Bears-Panthers Breakdown

The weather dictated a conservative game plan last Sunday, but this time around the Bears are hoping to make their opponent one-dimensional for another reason.

BEARS GAME PLAN
The Bears have been able to run the ball against every opponent they've played this season, except for the season opener against the Redskins, but the Panthers are No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and No. 3 in average gain allowed per running play. So rookie QB Kyle Orton might need to make more plays in the passing games than he has this season.

Only once this season has Orton thrown for more than 150 yards in a game, and part of the reason is that no one beside Pro Bowler Muhsin Muhammad has emerged as a legitimate target. He has twice as many receptions (38) as the next closet member of the team.

"We're definitely going to have to score some points and for us to do that he's going to have to make some plays, just like really every game we go into," said offensive coordinator Ron Turner.

"He definitely is going to have to continue to step up and we expect that from him each week, and as I just said, when the opportunity's there to make plays, it's going to come down to which team makes them, so I think Kyle will be ready to step up and make them."

Defensively, the Bears believe their No. 1 defense (yards and points allowed) can handle the Panthers' weak running game (No. 24 in yards, No. 32 in average gain per rushing play). That will allow them to focus plenty of attention on NFL receiving leader Steve Smith and put pressure on QB Jake Delhomme, who has thrown as many interceptions (10) as Orton has this season.

"If you pressure anybody in the league they're going to make mistakes," said Chicago DE Adewale Ogunleye. "So we're going to get after him, but the key is for us to get after him on first down."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Bears RT John St. Clair, who was cut by the Dolphins and signed by the Bears two months ago, or Fred Miller (probable, fractured jaw) vs. Panthers Pro Bowl DLE Julius Peppers, who has 5 1/2 sacks and 20 QB pressures.

    "You have a guy with that kind of speed and athleticism, it's always hard," St. Clair said of trying to block Peppers. "He can change directions at the drop of a dime. He's one of the top players in the league, so you have to respect that. That's what practice is for and we'll be prepared."

  • Bears LT John Tait vs. Panthers DRE Mike Rucker, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Tait's forte is run blocking, and the Bears are predominantly a left-handed team that is No. 5 in rushing yards this season.

  • Bears CB Charles Tillman vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith. Tillman will get lots of help against Smith, whose 937 yards are the most in the NFL and almost twice as much as all the other Panthers wide receivers combined.

    PANTHERS GAME PLAN
    The Panthers would like to get Steve Smith more involved in the offense this week, but that largely will depend on not only the wind, but if the Bears use a safety over the top against him.

    Stephen Davis carried a season-high 27 times last week, which is a little more than the team might like. Davis will still get the bulk of the carries, but look for more of DeShaun Foster this week. After getting a combined 28 carries the previous two weeks, Foster had only six carries last week.

    Despite averaging 3.0 yards per carry, Davis is third in the NFL with 12 touchdowns. The Panthers rank fourth in scoring at 27.8 points per game.

    "Statistically yards per carry and total yardage they haven't been that great, but they've scored a lot of points, which is the most important thing," said LB Hunter Hillenmeyer.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Bears WR Muhsin Muhammad vs. Panthers CB Ken Lucas. Muhammad is Carolina's all-time leading receiver, but he left in the off-season to sign with the Bears for more money. Muhammad, a physical receiver and a tough blocker, is likely to blanketed by Lucas, who is a very physical corner. This should be a dandy of a matchup, especially if the wind allows quarterback Kyle Orton to actually throw the ball this week.

    "I think this is probably one of the better secondaries that we're going to go up against and face this year so far," Muhammad said. "We've got our work cut, but I'm up for the job."

  • Bears MLB Brian Urlacher vs. Panthers RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. Carolina will use a rotation of Davis and Foster against the Bears. Urlacher has returned to Pro Bowl form and is the leader of the top rated defense in the NFL. The rushing attack has to get off the ground for the Panthers but will have to turn things around if the weather limits the passing game.

    "They're a good, physical team. We feel like we're more physical," Urlacher said. "We'll try to stop the run, a little bit like we had to do last week. It's a challenge for us. They like to run a lot."


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