5 THINGS TO WATCH
Obviously the most pressing concern on offense headed into Sunday's contest, Chicago's pass protection: A.) Needs to show significant improvement after last week's disaster against the Giants, and B.) Can't afford to allow another quarterback injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the interior and right sides of the line appear to be the most vulnerable to protection issues. Those areas allowed 12 of the club's 18 sacks, and of those 18 sacks, just two have come when opponents rushed five or more defenders. That means center Olin Kreutz, right tackle Kevin Shaffer, and guards Roberto Garza and Lance Louis (if he plays) need to be on top of their games.
The Giants gashed the Bears last week with cut-back runs, which will likely remain a concern for the Bears small, but athletic defensive front. The club faces a pair of Carolina running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who excel at cut-back running. The duo became the first set of teammates in NFL history last season to each finish with more than 1,110 yards. One of the most important aspects of neutralizing cut-back runs is sure tackling from backside defenders, especially the linebackers.
"Part of the problem with the cut-backs from last week is we didn't make tackles," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "We had [Giants running back] Ahmad Bradshaw tackled in the backfield a couple times and didn't finish. We let him out of our grasp. Those tackles for losses turned into positive yards. The opportunities we have now, this week, we just have to finish the plays. That changes their total yardage from 200 or whatever they had to less than 100 yards."
Pressure on Clausen
Since becoming the starter, Carolina rookie Jimmy Clausen has improved in each of the last two weeks, posting a 90.6 passer rating in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints, after playing a role in three turnovers during his debut in a 20-7 loss to Cincinnati. For Clausen, communication, clock management and blitz recognition still remain issues as Carolina looks to speed the rookie's maturation. The Bears can disrupt all that by hitting the quarterback -- sack or not -- early and often.
Chicago, which hasn't lost to a rookie quarterback since 2008, enters the contest with just four sacks on the season. Carolina will deploy multiple blockers to neutralize Julius Peppers. The remaining front-four defenders need to win the resulting one-on-one matchups, which are likely the reason the club brought in veteran defensive end Charles Grant, who should see plenty of snaps in his first game as a Bear.
Chicago continues to await its first 100-yard performance from a running back this season. Matt Forte hasn't rushed for 100 yards or more since Jan. 3, last season's finale against the Lions. Forte and Chester Taylor's most productive day on the ground so far this season has been a combined 79-yard effort against the Cowboys.
Again, the middle and right side of the club's struggling offensive line come into play here. The Bears average 5.6 yards per carry on runs to the left side and 3.1 on attempts up the middle and to the right.
Until the Bears kick start the ground game, opponents won't respect play action, and remain in attack mode on passing downs, which puts the quarterbacks at peril. For the most part, Chicago's offense has been one dimensional through the first four games, and that needs to change if the club expects to find any sustained level of success.
Julius Peppers tried to downplay his return to North Carolina, the state in which he grew up, played high school football and spent the first eight years of his career. Then the defensive end gave it some thought.
"It's just another game," he said, initially. "Before the game, leading up to it, those emotions, you have to keep them in check. But once the game starts, you have to play. All the other stuff doesn't really matter once the ball is snapped. Before the game, I'm not going to sit here and say I won't have a lot of thoughts and emotions going through, because that's the reality of it."
Peppers' experience having gone head to head with Carolina's offensive line at practice for eight years prior to joining the Bears should help in this game. Peppers lined up opposite Carolina left tackle Jordan Gross for seven years at practice. Gross said he's never been more familiar with an opponent as Peppers. The defensive end could probably say the same thing about his counterpart.
Peppers will spend time attacking from both the left and right sides.
"It doesn't matter what you know beforehand and vice versa. You've still got to beat those guys. It doesn't matter if I know how they set," Peppers said. "Also, things could change. They could do something totally different. I've got a couple moves I've developed since I've been here that they haven't seen or they have seen on tape [but] haven't practiced against. I don't think that's going to make much difference -- the familiarity between me and those guys -- I just think it's whoever plays best."