Sunday’s game between the Chicago Bears (3-1) and the Carolina Panthers (0-4) was supposed to be showcased as the return of defensive end Julius Peppers to Charlotte for his first meeting with his former team. But instead of the Bears (-2.5 @ Diamond Sportsbook) celebrating the excitement surrounding their prized pass rusher, they will be concerned about how to stop the pass rush of the Panthers after giving up 10 sacks in a 17-3 road loss to the New York Giants.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is not expected to play after he went down nine times in the first half on Sunday night against the Giants, failing to come out after the intermission due to a concussion. Cutler clearly was shaken up and was holding on to the ball too long, bringing back memories of Rex Grossman and his inability to get rid of the ball without a turnover. In his place Todd Collins will take over the duties.
The blame for the team’s poor offensive play has been directed at Chicago’s offensive line, offensive coordinator Mike Martz along with Cutler himself. All are to blame for the Bears going 0-for-13 on third downs and also failing to generate more than 59 yards on the ground in their first loss. In fact, they rank second-to-last in the NFL in rushing offense with 68.8 yards per game and will need to find some balance on some point in order to keep winning at this clip.
The winless Panthers seem to be the perfect opponent since they are giving up 113.5 rushing yards per game, and their offensive strength is running the ball – something Chicago has done an outstanding job stopping on defense through the first four games of the season. The Bears are giving up just 77 rushing yards per game, although they have allowed five touchdowns via the run, which ranks tied for third-worst in the league.
Carolina running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are coming off arguably their best game of the season in a 16-14 loss at New Orleans last week. Williams rushed for a season-high 86 yards on 13 carries and scored on a 39-yard touchdown run while Stewart added 21 yards on seven attempts to go along with a 55-yard touchdown catch. However, it still was not enough to help rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen earn the first win of his young career.
Clausen completed 11 of 21 passes for 146 yards and the lone touchdown to Stewart, and he will have a tough task here playing without injured star wide receiver Steve Smith. Chicago got burned badly by Smith in the playoffs five years ago, as he hauled in 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-21 victory. He is expected to miss the game with a high ankle sprain, and that loss is compounded by fellow wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett’s release on Wednesday following his second DWI charge in three years.
Perhaps the only thing going for the Panthers right now is their 8-1 record against the spread in their last nine games against teams with winning records. The Bears are 2-7 ATS in their last nine games on grass, and the UNDER is 7-1 for both teams in their last eight under that scenario.