This should be a walk in the park, but as we saw Thursday night, some things don't go as planned.
Carolina is in bad shape—the offense is a mess, the quarterback is regressing and the defense isn't very good.
That doesn't mean it's going to be easy for the Bears to put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the division, though. Going into this game assuming that, as they have very frequently this season, the Panthers will collapse and lose is a good way for the Bears to lose instead.
So let's take a look at how the Bears will be able to avoid that trap.
When the Bears are on Offense
A lot has been made by people about the lack of offensive production against the Detroit Lions last Monday, so let's get this out of the way.
This is what happens when your starting quarterback plays with a rib injury.
It's not an easy thing to do and if you couldn't see it threw him off, you weren't watching.
If Cutler is 100 percent (and all indications seem to be that he is), the offense should be alright. The biggest factor for it is nullifying rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly. Since Kuechly has moved to middle linebacker, he has exploded for 34 tackles and been a force—particularly against the run.
With Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Bears can wear him down, but it makes more sense to at least move Forte outside and away from Kuechly if at all possible.
The offensive line will get tested early, as it always does, and the Panthers' defensive front is respectable and able to pressure the quarterback effectively if not frequently.
Carolina's aim will be to get after Cutler and force him to make mistakes.
This is not the same Jay Cutler who lost to the Packers, though, and he has been withstanding pressure for several weeks. The game against the Lions is proof enough that you can hit Cutler and still not necessarily beat the Bears.
Expect a lot of Cutler testing the corners and having Marshall use his size and strength to overcome any coverage. We will also see some more of Earl Bennett and Devin Hester.
Expect to see a little more explosiveness out of the offense this week, since Cutler will be healthy and not nursing an injury from a Suh-plex.
When the Bears are on Defense
There are a couple of events of note this week regarding the Panthers offense which we have to track.
First, the team is starting Jon Stewart and hopefully riding the hot hand. I have a million issues with this, not the least of which is this isn't the big problem in the offense.
Yes, using your running backs is a big issue, but so is the 'read option' they are running right now.
Why they changed anything from last year and haven't made any effort to adjust away from what they are doing—badly—is beyond ridiculous.
One thing that could factor in on this front, though—and as always Matt Bowen does an exceptional job of breaking it down over at the Tribune—is if they start using the option to run the ball more frequently.
Bowen breaks down how the Dallas Cowboys got suckered into a big run and points out that the keys to defending something like this are speed and discipline.
The Bears have those things.
I will also point out that while the Cowboys weren't great, they did win and the Panthers did once again struggle on offense.
The Bears defense is one of the best in the league and should be able to pressure Cam Newton all day. There is concern he can run the ball, but it has Brian Urlacher or Major Wright to spy him and make sure that if he does run, they react quickly.
There are no threats beyond Steve Smith in the receivers, so sparing a player to keep an eye on Newton won't be hard.
This is a struggling offense which doesn't seem intent on changing much—it may run more, but ultimately it won't make any huge changes, so if the Bears' pass rush is as effective as it usually is and the run defense is able to contain whatever few carries anyone gets, the defense shouldn't have an issue containing this offense.
It shouldn't be too much of a trial to overcome the Panthers on both sides of the ball, though that's always when you have to be the most careful.
The Bears should win this one, and in all likelihood, the Panthers will continue the same tendencies which have hurt them each week. Cam Newton will get too much blame and Chicago will get some distance on the division.
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