Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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Because of injuries, the Bears started Craig Steltz at strong safety and Brandon Meriweather at free safety last week and coach Lovie Smith characterized their performance as "OK." In the season opener, Chris Harris was at strong safety and Major Wright at free safety, but Harris missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and Wright was out last week with head and neck injuries. Both Harris and Wright are expected back this week, which means depth-chart decisions will have to be made. Best bet is that Harris starts at strong and Meriweather at free, although Wright will probably see some time in a rotation, possibly with both of the starters.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Henry Melton already has a career-high three sacks and, according to team statistics, he also has nine quarterback pressures.

--RB Matt Forte's 22 catches are more than twice as many as the Bears' second-leading receiver, and he has 98 more receiving yards than any other player on the team.

--MLB Brian Urlacher has the Bears' only two interceptions this season, giving him a career total of 20.

--PK Robbie Gould is 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts this season and has moved up one spot to fourth on the all-time list with an 85.9 percent success rate.

--DE Julius Peppers has just three tackles this season, although he also has two sacks and, according to the Bears, 11 QB pressures.

INJURY IMPACT

--OT Gabe Carimi has a partially dislocated knee and won't be back for at least another couple weeks.

--WR Earl Bennett (bruised chest) did not practice Wednesday and is not expected to play this week.

--OG Lance Louis (ankle) went through his first full practice since suffering a sprained ankle in the season opener and could be back on the field Sunday.

--S Chris Harris (hamstring) went through a full practice Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday.

--RB Marion Barber (calf) went through a full practice and is expected to play Sunday.

--S Major Wright (head/neck) went through a full practice and is expected to play Sunday.

--TE Matt Spaeth (calf) did not practice Wednesday but has not been ruled out for Sunday.

GAME PLAN
The Bears' offensive line has shown in one game that it can run block and in another that it can pass protect, but it has yet to put a complete game together, and that will be Job One on Sunday against the Panthers. In order to accomplish that, offensive coordinator Mike Martz must give more than a passing glance to the run game. All are in agreement that there must be a greater presence in the ground game and that RB Matt Forte must be more than a pass catcher.

Defensively, the Bears are aware of rookie Cam Newton's gaudy passing numbers, but coach Lovie Smith said he still considers the Panthers a running team, even though DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are averaging just 3.0 yards per carry combined. The Bears have yet to hold an opponent under 100 rushing yards, and they are allowing 4.6 yards per run, neither of which is satisfactory.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bears CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith, who has 16 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns.

Bears banged-up safeties -- they hope to have opening-day starters Chris Harris and Major Wright back for this game -- vs. Panthers TE Greg Olsen, the Bears' 2007 first-round draft pick, who was traded before the season for a third-round pick in 2012.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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