Behind Enemy Lines with Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest
Each and every single week, we will take a full dive into the Panthers' opponent by getting insight from many talented beat writers and publishers around the Sports Illustrated network. This week, we bring on Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest to help us breakdown the Atlanta Falcons. Enjoy!
Q: Strengths/weaknesses of Bears offense
A: The Bears on offense have had an ability to find Allen Robinson in the passing game when needed, whether it's Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. They've also shown an ability to generate a passing attack, especially with Foles, at key points in games regardless of whether they get shut down for big chunks of games. They eventually find ways to adapt to what can work.
The biggest weakness has been running the ball with any consistency, especially since Foles became quarterback and they no longer had the added threat of a quarterback who can run. Their other great offensive weakness is the third quarter, for some reason. They haven't scored a point in third quarters so they wind up needing to come from behind.
Q: Strengths/weaknesses of defense
A: While the pass rush hasn't put up big overall sack numbers, there has been a steady amount of pressure from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks especially. Teams that don't use a lot of three-step and five-step drops by passers pay for it. They've been extremely strong in the red zone and on third downs. They're No. 1 in the league at preventing TDs in the red zone and it isn't even close in this regard. They are No. 2 to the Vikings at defending third downs.
What they haven't done well is stop the run and that's because nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted out before the year. It's left their inside linebackers exposed to blockers too often and they get gashed on the run. They also have been unable to come up with enough turnovers. They've had two turnovers taken away by officials' calls, one taken away by replay when Roquan Smith's foot was out of bounds on an interception, and simply had two other uncontested interceptions flat out dropped by Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson.
Q: Three guys no one knows, but should.
A: Rookie second-round draft pick Jaylon Johnson at right cornerback has been picked on to a large extent because Kyle Fuller has been brilliant at left cornerback, and Johnson has held his own, especially in the red zone.
Left guard Alex Bars. We all want to know about him. He's making his first NFL start and there's no telling what happens there because they're losing an effective starting left guard with James Daniels' season-ending pectoral injury.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney. A deep threat out of Tulane, he has more catches than any NFL wide receiver drafted after Round 4 this year, and actually is fifth among all rookie wide receivers in catches (15) while playing more snaps than established wide receiver Anthony Miller.
Q: Keys to the Game for Chicago?
A: Running the ball or at least establishing ball control. The Panthers are a ball-control team and the way to beat a ball-control team is to put it back in their faces and force them over to Plan B. The Bears haven't run it in the last two games. Since Foles began starting and they went to playing out of the shotgun more than under center, they've fallen in two weeks from 11th in rushing to 27th by getting 63 yards total for two games.
Preventing Mike Davis from getting a head of steam up. They say they have to keep him from having room to get going in the backfield, so it's going to require some line penetration.
Keeping Teddy Bridgewater contained within the pocket when he throws. He killed them with New Orleans last year by getting outside the pocket and throwing to open receivers downfield or hitting on screens across the field.
Get a lead for a change. The Bears have been behind about 70% of the time this year. Only in the Giants game did they have an early lead, and they nearly blew it. They trailed all game against the Colts and Lions, almost all game against the Falcons and most of the game with the Bucs. When they lead, then Mack, Quinn and Akiem Hicks can tee off.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Bears 20
This is a trap game for the Bears, mentally. It's on the road. They have to play the Rams next week. They just came off tough games against the Bucs and Colts. The Panthers have a new coach and a rebuilding team. The Bears are due for a letdown and will pay for it.
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