Bears-Panthers Breakdown

The running game on both sides will be a determining factor on who comes out on top. The Bears held the Panthers ground attack in check during the regular season and have their sights set on doing it again come Sunday.

Keeping drives alive will be critical in a game that could be determined by field position. The Bears have relied heavily on their running game, but they have converted just 7 of 19 third-and-one situations this season.

"It should be a lot higher than what it is," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said of the third down and 1 percentage. "We were good earlier in the year. We haven't been very good lately. It's an area we've got to get better on."

As with the rest of the offense, the Bears hope the increased passing threat with QB Rex Grossman behind center will make life easier on RB Thomas Jones. The Panthers held Tiki Barber to 41 yards rushing a week ago and forced Eli Manning into three interceptions in the second half.

"They game planned for him, to stop the run obviously and their quarterback didn't play well," Jones said of what Carolina did against New York. "I think if their quarterback would have made some better plays that would have opened up some things for Tiki, plus they had 3 or 4 turnovers. You definitely can't win with turnovers in the playoffs."

The Panthers dominated time of possession against the Giants last week by bottling Barber up early and getting their own running game into a groove. That gameplan should prove much more difficult against a healthy Bears defense allowing just 3.7 yards per carry.

"We're not the Giants," said Chicago MLB Brian Urlacher. "We feel like we're pretty good against the run."

Although DeShaun Foster wasn't the featured ball carrier, Chicago held Carolina to 55 rushing yards during the regular season meeting.

"He's great in space. He's a really quick guy, a make you miss guy," LB Hunter Hillenmeyer said of Foster. "He spins out of a lot of tackles and they've got a few guys that they like to get the ball in their hands and he's one of those guys."

WR Steve Smith caught 169 yards worth of passes, he didn't get into the end zone. The Bears' corners again will be happy to led Smith have the receptions in front of them as long as they prevent back-breaking big plays.

"Tackle him," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said of how to stop Smith. "A young man like that with that kind of quickness and ability you've first of all not allow the ball to get to him whether it's with the pass rush or just with the coverage and knowing where he is in terms of the safeties and linebackers helping."

Key Matchups

  • Offensive tackles John Tait and Fred Miller vs. Carolina defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. Kyle Orton had a clean jersey in the first meeting. With Rex Grossman behind center, the Bears will limit the hits he takes with short drops, but when he does look down field Tait and Miller will have to give him time to do so.

  • WR Steve Smith vs. Chicago secondary. The Bears would be willing to have Smith catch the ball as long as nothing is down the field and he doesn't get into the end zone. He scored twice against the Giants.

  • WR Muhsin Muhammad vs. Carolina secondary. Muhammad had three drops against his former mates and will look to improve upon his first game. With Grossman at quarterback, Muhammad is more of a threat in the passing game, but the Panthers know him as well as anyone.

  • RB DeShaun Foster vs. MLB Brian Urlacher. Foster made the Giants look bad a couple missed tackles, but hasn't faced the likes of the Defensive Player of the Year, who has never tasted postseason success and will be ready to change that on Sunday.

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