Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bears vs. Panthers Preview

It was announced earlier today that Todd Collins will start in place of Jay Cutler on Sunday in Carolina. I was afraid that I would have to write this sentence at some point this season. I put this squarely on the shoulders of Mike Martz. The offensive line was getting demolished on Sunday, and Martz was still calling for pass plays requiring seven-step drops. If he had gone to three and five-step drops after, oh, I don't know, the first five sacks, Jay would be starting this weekend and I wouldn't be scared to death about losing to the lowly Panthers.


This game will be a real test of the intenstinal fortitude of the 2010 Chicago Bears. In the last five days, Cutler has gotten hurt, the offensive line has become a national joke, Mark Anderson has been curiously released, and a 38-year old journeyman QB will be starting his first game since 2007. Their 3-1 record is not taken seriously by anyone in the national media and, with the Vikings adding the mercurial Randy Moss, everyone is expecting the Bears to fade away like they did last year after a 3-1 start. I want to be optimistic. I really do. But, I'm not sure the Bears are equipped to pull up from this sudden tailspin. They have a coach who is as lifeless on the sidelines as a Ken doll, and too many question marks at key areas such as the offensive line and secondary. That does not give me confidence moving forward.

The good news is that on Sunday the Bears are playing against a team that appears to have a lame-duck coach, a rookie QB, and no healthy receivers that can break open the game (assuming Steve Smith doesn't play due to an ankle injury). The Panthers will have to rely on their running game, which can be quite formidable, and a defense that showed a knack for getting turnovers last week against the defending World Champion New Orleans Saints. I watched most of that game, and a few things were obvious. Jimmy Clausen has the physical skills to be a good QB someday. He has a strong arm, and he acts like he belongs in the NFL. But, he lacks polish and experience, which the Bears defense should be able to take advantage of. Clausen will see lots of zone coverage, and I'm not sure he is patient enough or wise enough to check the ball down when needed. The Bears should be to get a few turnovers once he starts forcing the ball into tight windows.

The Panthers running game is something to be taken seriously. DeAngelo Williams is an explosive runner with good vision and excellent quickness. Jonathan Stewart is powerful workhorse who can wear down defenses. Their offensive line seems above average. The Bears struggled stopping the run against the Giants last week, and I think this Panthers team will give the Bears similar problems. Maybe the newly acquired Charles Grant can help shore up the run defense. The Bears were excellent against the run in the Lions, Cowboys, and Packers games, but those teams abandoned it so quickly, the Bears were never really tested. As the Giants game wore on, the smallish front seven of the Bears got tired and the Giants pushed them around fairly easy. The Panthers aren't likely to abandon their running game with a rookie QB behind center.

Can Todd Collins make the all throws in the Mike Martz offense? No, he can't. Whatever arm strength he had at one time has obviously diminshed. He can't throw the deep out or split the safety and corner down the sidelines. But, can he make enough throws to give the Bears a chance to win? Yes, I believe he can. Martz MUST tailor this week's game plan to include shorter throws, more screens, and much more running. Moving the ball efficiently is more important that gaudy stats or highlight plays. Winning is what matters. If Martz comes out and consistently calls deep routes out of seven-step drops with Todd Collins at quarterback then we'll know once and for all that his massive ego cannot be held in check, and it will eventually cost Lovie Smith his job. As I stated previously, I have mixed feelings about that. If the season goes down hill quickly, then I know at least Lovie and probably Jerry Angelo won't be back next year. But, that means I'll have to endure another season of crappy football and no playoffs. I'm on the fence.

Julius Peppers will be able to wreak havoc in his homecoming return against a rookie QB . The Bears should be able to get a few turnovers that'll put the offense in good position to score points. Even with Collins starting, the Bears are the better team. Can they win on the road against an inferior opponent after such a troubling week? I hope so. I fear what'll happen if they lose this game, even with Cutler sidelined.

Bears 16, Panthers 12

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