Game Preview: Bears need to be wary of wounded Panthers

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The records indicate otherwise, but when the 5-1 Chicago Bears host the 1-5 Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field Sunday afternoon, the division leading Bears can’t afford a misstep against the NFC South cellar-dwellers.

Coming off a masterful defensive performance in their 13-7 win over Detroit Monday   night, the question might be how focused and motivated the Bears will be on a short week against a struggling opponent at home.

Bears QB Jay Cutler, though practicing this week, may still be shaking off the effects of Monday’s Ndamukong Suh’s hit. It will “bear” watching whether Cutler is able to make all the throws, particularly the deep outs where the combination of arm strength/mechanics/body control can determine the effectiveness of the play.

To reduce the chance of Cutler taking unnecessary hits, Chicago may take to the ground behind the running of Matt Forte and Michael Bush. In recent weeks, the Bears have made more of a commitment to run the football.  Forte, in particularly, has enjoyed recent strong outings against Carolina. The Bears should be able to expose a Panther defense missing LB Jon Beason and CB Chris Gamble, both placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week.

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Carolina’s issues run deep. Former Bears player and assistant coach Ron Riviera had hoped for improvement in his second season at the helm. Instead, he’s watched as his offense has been unable to generate a consistent running game, even with two solid backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Look for Stewart to get the start against the Bears and the bulk of the work in an effort to develop some rhythm to the offense. Second-year QB Cam Newton has struggled, and displayed immaturity issues that raise doubt about his work ethic and preparation.

Still, t

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he Panthers aren’t without weapons. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has been a thorn in the Bears sides for a long time, and seems to match up well against the Chicago secondary. Former Bears TE Greg Olsen, someone the Bears wish they still had, is an effective pass catcher with down the seam speed.

The Panthers launched General Manager Marty Hurney last Monday after ten years with the club. His dismissal, while surprising in mid-season, appears to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to the team’s poor start.Carolina has been close in a number of games, so expect them to rally together in a game where they’ll be a heavy underdog.

Bears Bits: Cutler and newly signed TE Brody Eldridge practiced Friday. Cutler had full participation in Thursday and Friday’s workouts, so he should be full go…WR’s Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett were fined by the NFL for wearing pink cleats during Monday’s game with the Lions. You may recall, Bennett was slapped for the same infraction last season.

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