passing touchdowns, 14 rushing touchdowns, captured the offensive rookie of the year award and helped improve the Panthers' record to 6-10.
The 2012 season has been a disappointment for both Newton and the Panthers. They sit with a 1-5 record, having lost four straight and are the only team in the NFC with only one win. Newton has thrown for more than 1,100 yards but has just four touchdowns to five interceptions, and the offense has failed to be as explosive as they were a year ago.
The read-option offense that they ran so effectively last season has been figured out by defenses who understand and seemingly know what the Panthers want to run the closer they get to the red zone.
Newton had his way with the Bears' secondary last October, throwing for 374 yards, one touchdown, one interception and rushing for two more touchdowns in their Week 4 matchup.
The Bears defense will have to do a better job containing Newton and limiting his roll-outs. He rushed for only 35 yards on eight carries, but he was most effective in the passing game when he rolled out and bought his receivers extra time.
The Bears front seven will be given the task of trying to get pressure on Newton, and one of the linebackers will likely have the responsibility of spying him throughout the game or they could implement more of the "Boise Package" with Shea McClellin, who has the ability to drop back in coverage.
Wide receiver Steve Smith is off to another solid start this season with 28 catches for 471 yards, but is yet to find the end zone. With limited options at the wide receiver position, teams hone in on Smith, doing their best to stop the top receiving threat.
Smith has been flat-out dominant against the Bears in the past. In four career games, including the playoffs in 2005, he has averaged nearly 10 catches and 166 yards per game. Charles Tillman has struggled mightily with him, and the Bears have been burnt deep many of times with Smith, who has 10 catches of 25 yards or more against them.
Tillman has played great this season and along with Tim Jennings, they are becoming one of the best cornerback duos in the league. The corners will have to be physical with Smith, and the Bears safeties will likely continue to play deep and will have to keep him in front of them at all times.
Brandon LaFell lines up opposite of Smith and leads the team with two receiving touchdowns. Former Bear Greg Olsen is second in receiving yards behind Smith with 324 and has caught one touchdown.
Olsen was a major target for Jay Cutler before his trade to Carolina. He provides matchup problems against defensive backs because his size and his speed make it difficult for linebackers to keep up, so expect him to be a focal point in the red zone.
On paper, the Panthers arguably have the best trio of running backs in the league with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. The three have combined for 354 yards on 99 carries with only four touchdowns. The Panthers offense has not relied heavily on any of its running backs this season and will have a tough time trying to run at the Bears defense.
Williams possesses the ability to punch it outside and plays better going east to west, while Stewart and Tolbert are better north to south runners. They may look to rely on Tolbert in the red zone because of his ability to be a power runner. The Bears interior of Stephen Paea and Henry Melton will be the first assigned to tackling him.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.
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