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Keys to the Game

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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Panthers

Bears receiver DJ Moore
Bears receiver DJ Moore

The Bears (2-7) host the Carolina Panthers (1-7) Thursday night at Soldier Field. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning:

(1) Protect the ball.

In last Sunday's 24-17 loss in New Orleans, the Bears outgained the Saints by 67 yards but committed five turnovers. Improvement in that key aspect of the game will be vital Thursday night against the Panthers.

Quarterback Tyson Bagent, who will make his fourth straight start in place of the injured Justin Fields, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter versus the Saints. Through the first three periods, the undrafted rookie from Shepherd University had completed 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards with two TDs, one interception and a 123.9 passer rating.

"When you throw three picks [in the game], you're leaving the field pretty disgusted with yourself," Bagent said. "But then you look at the film and you realize, 'Man, for 45 minutes, 48 minutes, I was playing pretty good.' We were operating pretty well. Just clean up those last 12-and-a-half minutes and I think there's a different outcome to the game and I probably feel a little bit different leaving the stadium that day."

Bagent hopes to replicate the efficient and mistake-free performance he delivered in the Bears' last home game. In his first NFL start Oct. 23 against the Raiders, the inexperienced rookie looked like a seasoned pro in completing 21 of 29 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown, no turnovers and a 97.2 passer rating in a 30-12 victory.

How important is playing a clean game? The Bears are 2-0 this season when they don't commit a turnover and 0-7 when they do. They've committed no turnovers in two wins and 18 turnovers in seven losses. On Thursday night, they'll face a Panthers team that has generated only seven takeaways this year, second fewest in the NFL.

(2) Pressure quarterback Bryce Young and take the ball away.

The defense kept the Bears in last Sunday's game by holding the Saints scoreless on three late possessions that started at the Chicago 38, 46 and 36. But the unit did not register a takeaway or a sack in the contest.

Producing crooked numbers in both of those statistical categories Thursday night no doubt would greatly enhance the Bears' chances of beating Carolina. This season, they've generated five takeaways and six sacks in their two wins and four takeaways and four sacks in their seven defeats.

Pressuring Young would boost the Bears' chances of creating takeaways. The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft threw a career-high three interceptions—including two that were returned for touchdowns—in last Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Colts. This season Young has completed 63.9% of his passes for 1,375 yards with eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 77.1 passer rating.

Young's favorite target is veteran receiver Adam Thielen, who leads the Panthers with 62 receptions for 610 yards and four TDs. Young has a 114.0 passer rating when targeting Thielen and a 63.7 rating when targeting other receivers.

"Thielen has been a really good player for a while," said Bears safeties coach Andre Curtis. "This guy knows how to get open. He knows how to find holes. He knows how to read coverages. For a young quarterback to find that safety with him and know where he's going to be, when he needs to be there, I think that's the key. I think the young quarterback has trust in him and he's delivered."

The Bears rank fourth in the NFL against the run but have compiled only 10 sacks. They're hoping to make major strides in that area following last week's acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat from the Commanders. Sweat had a team-high four pressures in his Bears debut against the Saints.

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Thursday night's matchup with the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.

(3) Be balanced on offense.

The Bears figure to lean on a rushing attack that ranks fourth in the NFL and has produced at least 156 yards in five of the last six games.

D'Onta Foreman has performed well in the absence of Khalil Herbert, compiling 120 yards from scrimmage and three TDs for the first time in his six-year NFL career Oct. 22 against the Raiders and then rushing for 83 yards on 20 carries last Sunday in New Orleans.

The Bears also need to get the ball to their playmakers in the passing game, chiefly receiver DJ Moore and tight end Cole Kmet. Moore will face his former team eight months after being traded to the Bears along with four draft picks in exchange for the No. 1 pick that Carolina spent on Young.

Moore, who ranks fourth in Panthers history in receiving yards with 5,201, is averaging a career-high 81.7 yards per game with the Bears. He ranks sixth among NFL receivers with 735 yards and is tied for 16th with 47 receptions.

"He's been remarkable," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He lights up the room and he's a big part of our culture and a big part of what we do in our day-to-day operation. What he does on the field has been great. We're certainly excited to have that premiere player on our roster, for sure."

After leading the Bears in all receiving categories last year with 50 catches for 544 yards and seven TDs, Kmet has taken his all-around game to the next level. He caught two touchdown passes against the Saints to become just the third NFL player with two TD receptions in two games this season, joining Eagles receiver A.J. Brown and Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.

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