By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) It’s only Week 4, but don’t get it twisted, this is a big game for the Bears. You don’t want to have a three-game losing streak and you don’t want to lose an NFC game at home.
Cam Newton brings an intriguing set of challenges for the Bears, but overall the Bears are the better team. Here are some things that I’ll be looking at Sunday:
Jay Cutler vs “The QB Clock”
Every quarterback has an idea of how much time a play will take to develop. He knows when the ball should be away. You’ll hear players talking about “being on time”, so if Cutler doesn’t see the right look a bit of panic sets in. The protection for Cutler hasn’t been great, but last week, it wasn’t terrible. In 34 games with the Bears, Cutler has been sacked 101 times. He admitted that the cumulative effect of that is throwing off his “QB clock”.
“Whenever you’re getting a lot of pressure and you’re getting flushed and you’re getting hit a lot, that clock in your head is going to be tinkered a little bit,” Cutler said Wednesday. “It’s going to start ticking a little bit faster. Even sometimes when you do have a good amount of time, you’re going to be feeling it even if it’s not there. So it’s a constant battle. The more consistent we get up front and the more time I have, and the more comfortable I feel, the more consistent I’m going to get.”
In other words, he’s fighting himself. The good thing for the Bears is that Carolina doesn’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback. They only have five sacks this season, so if Cutler trusts his protection and himself, there could be some big plays available for him.
Matt Forte vs. Mike Martz vs Panthers Defense
Want a scary statistic? Last year, Forte had 166 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries vs. Carolina. This year, the Bears as a team have 161 yards and zero touchdowns on 51 carries. After the game last week, everyone at Halas Hall admitted that the 16 total touches he got probably wasn’t enough. The run-blocking was atrocious and perhaps the Bears need to go away from pulling Chris Williams on trap plays. Run some lead plays with Forte behind a fullback and see what happens. Move your offense north-south and get the line some confidence. Will Martz lean on his offenses most talented player? It’s probably a good idea. The Panthers have been decimated by season-ending injuries to linebackers, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. They’re decent against the pass but poor against the run. Carolina ranks 25th in the league giving up 117 yards per game.
Bears Defense vs. Cam Newton
Newton played a great six quarters in the first two games of the season and everyone is anointing him the chosen one. That’s a dangerous thing. There’s no doubt he’s talented. He has a unique set of skills, but he’s still a rookie. Zone defenses confuse rookies and the Bears have a great deal of zone looks. Look for the them to sit back and force the Panthers to march down the field. The Panthers have gotten pretty good production out of their tight ends, but I think the Bears linebackers match-up pretty well with them.
The Toub Effect
Special teams units around the NFL are on edge after the brilliant fake the Bears used at the end of the Green Bay game. They didn’t get the touchdown, but they may have set themselves up for one in the next few weeks. If they show a similar look with Knox and Hester deep, the Panthers will have some decisions to make. Do they cover the punt to a side or split their coverage team up evenly (5 & 5 with the punter back)? The Bears are hoping for bigger seams to get Hester loose. Will guys on the Panthers coverage team be looking for the ball instead of busting their butts to get down-field? That slows them down and leaves them open to getting de-cleated. If they actually kick to the Bears returners, look out for a big return.
We have a lot of fun on Twitter from Soldier Field, so follow me (@lholmes670) and listen to me on our pregame show Sunday at 9:40 a.m.