Once again, the Bears will miss a major weapon. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is not likely to come off injured reserve in time for Sunday's game.
To recap, the Bears have avoided Detroit receiver Kenny Golladay, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (for most of the game), Atlanta receiver Julio Jones, Tampa Bay receiver Chris Godwin, and likely McCaffrey.
The 4-1 Bears will travel to the 3-2 Panthers for a noon game Sunday. It’s another winnable contest for the Bears. Here’s what to watch for:
Can Nick Foles find a rhythm?
Ever since the dramatic second-half comeback against Atlanta in Week 3, Bears quarterback Nick Foles has been pedestrian. The Bears offense disappeared in a Week 4 loss to Indianapolis, and it was ugly – despite a win – in Week 5 against Tampa Bay.
As coach Matt Nagy said this week, the Bears need to be better in all aspects on offense. The team didn’t have much practice time in the short week before a Thursday night game against Tampa. This week, the Bears have a real chance to rework some things.
It’s time to see if they can take advantage of the extended layoff.
“We want to get to the point where every single play we're dangerous, and we can just roll and put some more points on the board,” Foles said.
What happens on the Bears offensive line?
The Atlanta Falcons offensive line opened up huge holes for running back Todd Gurley last week against the Carolina defense. The blueprint is there for the Bears offensive line.
The question is whether this line can figure things out on the fly with a new starter at left guard. With James Daniels on injured reserve, Alex Bars is likely to slide into a starting role. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is in self-quarantine this week and not traveling to Carolina, adding another wrinkle to the equation.
The Bears couldn’t do anything in the run game against a formidable Tampa Bay front. Carolina presents a much friendlier matchup.
Can the Bears pass rush get to Teddy Bridgewater?
Tom Brady was one of the best protected quarterbacks entering last week, according to Pro Football Reference’s “pressure percent.”
The Bears ended that. They reached Brady again and again last week. By the end of the Week 5 slate, Tampa Bay had dropped from a top-5 team in that metric to 17th.
Of late, Bridgewater has been protected well and avoided pressure when it comes. But that wasn’t the case earlier in the season, like when he was sacked five times against Tampa Bay in Week 2.
Carolina’s offense allows the QB to be pressured on 23.5% of dropbacks, which ranks 23rd in the league right now. That bodes well for Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears front.
Mike Davis has done it all for the Panthers. He’ll serve as the main running back option, and he also caught nine passes on 10 targets for 60 yards and a touchdown last week. The former Bears running back is a vital piece to Carolina’s offense with McCaffrey sidelined.
The Panthers have other weapons through the air, too. Receiver Robby Anderson is having what could be considered a career year. He’s had 100 receiving yards or more in three games, and finished another game with 99 yards. Receiver D.J. Moore is dangerous too, catching four or more passes in four of five games.
A test for tight ends
Carolina has allowed the fifth-fewest yards against by opposing tight ends. Only one tight end has scored a touchdown against the Panthers in five games.
Jimmy Graham will be looking to change that a week after snagging a one-handed touchdown against Tampa Bay. The Bears will continue to look for Graham near the end zone. But if Bears fans want a breakout performance from rookie Cole Kmet, this probably isn’t the game.
Look for the Bears tight ends to help instigate the run game, especially with new questions on the offensive line.