Carolina looks to extend its winning run when it visits a Chicago team that’s won five in a row, also features one of the top defenses in the league and currently sits atop its division.
The Panthers have the eighth-best defense in the NFL and are No. 2 against the run, allowing an average of 81.0 yards per game. The Bears, meanwhile, allow a league-low 253.7 yards a contest and are third in passing defense (158.4).
The Panthers are coming off a 30-3 win over the New York Jets last Sunday in which the defense forced six turnovers, four of which came on consecutive Jets’ possessions.
Carolina finished with 20 points off the New York miscues, including a 35-yard Will Witherspoon interception return for a touchdown.
“The defense was all over the field from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary,” safety Mike Minter said. “To get turnover after turnover and then at the end, cap it off with a (defensive) touchdown— that’s unbelievable.”
In the last four games, Carolina has forced 14 turnovers, recorded 19 sacks and scored two touchdowns off interception returns.
“We’ve got a lot of improving to do,” cornerback Ken Lucas said. “That’s what is so scary. We can still get better.”
The Panthers’ offense has been just as good as the defense during their six-game winning streak, but struggled against the Jets.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for only 119 yards and two interceptions, and the league’s leading receiver, Steve Smith, was held to 34 yards. Stephen Davis had 81 rushing yards, but he’s yet to run for 100 yards this season.
The Panthers have one run longer than 20 yards in 279 rushing attempts, and only 13 runs longer than 10 yards.
“We were not ineffective running the ball,” coach John Fox said. “But there is room for improvement in that area. … I would like to see our yards per carry improve. And a few long runs would help that.”
Getting long runs may not be that easy against the Bears defense, which is second in the league in rushing yards allowed per attempt.
The defense has allowed three touchdowns during the five-game winning streak, and has held five of nine opponents under 10 points, including San Francisco in a 17-9 victory last Sunday.
The offense, though, has scored only four touchdowns in the last four games and quarterback Kyle Orton has the lowest rating among starters at 61.8.
The Bears running game has picked up the slack with an average of 135.3 yards a game, but leading rusher Thomas Jones missed last week’s game with sore ribs and Cedric Benson sprained a ligament in his right knee against the 49ers and will be out an undetermined amount of time.
“We think right now it’s week-to-week. Hopefully we’ll get (Benson) back before long. We don’t know exactly how long it will be, but we know that we’ll get him back some time this year,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Adrian Peterson took over when Benson went down and ran for 120 yards and a TD.