By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) Most pundits had the Bears at 2-2 to start the season, but certainly not in the manner they’ve done it. “Sweet home Chicago” has been anything but, as the Bears are 0-2 at Soldier Field. This weekend, they travel to Charlotte to battle the 2-2 Panthers, with a chance to start the season with three straight road wins for the first time since 2006.

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In order to win, both of these teams must protect their vulnerable defenses. The Bears rank 23rd in total defense, while the Panthers rank 24th.

Last week against division rival Green Bay, Chicago’s defense didn’t force a single punt in a 38-17 loss. Save for a blocked field goal late in the game, Packers would’ve scored on every offensive possession. It was a systemic collapse, as the Bears were unable to generate any pressure with their front four and had numerous coverage and technique busts in the secondary.

Even though Carolina is dealing with a litany of injuries at running back and has seen star quarterback Cam Newton limited by offseason ankle surgery and cracked ribs, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs knows better than to overlook the Panthers.

“It’d be dangerous for us to look at this as a team that can’t threaten us because a lot of their key players are out,” Briggs said. “They’re a team that has been able to run the ball very well. Cam is nicked up, but for us, the good thing is both teams are coming off tough losses, so it’s really a get-back week for both of us. It’s not a week where we’re looking at a less threatening team. It’s a week where defensively we have to get back to where we were.”

Where the Bears are at defensively remains a mystery. While they’ve made incremental progress with their run defense, they didn’t register a single quarterback hit last week against the Packers. The Bears played that game without defensive end Jared Allen, who missed his first start in 113 games due to pneumonia, but Allen is listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

While Allen is searching for his first sack of the season against the Panthers, his absence affected both the rotation at defensive end and and forced Willie Young to play more snaps on the right side, where he’s been less effective throughout his career.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said that Newton hasn’t been instructed to run less this season, but it’s been “highly suggested” that he be judicious with his runs to protect himself outside of the pocket. Inside the pocket, Newton has made great strides this season, posting a 98.2 passer rating, and has yet to throw an interception. Newton’s progress has caught the attention of Chicago defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

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“Cam Newton is a fierce competitor and obviously he has mobility in the pocket,” Tucker said. “He can make plays with his legs. But he has a cannon for an arm. He has shown on tape that he can make all of the throws. He can win outside of the numbers. He can throw the deep ball. Does a nice job on the underneath routes. Obviously, containing him is going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Newton’s developed a quick chemistry with rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who leads the team with 329 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough to earn Benjamin the Offensive Rookie of the Month honors, and he will be paired up against the Defensive Rookie of the Month in Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller.

For the Bears offense, they will look to repeat their yardage output from last week (496 total yards, 235 rushing yards) but must improve at finishing drives, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said.

“I don’t think we can expect more than 500 yards of offense,” Kromer said. “But as far as points, yeah, we have to finish drives better. They did a good job on defense and we didn’t do a good job on offense, and we’re used to doing that. We have been very productive inside the 10 and inside the 20-yard line and in that particular game we were not. We expect wholeheartedly to score when we get that close.”

Running back Matt Forte got on track last week with 171 total yards and has averaged 6.3 yards per carry against the Panthers for his career. The Panthers are struggling to stop the run this season, giving up a league-worst 5.7 yards per attempt.

If the Bears are able to establish the ground game, opportunities will arise for their potent passing attack against a vulnerable Panther’s secondary. The Panthers are struggling to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has forced them to blitz more, further exposing their secondary to big plays in the passing game.

As has been the case for the Bears this season, if they’re able to play error-free football and not turn the ball over, they have a chance to pick up their third win of the season and second win against a 2013 NFC playoff team.

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Dan Durkin covers the Bears for and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.