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Bears Fri Oct 03 2014

Bears Catching Panthers at Just the Right Time

Chicago BearsInjuries happen all the time in the NFL. It would be wonderful if every team could run their best players out on the field on a weekly basis, but it's just not feasible in a game predicated on collisions. Playing teams at the right time during the year can have a drastic effect on the standings.

Last night's game between the Packers and the Vikings is a perfect example (of my point, and also that football on Thursday night after both teams played the previous Sunday is abhorrent). With Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater both sidelined with injuries, the Vikings were forced to go with third-stringer Christian Ponder, who doesn't belong on a professional football field any longer. The Packers took advantage of Ponder's plentiful mistakes, and left the Vikings in the dust before the first half was over. If Bridgewater were starting at quarterback, the game could've played out completely different.

The Bears are a team on the mend, for the most part. With the exceptions of Jermon Bushrod (injured knee in practice) and Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion setback), the team saw a lot of guys recover enough to practice this week. Brandon Marshall was a full participant, while Jared Allen, Roberto Garza, Matt Slauson and Sherrick McManis all returned on a limited basis. Slauson or Garza being able to play Sunday becomes even more important for the Bears with Bushrod's mysterious injury that could force Michael Ola to start at left tackle.

The Panthers are on the other end of the spectrum. Quarterback Cam Newton still isn't 100 percent with a fractured rib that forced him to miss the opener, and it's questionable whether he'll be fully healthy the rest of the year. Head coach Ron Rivera wants nothing more than to unleash Newton, who's typically responsible for one-quarter of the Panthers' rushing attack. But one big hit to the only part of the body where it's legal to hit quarterbacks could force him to miss an extended period of time, so Newton has been incredibly careful when it comes to running the ball, and the Panthers aren't asking him to do it via designed plays either.

Carolina typically falls back on the near $14 million worth of running backs they have in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, but all of them are dealing with injuries of varying extents. Stewart was the only one with an outside chance of playing this week, and it's almost certain he'll be out on Sunday, leaving undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves as the primary ball carrier this weekend.

The offense lost WR Steve Smith, LT Jordan Gross, and LG Travelle Wharton during the offseason due to free agency and retirements, so an already thinned out unit is basically down to a skeleton crew. Their only light of hope comes in the form of Kelvin Benjamin, a receiver in the mold of Brandon Marshall. The first-round pick will drop an easy pass more often than you like, but he's a beast that can come down with the ball consistently in tight coverage.

Rivera has relied on his defense the past two seasons as much as he has the running game, but they lost Captain Munnerlyn in free agency, Greg Hardy to the commissioner's list, and now it sounds like Charles Johnson is questionable for Sunday with a hip injury. They still have a dangerous linebacking core led by Defensive MVP Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, but their rush defense has been porous, and nobody is getting to the quarterback.

If the Bears can find five healthy linemen to play on Sunday, they have a perfect opportunity to scoop up their third road victory of the season and get back on track after a blowout loss to the Packers. They can't afford to fall too far behind the division leaders, and though they're not favored, they have a chance to put this one away early.

 
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