After a big win in Week 5, the Chicago Bears hit the road in Week 6 to take on the Carolina Panthers. Here are some predictions for the game.
The Chicago Bears and their fans sure needed this mini-bye week they had. The Bears came away with a huge victory in Week 5 on Thursday Night Football. They received a nice long time to recover and get ready for the Carolina Panthers. It also gave the fans some time to get their breaths back. Three of the Bears’ four victories came in comeback fashion and four of their five games were exciting and breathtaking.
Now the Bears find themselves among the teams with the best record in the NFL. Many feel they aren’t deserving of being there but that’s where they are. They need to show more evidence as the season goes along. Beating the Panthers and owning a 5-1 record solidifies their case.
This is a game that the Bears should win. Of course, we’re talking about the Chicago Bears and they don’t make things easy. We’ve seen them lose winnable games and win games no one thought they would. We’ll just have to take our heart meds and drink some Pepto Bismol and survive another game in this crazy 2020 season. For now, let’s make some predictions for the game.
The defense is starting to roll
Linebacker Khalil Mack said recently that the defense was close to making big plays. He felt the defense improving week by week and was ready to break out. He was right. Despite losing in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts, the defense performed well. The Colts were in the red zone four times yet came away with three field goals. Also, they held Indianapolis, who entered the game against them averaging 28 points, to 19. Usually, that’s good enough to come away with a win, but not in this case.
The defense probably had its best game of the year last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They sacked Tom Brady three times and pressured him on 42 percent of his dropbacks. He was constantly finding himself on the ground. Mack was the leader, recording two sacks and six pressures.
There have been criticisms of this defense. Many keep saying this isn’t the dominant defense many expected. Well, they’re moving up in the rankings. They currently rank fourth in points allowed (the same ranking they had in 2019). After being in the middle of the road in terms of overall yards allowed, they now rank in the top-ten (ninth). They lead the league in interceptions and rank third in yards per pass attempt.
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Additionally, the Bears defense ranks #1 in red zone defense, #2 on third-down conversions, and #2 in fourth-quarter defense. When you need the defense to come up big in big situations, they’ve come through so far.
The Panthers come in on a three-game winning streak but their offense isn’t an overwhelming one. While they rank 6th in overall yards, they rank just 20th in points scored. Carolina’s passing attack ranks 5th in yards but 25th in touchdowns.
If the Chicago Bears put the same pressure on Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that they did on Brady, it’ll be a long day for Carolina. Tampa Bay, another top-ten defensive unit, forced four turnovers against the Panthers. Furthermore, Carolina struggles in the red zone, ranking just 27th in touchdown percentage. The Bears defense should be able to come up with some stops and keep Bridgewater and his offense at bay.
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is eligible to come back from his high-ankle sprain but likely misses the game. He probably wants to come back and test the Bears’ rushing defense but it’s likely too early to come back. Besides, former Bears running back Mike Davis is doing a good job. He averages 4.8 yards per rush, but only made it to the end zone once this season. He’ll be fired up to face the team that signed him then dropped him early in the season the way the Bears did.
Prediction: Bears defense has three sacks and two interceptions. Davis fumbles the ball away once.
The running game should look better
The Panthers’ defense struggles against the run. It ranks 25th in rushing yards allowed, 27th in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 31st in average yards per rush allowed. The Bears running game did well in the first three games but not so much in the last two. Head coach Matt Nagy must get tired of hearing this but he has himself to blame — the Bears need to run the ball more.
In the first three games, the Bears ran the ball 85 times and got 414 yards. That’s an average of 4.9 yards per run. On the other hand, in the past two games, they ran just 30 times for just 63 yards. That’s an average of 2.1 yards per run. Do you see the difference there?
Handing the ball off 15 times a game doesn’t help get the rushing attack get into a rhythm. Nagy said in the offseason that he knows he needs to run the ball more to help the passing game but his actions prove otherwise. He has the results in front of his face! Hand the ball off consistently and you’ll gain valuable yards. Don’t and you’ll have to throw 40-50 times a game, something not recommended to win.
If Nagy lets his running backs do their jobs this week, they should reward him with big numbers. Let David Montgomery take a bigger load and have Cordarrelle Patterson help out. As mentioned earlier, the Panthers don’t defend the run very well. If the Bears’ running backs get enough carries, they will wear down the Panthers defensive front. Let’s hope Nagy realizes that and uses his running game.
Prediction: Montgomery rushes for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns. Patterson adds 42 yards rushing.
Foles looks more comfortable in the pocket
After a slow start, Foles looks more comfortable in this offense. He’s getting a better rapport with his receivers. Against the Bucs, he made some incredible plays to help get the victory. The way he read the defense and adjusted accordingly was incredible and showed why he is the starter.
The Panthers pass defense is better than their run defense. They rank fourth in passing yards allowed and third in passing touchdowns allowed. They won’t cause many interceptions, however, ranking 16th in that category.
A quarterback as smart as Foles should exploit whatever weakness this defense has. Carolina only has five sacks this season, so they don’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The Bears have a question at left guard, however. Alex Bars gave up a sack in his first play after James Daniels tore his pectoral muscle but he settled in later. The Bears are hoping that with a week of preparing with the starters he could step up and do a good job. He was a very good offensive lineman at Notre Dame and a solid second-round prospect before he injured his knee. He spent most of last season completing his rehab on the practice squad last season. Now he’s thrust in as a starter. If he can handle the job, it helps the offense.
Prediction: Foles throws for 236 yards and one touchdown.
Special teams unit helps out
Like the defense, the Chicago Bears special teams looks like it could break out. Patterson leads the league in return yards, and by a lot. He has 468 yards returning kicks while the next closest player, Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys, has just 269 yards. Patterson came close to breaking some of his yards. Usually, when kickers boot the ball 8-9 yards deep in the end zone returners take a knee for the touchback. Patterson doesn’t do that. He took a kick from nine yards deep in the end zone and took it to the 30, a gain of 5 yards compared to if he just downed it. That is crucial in games when you’re fighting for every single yard.
Patterson has seven touchdown returns in his career and led the league in that category five times. He is the most dangerous return man in the league today. The Bucs kicker, Bradley Pinion, thought he kicked the ball far enough on a few occasions but Patterson took those kicks and consistently got the ball past the 25. Finally, he kicked the ball out of the end zone on his last two kickoffs.
Panthers kicker Joey Slye has an 85 percent touchback rate, but at times he has a tendency to kick the ball five yards or less in the end zone. If he does that with Patterson, that will spell trouble for the Panthers.
Cairo Santos hit a couple of big field goals last week that kept the Bears in the game and ultimately won the game. That game might be the one that gets him in a good rhythm. The Chicago Bears’ kicking woes after Robbie Gould are well documented. Hopefully, the uneasiness in 2020 ends. It likely doesn’t happen but we could dream, right?
Prediction: Patterson breaks off a 43-yard return and a 99-yard return for a touchdown. Santos hits 2 field goals.