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-Playoff Preview: Panthers vs Bears
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 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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NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Team Stats
Carolina Panthers - #5 vs. #2 - Chicago Bears
- Overall Record: 11-5
Road Record: 6-2
22nd overall
(19th rush, 17th pass)
3rd overall
(4th rush, 9th pass)
- Overall Record: 11-5
Home Record: 7-1
29th overall
(8th rush, 31st pass)
2nd overall
(11th rush, 5th pass)
Last Meeting - November 20th, 2005
Quarterback vs. Quarterback
Jake Delhomme: 22 of 38 for 235 yards, 2 interceptions. 2 carries, 8 yards.

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.
Rex Grossman: 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.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
DeShaun Foster: 9 carries, 41 yards, 4.6 avg. 3 catches, 20 yards.

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 hard, though.
Thomas Jones: 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.
Receivers vs. Receivers
Steve Smith: 14 catches, 169 yards.

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.
Muhsin Muhammad: 6 catches, 49 yards, 1 touchdown.
Justin Gage:
7 catches, 81 yards.

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 vs. Defense
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.
Defense: 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 points allowed.

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.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
John Kasay: 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.

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.
Final Analysis
Carolina Panthers vs. Chicago Bears
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.
Final Score:
Panthers 16, Bears 9.

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