The Chicago Bears defense continued its outstanding run of impressive play in the 13-7 win against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, as the "fountain of youth" they seemingly have found, if bottled, could sell for millions on the open market.
But amidst all of this positive news is the fact that the Bears offense struggled. One simply shouldn't expect that the defense will always bail them out or jump-start the team (as they did the week prior).
However, the good news is that the incompetent Carolina Panthers come to town this weekend.
Unless Cam Newton suddenly finds his feng shui on Sunday, another questionable performance by the Bears offense will likely be enough to beat the 1-5 Panthers, even if the defense finally has an "off" week.
That's because this Panthers team is in turmoil; in fact, they are in such bad condition that the GM was fired (via espn.com) and, as Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer reported, there is speculation that their head coach could be in hot water.
Speaking of the Carolina head coach, that man would be none other than former Bears player and coach Ron Rivera. But the head coach won't be the only person on the field Sunday with former ties to one of the two combatants.
Defensive end Julius Peppers will be facing the team he starred for during his eight seasons in the NFL. In six of those eight years Peppers had double-digit sack totals. He will be pumped up to play Carolina on Sunday.
But the Panthers have some payback to do too. In addition to Rivera, who "will coach like his job is at stake," tight end Greg Olsen returns to Chicago.
Olsen has totalled fewer than 40 yards receiving over his past two games, but the added incentive of playing against the team that traded him could help his performance.
Still, the Panthers are a team that ranks 22nd in the league in passing yards, led by a QB in Cam Newton who has been as bad this season as he was good in his rookie year. Newton has thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5)—a bad combination, especially when playing an opportunistic defense like the Bears.
And while their running game has been better—buoyed by Newton's 5.9 yard per attempt rushing average—a one dimensional offense is a death knell when playing Chicago. Yes, the Panthers feature two decent backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But Williams had only two carries against the Dallas Cowboys and Stewart gained 35 yards on 10 carries, 20 of them coming on one run.
The key to stopping Carolina's passing game will be shutting down receiver Steve Smith. And while Smith has had good games against Charles Tillman in the past, if Tillman can control Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, this little man should be easier to contend with.
So, for every one of Carolina's strengths—and one has to search long and hard for strengths in a bad team like the Panthers—the Bears seem to have an answer.
On defense, Carolina has served its opponent's QBs a tasty dish of a 93.2 QB rating this season. QBs are completing almost 70 percent of their passes against the Panthers. Moreover, opposing offenses have converted 45 percent of its third downs, and Carolina ranks 16th overall in net yardage allowed.
Overall, Carolina has a below average defense, a QB who is playing poorly and millions of dollars tied up in running backs who don't get the ball.
Yes, it's true that Carolina needs the win much more than the Bears do, but consider that the Lions desperately needed a win versus the Bears Monday night and came up short.
It will be interesting to see if Carolina rallies around its head coach in an effort to save his job. Still, unless the Bears completely lay an egg on Sunday—by taking the game too lightly or because of any lingering effects from Jay Cutler's rib injury, Chicago should thoroughly dominate this contest.
The next couple of games could prove to be very critical for the Bears, because after playing two weaker teams in Carolina and Tennessee Titans, the Bears have two very tough contests against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers.
Facing Houston and San Francisco with an 7-1 record would put the Bears in a great position to win the NFC North regardless of what they do in Weeks 10 and 11.
Losing to the Panthers is simply not acceptable.