|IR/PUP/NFI||S Cameron Worrell (IR-shoulder); LB Marcus Reese (IR-shoulder); LB Rod Wilson (IR-knee); WR Airese Currie (NFI-foot); CB Alfonso Marshall (PUP-knee); LB Joe Odom (IR-ankle); WR Mark Bradley (IR-knee).||S Colin Branch (IR-knee); S Scott Farley (IR-hamstring); DT Chris Jenkins (IR-knee); LB Adam Seward (IR-foot); RB Eric Shelton (IR-foot); OT Matt Hill (NFI-knee).|
|Out||QB Rex Grossman (ankle); RB Cedric Benson (knee).||None.|
|Doubtful||WR Bernard Berrian (thumb).||None.|
|Questionable||DL Israel Idonije (shoulder).||TE Kris Mangum (knee); C Jeff Mitchell (hip).|
|Probable||OT Fred Miller (jaw).||LB Vinny Ciurciu (back); S Thomas Davis (thigh); RB Stephen Davis (knee); S Mike Minter (thigh).|
Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton is set to make his tenth start. Orton took over late in the preseason when Rex Grossman hurt his ankle and Chad Hutchinson was deemed too ineffective to keep on the roster. Grossman was not placed on Injured Reserve, and returned to practice on Thursday. Justin Gage took over at wide receiver after rookie Mark Bradley was lost three weeks ago. He and Orton will need to be on the same page against a Panther defense that boasts cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas (4 interceptions each). The Bears have until Monday to make a decision on rookie Airese Currie. Thomas Jones missed last week's game to rest a rib injury. Rookie Cedric Benson started in his place and was on his way to a solid afternoon (12 carries for 50 yards) before he suffered an ugly knee injury. Thankfully Benson's prognosis is good, and he probably will only miss a little more than a month. Reserve Adrian Peterson stepped up and carried the offense with 120 rushing yards and a touchdown in a little more than a half. Peterson figures to get some reps this week to spell Jones. If Jones' ribs become an issue, the Bears should feel good about what Peterson can provide. Fullback Jason McKie would be the third halfback if he's needed. John St. Clair was expected to start for Fred Miller at right tackle, since Miller was out with a jaw injury that resulted from an altercation with center Olin Kreutz. But Miller has returned to practice this week and appears ready a little earlier than anticipated. St. Clair wasn't tested last week against Bryant Young because the elements only allowed for 13 passing attempts. This week will be no cake walk. Red hot Julius Peppers (5.5 sacks) will be the assignment.
Carolina lost disruptive defensive tackle Kris Jenkins to a knee injury for the second consecutive season. Jordan Carstens takes over his spot. He'll face the venerable Ruben Brown, who is in his second game back after missing a month with a partially torn pectoral. Losing Jenkins means center Olin Kreutz will be able to spend less time giving aid to the guards and more time getting after speedy middle linebacker Dan Morgan.
The Panthers will try to force Kyle Orton into bad throws with pressure from defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker (6 sacks). If St. Clair has to play, the opportunity to confuse the Bears' right side of the line with him and guard Terrence Metcalf via line stunts and blitzes is one the Panthers won't likely pass up. Don't expect the Bears to alter the plan that brought them their success. They'll pound the Panthers tough rushing defense with the run to set up play action passes. It can also be expected that Ron Turner will use tight end and running back help as well as quick passes to minimize the problems Peppers and Rucker create.
The Bears' defense is relatively healthy. Carolina lost running back Stephen Davis and wide receiver Steve Smith to injury last season. They have come back strong, leading the Panthers' potent offensive attack which averages 28 points per game. Davis isn't quite the runner he once was. He's still able to get the tough yards, but rarely breaks off a big gain (3.0 yards per carry). He has bulled his way to 12 touchdowns. Smith is arguably better than he ever was. He has 9 touchdowns and 937 receiving yards through nine games. Center Jeff Mitchell's sore hip will be put to the test against a Bears' defense that puts Ian Scott (7.5 tackles for loss) over the nose in its base package. Tight end Kris Mangum has not been a major factor in the passing game (13 receptions). If he's not at full strength because of a knee injury, the Bears will expose him with blitzes off the edge. Michael Gaines is his backup.
The Bears' top-ranked red zone defense will be pitted against the Panther's top-ranked red zone offense. The Panthers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and 3rd in yards per carry allowed. The Bears' offense is 4th in rushing yards per game and 6th in yards per carry. Expect the Bears to depend on their front seven to contain Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. They'll need both of their safeties for coverage against Jake Delhomme's receivers. Delhomme is averaging an eye-popping 8.45 yards per attempt. On passing downs, they'll need to do all they can to pressure Delhomme, who has only been sacked 12 times but has thrown 10 interceptions. It will be interesting to see the Panthers' passing distribution. The Bears usually force opponents to check down to their running backs and tight ends. Carolina rarely throws to either, and the emphasis on Steve Smith makes for some very lopsided statistics. Smith has 58 receptions, while the next highest total is only 18 for running back DeShaun Foster.