Three keys for the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears:
Force Bears into third-and-long
The Panthers have to figure out a way to kick-start a stagnant pass rush without defensive ends Greg Hardy and Frank Alexander and the struggling Charles Johnson at less than 100 percent. Blitzing didn’t help against Baltimore, as Joe Flacco got rid of the ball before the rush reached him. The best way to improve the rush will be to get better against the run, and force Chicago into third-and-long situations. Otherwise – even with the Bears starting a rookie at left tackle – expect Jay Cutler to enjoy a clean pocket.
Ride Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin
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The Panthers are running out of running backs, and will use the three-man backfield of undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves, Fozzy Whittaker (coming off a quad injury) and the just-arrived Chris Ogbonnaya. None will remind fans of DeAngelo Williams. Until Cam Newton trusts his surgically repaired ankle, the run game might be beyond repair. So Mike Shula should channel Rob Chudzinski and let Newton stand in the pocket and throw it 40 times, with Olsen and Benjamin getting the bulk of the targets.
Take the right penalties
Ron Rivera took the blame for the lack of discipline the past two weeks, when the Panthers gave the Steelers a touchdown by jumping offside on a field goal attempt and extended a Ravens touchdown drive by sending out 12 men for a punt. It was the second 12-men penalty for the Panthers last week, which is inexcusable. But not all penalties are created equal. The cornerbacks should not be afraid to get flagged for holding if it means playing physical against the big receiving tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.