Posted: Friday September 30, 2011 4:22PM ; Updated: Friday September 30, 2011 7:24PM
Mike Beacom

Matchup meter: Bears' air attack looks to punish Panthers in Week 4

Story Highlights

Opposing quarterbacks have an NFL-best QB Rating of 110.8 vs. Panthers

Raiders defense is surrendering 120.3 rushing yards per game this season

Cowboys one of three teams to have not allowed a pass of 40 or more yards

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Jay Cutler should be able to put a sluggish start to the season behind him against a forgiving Panthers pass defense in Week 4.
Jay Cutler should be able to put a sluggish start to the season behind him against a forgiving Panthers pass defense in Week 4.
Rob Grabowski -- US PRESSWIRE

Note to Bears fans: Don't call for Caleb Hanie just yet.

After facing three 2010 playoff teams to start the season, Chicago welcomes Carolina to Soldier Field for Week 4. It's a matchup which could allow Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz to exorcise the early-season demons from his vertical passing attack.

Opponents have attempted fewer passes against Carolina's defense than any other unit in the league -- just 78 through three weeks -- but the Panthers secondary is nothing to fear. Opposing passers have a QB Rating of 110.8 -- the highest against any defense -- and the Panthers have allowed a league-worst 9.7 yards per passing attempt.

This is pleasant news for Chicago starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who has scored a QB Rating above 80.0 just once this season. And some more good news for the most-sacked quarterback in the league: the Panthers have just five team sacks.

This might also be a week for fantasy owners to try wide receiver Johnny Knox, who has just five catches but whose speed could test Carolina over the top. No defense has given up more pass plays of 40-plus yards than the Panthers.

Play on

These matchups suggest success is around the corner for a number of suspect fantasy starters ...

Washington's rushing attack vs. St. Louis' defense

So far the Rams have given up 523 yards on the ground; only one other team (Jets) has allowed more than 400 yards. Can ya' dig that? Washington sure can. After pounding opponents in the preseason, the Redskins have managed just 3.7 yards per carry. That stat should turn around quickly against a Rams club giving up 5.4.

• Expect a big day from: Tim Hightower has been one of the most worked backs in the game, with 59 carries and 11 targets (nine catches). Fantasy owners aren't happy with the overall production, but this week Hightower might actually come through.

San Diego's passing attack vs. Miami's defense

The Dolphins pass defense is in elite company. Miami is one of only three teams to have allowed a league-worst eight touchdown passes, and one of three to allow an average of 300 or more yards passing. A lot of Miami's lumps came in Week 1 against Tom Brady, but even Colt McCoy looked good last week. Imagine what Philip Rivers is going to do ...

Expect a big day from: Both Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd have missed practice time this week, and there is a good chance Floyd won't play. Antonio Gates is also a question mark due to his bum foot. This could leave the door open for Patrick Crayton to have a big week. Playing Crayton is a gamble, but that's what makes fantasy fun.

New England's rushing attack vs. Oakland's defense

Not only has Oakland given up 120.3 rushing yards a game, but they've allowed a league-worst 5.8 yards per carry. Last week, old-man LaDainian Tomlinson looked like he was running with fresh legs. And no defense has allowed more runs of 20 or more yards than Oakland.

Expect a big day from: Rookie Stevan Ridley is making noise, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still the primary ball carrier in this backfield (at least for this week). In what should be an interesting ground war, Green-Ellis could provide fantasy owners with one last hurrah.

Back off

These fantasy stars might need a rest this week due to an unfavorable matchup on the horizon ...

Baltimore's passing attack vs. N.Y. Jets' defense

At times, cornerback Antonio Cromartie has been a liability in New York's secondary, but what else is new? Most of the time the unit is superb, evidenced by their No. 1 ranking in opposing QB Rating (64.1). The Jets have allowed just two passing scores and are one of eight units to allow fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

Who to bench: This news is especially upsetting for those owners who lucked out in the Torrey Smith sweepstakes this week, but Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin are also questionable plays. The only "lock" on offense is Ray Rice, who could be a one-man show on Sunday night.

New Orleans' rushing attack vs. Jacksonville's defense

The Jaguars' No. 5-ranked run defense allows just 83.7 yards per game and has given up just one rushing score. The unit limited Chris Johnson to 24 yards on nine carries and Shonn Greene to 49 yards on 16 carries. And only one back (Jonathan Stewart) has recorded a gain of 20 or more yards.

Who to bench: It's been a rocky start for rookie Mark Ingram. Eventually, his time will come. But the Saints would be wise to keep the ball in the air this week and limit how much they rely on Ingram and the other backs.

Detroit's passing attack vs. Dallas' defense

The Cowboys pass rush is starting to pick up, and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins both appear ready to start against the Lions. The Cowboys don't give up many yards (226.7) or big plays; through three weeks Dallas is one of just three NFL defenses not to have allowed a pass play of 40 or more yards.

Who to bench: Calvin Johnson is a go, but Matthew Stafford might need to take a seat this week. He has averaged 39.3 attempts per contest but probably won't sling that many passes against Dallas. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is also suspect, as Dallas has done a good job the past two weeks of slowing down Vernon Davis and Fred Davis.

Kansas City's rushing attack vs. Minnesota's defense

The wheels are falling off in Kansas City. The team has averaged just 244.0 yards of offense -- third-worst -- and cannot stay in games long enough to keep the ball on the ground. Minnesota, meanwhile, has been stout against the run, as usual. The Vikings held Detroit's Jahvid Best to 14 yards on 12 carries last week, and have not allowed an opposing back to gain more than 75 yards all season.

Who to bench: Fantasy owners are hoping Dexter McCluster can replace a portion of Jamaal Charles' fantasy production. But hope (and McCluster) will have to wait; this week reality is in town.
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