The Bears will look to improve to 5-1 when they visit the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will the Bears offense play with more of the attention to detail that coach Matt Nagy lamented last week the unit has been lacking?
Nagy wasn't happy with the offense's performance in last Thursday night's 20-19 win over the Buccaneers, saying the next day that "the details right now in this offense are not there" and "that's our job as coaches to make sure that we get these freakin' details right."
The Bears rallied to beat Tampa Bay despite an offense that sputtered in the second half, failing to score a touchdown and converting just 1-of-6 third-down plays that included third-and-17, third-and-18, third-and-29 and third-and-19 situations due to negative plays and penalties.
Many of the details involve timing in the passing game between quarterback Nick Foles and Bears receivers, who are still developing cohesiveness after losing valuable reps due to all offseason practices and the entire preseason being cancelled due to COVID-19.
"The timing and rhythm of the passing game and offense is huge," said quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. "The details affect the timing of the play, so that's what we have to continuously work on. And it's everybody; it's all 11 spots, myself included. We can hammer home the details a little bit more from the protection piece to plays, the quarterback's depth in the pocket, the route depth. All those things we can get better on."
(2) Will the Bears' running game rebound from two unproductive outings and revert to the form it showed earlier in the season?
After rushing for 149, 135 and 130 yards in winning their first three games over the Lions, Giants and Falcons, respectively, the Bears have been held to 28 and 35 yards on the ground the past two weeks by the Colts and Buccaneers, who currently rank No. 3 and No. 1 in the NFL against the run, respectively.
A better performance Sunday versus a Panthers run defense that ranks 25th in the league should keep the Bears from becoming one-dimensional, open up the passing game and give them an opportunity to sustain drives.
The Bears no doubt will continue to lean on second-year running back David Montgomery, who leads the team in rushing with 247 yards and one touchdown on 63 carries. The 2019 third-round pick from Iowa State also has become more involved in the passing game since Tarik Cohen sustained a season-ending knee injury Sept. 27 in Atlanta, catching 10 passes for 60 yards the past two weeks against the Colts and Buccaneers.
Montgomery has averaged only 12.6 carries per game this season, in large part because the Bears have trailed by double digits in four of their five contests—by margins of 16, 17, 13 and 16 points. They rallied to win three of those games, but did so predominantly by throwing the ball.
(3) Will the Bears defense be able to contain quarterback Teddy Bridgewater?
In his first season with the Panthers, Bridgewater ranks 11th in the NFL with a 101.3 passer rating and second with a 73.0 completion percentage. After an 0-2 start, he's led Carolina to three straight wins by passing for 235, 276 and 313 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. While Bridgewater and offensive coordinator Joe Brady are both new to the Panthers, they worked together with the Saints in 2018.
"Teddy is playing outstanding," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "He's so familiar with the system, the Saints system. He operates that thing really, really well. He does a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage. They give him the freedom to do that. He knows what he's doing. He knows where to go with the ball. He gets them in the right plays."
Last season, Bridgewater started in place of an injured Drew Brees and led the Saints to a 36-25 win over the Bears last Oct. 20 at Soldier Field. After throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns with a 100.9 passer rating, Bridgewater remains one of only two quarterbacks who have recorded a passer rating of at least 100 against the Bears since the start of the 2019 season. The other is Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes.
"He's very, very efficient," Pagano said of Bridgewater. "He doesn't turn down a profit, meaning he's going to take what you give him. He can extend plays with his legs and his feet. He's smart. He's productive. He kicked our tail last year. He makes everyone around him better, and he's a great person and very confident and very talented, and he's running that [offense] to a T."
(4) How will the Bears defense fare against Panthers running back Mike Davis?
Since replacing an injured Christian McCaffrey, the former Bears running back has helped lead the Panthers offense in their three straight victories, scoring a touchdown in each game while rushing for 219 yards on 45 carries and catching 22 passes for 132 yards. Last Sunday in a 23-16 win over the Falcons, Davis compiled a career-high 149 yards from scrimmage (89 rushing, 60 receiving) and a career-best nine receptions. He and the Saints' Alvin Kamara are the only NFL running backs with at least 30 catches and 200 receiving yards this season.
Davis signed with the Bears last year in free agency. But the team then drafted Montgomery with their top pick and released Davis Nov. 9 after he had played in seven games. That no doubt will provide some additional incentive for the 5-9, 221-pounder Sunday in Carolina.
"We all know that he was here, so there's going to be extra motivation—like he needs it," Pagano said. "He's a damn beast as it is. [He's the] second-leading receiver on the team. [The Panthers are] throwing him screens, handing the ball off. I mean, we've got to take on blocks. We've got to get off blocks. We've got to swarm this guy. We've got to tackle. If we tackle like we did last week [against the Buccaneers], he'll have 200 yards on us. We can't do that, and our guys know that."