CHICAGO BEARS (4-1)
Head Coach: Matt Nagy, 3rd season
Head to Head: Bears lead all-time series 6-4
Offensive Strength: The Bears have relied a lot on their defense and haven't been anything close to spectacular on offense, already switching from Mitch Trubisky to Nick Foles at quarterback this season. Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP, has proven to do just enough to help Chicago win, including a comeback versus Atlanta in Week 4 from 16-down in the second half. Running back David Montgomery hasn't lived up to expectations yet but he can still break out at any time, especially against a bad Panthers run defense. He has 247 rushing yards, one touchdown and is averaging 49.4 rushing yards a game this season. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is also one of the league's top wideouts with 421 receiving yards so far this year. In the fourth quarter this season, the Bears are first in the league in points scored with 55.
Offensive Weakness: Chicago's biggest weakness is converting on third down and frankly, scoring points. They're converting just 33.3 percent of the time on third down, ranking 29th in the league. They rank 27th in points, total yards and rushing yards per game with 21.0, 323.2 and 95.4, respectively. Oddly, unlike the fourth quarter, the Bears haven't scored a single point in the third quarter this season. With Foles at the helm, Chicago still hasn't found consistency yet in the passing game and that has to be something Carolina takes advantage of.
Defensive Strength: The Bears currently hold the league's best red-zone defense allowing their opponents to score just 36.84 percent of the time. They're also second in the league in third-down defense. A large part of the defensive strength that has contributed to a 4-1 record this season is due to defensive end Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks on the defensive line. Mack is one of the league's best defenders and is currently tied for ninth in the NFL with 3.5 sacks. Hicks also has 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. In addition to linebacker Roquan Smith, who has 6 TFL, and a secondary that includes Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson, the Bears are only giving up 20 points per game.
Defensive Weakness: There have been arguments that with all the talent on defense, Chicago should be performing even better. The Bears only ranked 15th in the league with 11 sacks which kind of feels a little bit like an underachievement. They've also struggled to stop the run game up the middle, which is something former Bear, Mike Davis, can take advantage of. Chicago ranks 16th in run defense, allowing 113.2 yards per game.
Special Teams: Kickoff returner Cordarelle Patterson leads the league in return yards with 468 and shows the potential of breaking loose almost every return. Patterson rarely ever takes a touchback, even when the ball is within 10 yards of the end zone. Patterson has seven kickoff return touchdowns in his career. Former Panther Ted Ginn Jr. is Chicago's punt returner. It also seems like the Bears might have finally found a reliable kicker in Cairo Santos.
7 QB Will Grier
10 WR Curtis Samuel
20 CB Eli Apple
65 G Dennis Daley
78 DT Woodrow Hamilton
20 DB Duke Shelley
26 S Deon Bush
71 G Arlington Hambright
88 WR Riley Ridley
99 LB Trevis Gipson
Matchup vs. Carolina: This game might be a very defensive one. The Bears are one of the league's best defensive teams but Carolina has proven that their offense is as fast and dynamic as many thought it'd be this offseason. Both teams are riding high right now and exceeding all preseason expectations. For the Panthers to win, they'll have to use the run game a lot with Mike Davis but also try to pressure Nick Foles and cause him to struggle. This game might show us which team is truly legit.
“They’ve got a great defense. It isn’t just Khalil Mack, they’ve got a lot of guys up front. They’ve got (safety) Eddie Jackson back there, they’ve got (cornerback) Kyle Fuller. I know a lot of those guys too, so I know what a lot of them are capable of.” -Panthers running back Mike Davis.
"They've (Chicago) got just good players all around. They have a great scheme, they play fast, they play together, but they're able to win the crucial downs, the situational downs, the red zone and the third down. To me, that's vital," -Panthers head coach Matt Rhule.
"It's a sound defense. Those guys play well in the red zone, they're great on third downs and they're very sound. You don't see them blowing many assignments. You just have to be on point with your gameplan from a protection standpoint, to route running to run schemes. You want to put yourself in the right position and not let the soundness of their defense force you to negative plays," -Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bears HC Matt Nagy on Matt Rhule and the Panthers success: "It's just a credit to Matt Rhule for who he is as a person and a lot of what his coaches believe in him and who he brought with him to get started there. His players are buying in and they're winning three in a row ... It's impressive what they're doing."