The Bears defense is off to a brilliant start this season. But they certainly aren’t overlooking the struggling Carolina Panthers offense.
“Last year, that was probably our worst game of the season,” Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said, referring to his current team’s 34-29 victory over his former team. “We really didn’t play well at all against those guys last year. They really took it to us. We’re actually looking forward to getting back out there and getting another chance at redemption against them.”
Peppers said the Panthers’ offense “outplayed” the Bears defense.
“They pretty much did whatever they wanted to do,” he said.
Peppers is right; the Panthers had a franchise-record 543 yards with then rookie quarterback Cam Newton completing 27 of 46 passes for 374 yards and running for another 35 yards. All told, he accounted for three touchdowns.
In addition, Steve Smith had eight catches for 181 yards and the Panthers piled up 169 rushing yards.
Newton appears to be in a sophomore slump, with nine turnovers and struggling in the fourth quarter of games.
Bears coach Lovie Smith, though, knows what Newton is capable of.
“He’s fast, he’s big, he’s got a strong arm, he’s mobile in the pocket. With that strong arm he can make all the throws and they do a good job letting him display all those talents,” Smith said. “They have some option plays that normally are reserved for quarterbacks who can run.”
But the Bears were 14th in points allowed last season, and the defense was 17th in yards allowed. This year, the Bears have allowed a league-low 13 points per game and the defense has allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game (299.3).
“Our defense – we’re talking about what others have to offer — we have a few good athletes,” Smith said. “They’ve played against good athletes before and I think we’ll be OK.”
The Bears may be better equipped to deal with the explosive receiver Steve Smith; cornerback Tim Jennings has played at a Pro Bowl level so far this season. Smith, though, has averaged 149 yards in three career games against the Bears.
“I think that’s the kind of game Steve Smith loves,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He loves the challenge, he loves playing against the best, and I think the Bears right now are certainly one of the best.”