Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman will need to grow up in a hurry if the Bears are to have a shot at beating the experienced Panthers.
Soldiers Field in Chicago will be packed and noisy tomorrow when my beloved Bears take on Carolina in what promises to be a tight, hard hitting defensive struggle.
The game features two teams who are similar in almost every respect except for one major difference; Carolina has tons of playoff experience while my beloveds are mostly playoff neophytes. This could be a telling difference especially at quarterback where Jake Delhomme is 4-1 in playoff games while Chicago’s Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman has played in exactly 8 games in his entire pro career.
This is why most analysts are favoring the Panthers in this game despite the suffocating nature of the Bear’s defense. The current line has the Bear’s 3 point dogs which sounds about right with the over-under at an anemic 30.5. If I were a betting man, I’d give the points and go over. Weather forecast calls for sun and near 40 degrees with strong winds. Given that Soldiers Field is on the lakefront, those winds could play havoc with the passing game of both clubs not to mention making the kicking game an adventure.
The key then for both teams is to stop the run. Here is where my beloveds may be in trouble because Carolina looked awesome running the ball last week in their shutout rout of the Giants. All year long, the Bear defense has been susceptible to the cut back run. Good cutback runners like Gado of Green Bay and Bennett of Minnesota killed the Bears this year. The reason is the over aggressiveness of the Chicago defense which allows a good runner like the Panther’s DeShaun Foster to have patience while waiting for the defense to overrun the play and then reversing direction where there are huge holes to be found. To counter this, the defensive ends for the Bears must maintain their discipline and stop the backside cut by staying at home. If Foster can cut back with any success, the Bears are sunk.
For the Bears, Thomas Jones must have a big day to take pressure off of Wonder Dog. Jones must hit the whole quickly and decisively, taking what the defense gives him rather than trying to break every run. A key will be third down. If the Bears find themselves in too many third and longs – say more than 5 yards – their chances will diminish accordingly.
The Bears passing attack must have consistency. Wonder Dog cannot throw any interceptions as turnovers will probably decide the game. And Muhammed must have the ball thrown to him early and often. The guy is a first down machine and in order to sustain an attack, my beloveds will have to rely on the Pro Bowl receiver.
The Panthers meanwhile have to find a way to get superstar Steve Smith the ball in the open field. During the Panther’s 13-3 loss against the Bears, Smith had 14 catches but was contained nicely by the Chicago D-backs who prevented Smith from getting many yards after the catch. That must change for the Panthers to have an effective attack.
The Bears offensive line does not fear the Panther’s D-line but perhaps they should. Look for the Carolina ends to get more upfield pressure on the quarterback. And I suspect that Carolina will throw the kitchen sink at Wonder Dog as far as blitzes are concerned. Rex must be able to get a quick read and get rid of the ball in a hurry to avoid being sacked. Not an easy thing to do under the pressure of a playoff game.
Special teams edge must go to the Panthers as the Bear’s unit has been wildly inconsistent both in coverage and in returns all year. And if field goals decide it, bet on Carolina’s John Kasay who is one of the best in the business.
The one intangible that plays to the Bear’s favor is that Chicago still doesn’t feel it is getting any respect. This is a powerful motivational tool if Coach of the Year Lovie Smith can tap into it. For Carolina, there is the obvious motive of revenge to consider. Plus, some Chicago players like defensive end Adewale Ogunleye have foolishly been talking a little smack this week. Let’s hope that stupidity doesn’t come back to haunt the Bears.
Given all that can go wrong, I have to reluctantly agree with most of the experts that the Bears have little chance in this game.
Panthers – 23
Bears – 17