Important Note: This episode was recorded before Luke Kuechly was ruled out.
On paper, this is another game that the Chicago Bears can win, and if they do, it’ll go a long way towards getting the season back on track.
In this episode, Will DeWitt goes through his weekly five matchups and three keys that you must pay attention to in this week’s game.
First up, let’s analyze the five critical matchups.
1. Jordan Howard vs Luke Kuechly
Even though there are conflicting reports about Kuechly’s status, our guest Tony Dunn on Tuesday told us that he expects the linebacker to play and I’m planning accordingly. Kuechly is one of the best linebackers in the league. He possesses that coveted sideline-to-sideline speed and phenomenal instincts and football I.Q. Kuechly leads the Panthers with 46 total tackles including two for loss.
Howard is coming off a career game in which he rushed for a whopping 36 times for 167 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. It was a game that looked a lot like the Howard we saw a year ago. The back displayed excellent patience. He waited for his hole to open up, and when the crease was there, he made a decisive cut and gained positive yards. Howard was a bruiser last week, he was tough to take down as he broke a plethora of tackles throughout the game.
Carolina has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, and a large reason why the Panthers’ run defense has been stout is Kuechly’s play and leadership. On the other hand, the Bears are 5-1 when Howard gets 20 carries and I expect him to get at least that many on Sunday.
Edge: Jordan Howard
2. Danny Trevathan vs Christian McCaffrey
Let’s take a look at another running back and linebacker matchup. McCaffrey hasn’t had a big impact on the ground so far in his rookie year. He is averaging less than three yards per rush (2.7 YPC) and has only run the ball 38 times through six games.
However, the rookie back has been highly active in the Panthers’ pass attack. He leads the team with 37 catches, averaging 7.9 yards per reception. McCaffrey’s seven red zone targets are the most for any Panther and both of his receiving touchdowns have come down there in the constricted field.
Last week, Trevathan proved just how valuable he is to this Bears’ defense. His return ignited the defense, that put together its best game of the season in Baltimore. Trevathan had six tackles a week ago, which didn’t lead the team. However, what the linebacker brings to the field is much more than what you’ll find on the stat sheet.
Trevathan is the leader and also the signal caller for Chicago. He’s in charge of making sure that everybody is on the same page and understands their gap responsibility on every down. Without him, the Bears struggled containing backs due to miscommunication and allowed multiple big gains. With him in the lineup, the number of long rushes fell considerably.
Look for Trevathan, the Bears’ best coverage linebacker, to primarily handle McCaffrey out of the backfield. It’ll be a fun matchup to watch, especially when the Panthers are in the red zone, but it’s a battle I expect Trevathan to win.
Edge: Danny Trevathan
3. Kyle Fuller vs Devin Funchess
Fuller had one of one of his best games last week in Baltimore, and he’ll need another strong outing on Sunday as he’ll be tasked with going up against the big-bodied physical receiver in Funchess.
Funchess leads the team with three receiving touchdowns, all three of which came in the red zone. The wideout is efficient down there as he’s catching 75 percent of his targets inside the 20. On the other hand, Fuller played especially well in the red zone last week. Recall the one series when Joe Flacco targetted him on three straight plays? What happened? Fuller shut him down.
What we saw from Fuller last week was promising. The corner was aggressive and made play after play on the ball. He displayed great positioning, and on many routes, he was “glued” to his man. He’ll need to replicate that performance going up against a receiver that has a five-inch height advantage.
Funchess doesn’t have the elite speed to blow by Fuller, so the corner should be able to stick with him. Where Fuller will have to excel is remaining aggressive, and attacking the football in the air. He’ll also need to play smart and not allow Funchess to draw any interference calls.
Edge: Kyle Fuller
4. Kyle Long vs Kawann Short
Short has had a dominant start to the season. He’s second on the team with three sacks and two tackles for loss. Against Detroit a couple weeks back, he simply terrorized Matthew Stafford all game long with continual pressure in the pocket. In fact, Short has 20 pressures and 12 hurries on the season, which is the fourth-most for defensive tackles.
The bad news for Short is that he’ll be tasked with going up against Long, who has played very well since returning from injury. He’s only given up a half a sack and has not been called for holding this year. In fact, he’s only been flagged once for a false start.
This is going to be a tough matchup through and through, but if the Bears decide they want to pound the rock, which is what Long said gives the team its best chance to win, the edge goes in Chicago’s favor.
Short is great in terms of his pass rush and run stopping, but Long is equally as good in pass protection and creating lanes for his backs. It’s a close one, but Long has a slight advantage.
Edge: Kyle Long
5. Bobby Massie vs Julius Peppers
This matchup is a direct relation to the previous one. Peppers continues to prove that age is only a number. Despite being 37, the former Bear leads the Panthers in sacks (6.5) even though he comes in off the bench. The vast majority (if not all) of his sacks have come when he’s lined up against the right side of the offensive line, and he and Short make for a scary combination when both are on the field.
Massie has already given up 3.5 sacks, which is only a half a sack shy of his total from a season ago. He’s also been called for holding twice. Between penalties and sacks given up, Massie has accounted for -55 yards and I expect him to have a hard time slowing down Peppers. Heck, even time can’t slow down the 16-year pro.
Coming off the bench, Peppers has been able to play “fresh” which goes a long way towards his production. If he comes in midway through a drive against a fatigued Massie, that could spell trouble. The right tackle’s lone advantage is that he’s usually better against slower pass rushers, and Peppers doesn’t have the same burst he once had, instead, he picks his spots. Short in the middle flushes out quarterbacks and Peppers is waiting with arms open to take them down.
The Bears will give Massie help with extra blockers, but in terms of a 1-on-1 matchup, he doesn’t stand much chance.
Edge: Julius Peppers
But remember, Short and Peppers work well together, especially with twists and stunts. So Long and Massie will have to communicate well to ensure these two are accounted for on each and every down.