Playoff Preview: Panthers vs Bears
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterJanuary 15, 2006
This Sunday, the Carolina Panthers will take on the Chicago Bears for the fourth game of the 2005-2006 NFL divisional playoffs. Both teams met each other earlier this season, in a game that the Bears destroyed Jake Delhomme. The Bears sacked him eight times and intercepted him twice. The Bears were only able to produce one early touchdown, but that's all they needed to win the game 13-3. The Panthers are coming off of a dominating victory over the New York Giants, arguably one of the best offenses in the league. DeShaun Foster is starting to get used to rushing for 100-plus yards a game, and that could be the difference maker in this one. Now that these two teams meet in the second round of the playoffs, who will come out on top?
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22 of 38 for 235 yards, 2 interceptions. 2 carries, 8 yards.
Note: Delhomme probably had his worst game of the season against the
Panthers. He was absolutely torn apart by the Bears defense, getting
sacked eight times. He threw two interceptions to Nathan Vasher, and
without those picks, this game could have gone the other way. Delhomme
has performed well in the playoffs before, but he will have to adjust
his game tremendously to beat the Bears' defense.
Did Not Play(Injured). Kyle Orton: 15 of 26 for 136 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception.
Note: It really does not make that big of a difference that
Grossman is facing the Panthers instead of Orton. Orton did a good job
managing his job for a rookie, but Grossman has the potential to do
slightly better. Grossman has to realize that he plays on a team based
around defense, so he cannot force anything. If he plays conservative
and only throws one touchdown, so be it.
Note: If the Panthers want to win, they must find a way to run the
football. Running the ball will allow for Delhomme to get sacked less,
and give him some more leeway in the passing game. Nine carries won't do
it, so the Panthers will have to run the way they have the past few
weeks. Foster's toe injury could cause a problem since the Bears hit
25 carries, 87
yards, 3.5 avg.
Note: The Bears could almost interchange Adrian Peterson or
Cedric Benson with Jones, but Jones has been the guy that has carried
this team offensively. He was the forgotten man at the start of the
season, and proved that he can be a starter in this league. He pounded
the ball away against the Panthers for a respectable average, and he'll
have to do the same exact thing on Sunday.
14 catches, 169 yards.
Note: There's a reason I only listed Smith for receiving statistics:
he's the only person who really did anything. Sure, Ricky Prohel had a
catch or two, but Smith was the go-to-guy times two for Delhomme.
Although it's good that Smith was getting open, Delhomme has to discover
another weapon in the passing game to open things up more.
Note: Similar to the Panthers, the Bears only focused on two
receivers. Muhammad and Gage, combined, basically had the same game as
Smith did. The comparison between the teams makes it pretty even,
although Muhammad has a little less experience receiving from Grossman.
Defense: 1 interception,
13 points allowed.
Note: The Panthers defense did a great job keeping their team in
the game, but they did not make enough plays. The Panthers defense is
ranked third in the league, but they did not even have a sack with their
quick defensive linemen. The Bears will play conservative on offense, so
the Panthers can either play back and force punts most of the time, or
be aggressive to force Grossman to try and make a play, leaving Muhammad
in single coverage.
Note: There's no question about it: the Bears defense owned Jake
Delhomme when they met in November. Anytime Delhomme built a little bit
of momentum, he would get drilled from behind or throw an interception
to Nathan Vasher. The Bears have played solid the entire season on
defense, and have to continue with the same exact approach.
The Panthers may have to rely on Kasay a lot in this game, since the
Bears don't allow scores very often. Kasay must bring his "A" game.
Note: In the Super Bowl two years ago, Kasay's kickoff went out of
bounds near the end of the game, allowing New England to drive with a
short field and kick a field goal to win it.
Robbie Gould: The Bears' young
kicker has been a pleasant surprise. Young kickers tend to struggle in
the postseason though, and Chicago, like Carolina, need as many
successful field goals as possible.
Note: The Bears may be ready with Nathan Vasher if Kasay attempts
a 50-plus yard field goal.
Besides Tom Brady,
you would have to say that Jake Delhomme has been the best quarterback
in the postseason over the past three seasons. He makes plays constantly
and throws the deep ball right on the money. Delhomme shows
inconsistency during the regular season often though, and one of those
games came against the Bears. He'll be looking for revenge and the
opportunity to put points on the board immediately.
I don't think the Panthers can win if DeShaun Foster struggles in the
running game. Two years ago, the Panthers made the Super Bowl based on
their running game setting everything up. Last week, Foster tore up the
Giants defense despite his toe injury. Foster will have to break at
least one play for over thirty yards against the Bears.
Defensively, the Panthers can control this game. They stopped the Bears
for the most part last time, and even if the Panthers defense struggled,
Chicago wouldn't score that much. The key for the Panthers will be if
they force turnovers. They absolutely dominated Eli Manning last week, a
first-time playoff quarterback. Grossman is not only in his first
playoff game, but he has only played about seven games altogether.
Rex Grossman will
not be asked to win this game. He'll be told to play the same way their
quarterbacks have played the entire season by making safe throws and not
forcing a thing. If Grossman and the Bears fall two possessions behind,
they'll run into problems. They are not a good catch up team, and
Grossman does not have the experience of handling pressure situations
when playing from behind.
The Bears will mainly run with Thomas Jones, but they can insert Benson
and Peterson if they wish. It'll be a surprise if Jones does not get at
least 25 carries in this game again, because the running game basically
is the Bears offense. When you rank 31st in the league in the passing
game and are facing the 3rd ranked defense in the league, it's not like
you have a real choice. Using Reverse psychology and passing to "catch
the Panthers off guard" will only backfire for the Bears.
The Bears defense is healthy and ready to unload on Delhomme again. They
may be surprised though that Delhomme will take the risks this time
around to try and exploit weaknesses sooner than later. The Panthers
know that they must have an early lead against this defense, so how the
Bears react early could prove to be the difference.
NFC Divisional Prediction
Winner - Carolina Panthers
This is a very
tough decision and should be a defensive heavy game between the 2nd and
3rd ranked defenses in the league. Although there are beliefs that the
Bears defense will take over in this game, don't forget that the
Panthers defense can take over just as well, if not better. Despite
Delhomme playing horribly the first time around, he will make the
necessary adjustments. Even if that means getting his team into field
goal range all game long, he'll do it.
Panthers 16, Bears 9.