After a strong 2-0 start, the Panthers have looked lost and overmatched the last two weeks with blowout losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Chicago Bears are a talented team, particularly on offense, but are certainly beat able with a fairly simple game plan. These are the key points the Panthers should be focusing on this week.
In the Panthers two wins, they averaged 22 points per game but that number drops to 14.5 points in their two losses. The Panthers are basically scoring a touchdown less per game in their losses than their wins. This is simply but how do they score more points?
The Panthers are going to be without DeAngelo Williams and most likely Jonathan Stewart for this game so it will be another week of very little help from the running game. This means the pressure will fall on Cam Newton to move this offense and put points on the board.
The problem is that the offensive line has been atrocious this season and has not given Newton much time in the pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, when Cam Newton has 2.6 seconds or more to throw in the pocket his QB Rating is 110.3 but when he has 2.5 seconds or less, that rating drops to 89.7.
The offensive line isn’t magically going to change in a week and be a dominant force. So how do the Panthers create more time for Newton? The offensive game plan will need to move the pocket and get Newton on the move. By calling rollouts, the team should give the quarterback a little more time to find an open wide receiver. It should also help the offensive linemen because with Newton on the move, he is creating space away from the opposing defense and the offensive linemen don’t have to hold their blocks as long.
Now that Newton has time, he needs to throw the ball to someone. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been a welcomed target for Newton but they will need to make sure Greg Olsen is heavily involved as he is the key to this offense. In their two wins this year, Olsen has 14 receptions on 19 targets for 155 yards. These stats drop to seven receptions on 13 targets for 99 yards. The Panthers will need a big game from their tight end to help them grab a win over the Bears.
- Stop the Rushing Attack
- Pressure the Quarterback
- Force Turnovers
These three points seem very basic but there is a clear distinction between when the Panthers are able to do this and when they are not. In the Panthers two wins this season, their defense has been able to hold opposing running backs to an average of 86 yards per game. This number jumps up to 195.5 rushing yards per game in their two losses.
This week the team will have to face Matt Forte, one of the better running backs in the league, however the Panthers should get Thomas Davis back this week. This will be a huge boost to the linebacker position and should have a major impact on this defense. If the Panthers are able to keep Forte in check early, it may force the Bears to look to Jay Cutler to lead this offense.
The last two weeks the Panthers have struggled getting to the quarterback. I believe this is due to the fact that teams have been able to establish the run and when they are able to do that it allows them to utilize the play-action and keep defenses off-balance. In their two wins, the Panthers defense was able to sack the quarterback seven times, compared to only once their last two weeks.
When defenses are able to pressure quarterbacks, they have less time to analyze defenses which means they may force throws they shouldn’t. This will usually generate turnover opportunities.
The last two weeks the Panthers have not been able to force a single turnover which is surprising considering they made Tampa Bay and Detroit turn the ball over a total of six times. Jay Cutler has never been known for protecting the ball and the Bears’ two losses this season he has thrown four interceptions compared to none in their two wins.
There is certainly a lot riding on this game for the Panthers. A win on Sunday would move them to 3-2, keep them atop the NFC South, and grab a win over a team that is sure to be in the playoff picture. This game could be a key tiebreaker come the end of the season. If the Panthers are able to accomplish these key points on offense and defense, they should win this game.