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Panthers WR Steve Smith has history of coming up big vs. Bears

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:29AM

There has been a lot of talk about Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith this week, just like there was about Detroit Lions
receiver Calvin Johnson last week.

‘‘[Smith] is a heck of a football player,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

The Bears, of course, know that well.

Smith has excelled against the Bears. Last
season, he caught eight passes for 181 yards in the Bears’ 34-29 shootout victory against the Panthers at Soldier Field. Smith’s explosiveness was on full display as he hauled in a 53-yard pass (diagrammed above) in the Panthers’ loss.

In that game, Smith was targeted 10 times by quarterback Cam Newton and continually found open spots in the Bears’ zone coverage. It wasn’t the first time Smith excelled against the Bears, either. Every Bears fan should remember his
218-yard, two-touchdown performance in the 2006 playoffs at Soldier Field.

‘‘He’s a great competitor,’’ cornerback Tim Jennings said. ‘‘He’s good at what he does. . . . You definitely want to get your hands on him and slow him down.’’

It’s a common misconception that the Bears are always in cover-2, but they often were when Smith made big plays against them last season. Smith accounted for five of the Panthers’ eight longest plays from the scrimmage in that game, making receptions of 53, 27, 26, 26 and 22 yards. On three of those plays, the Bears were in zone coverage with two deep safeties.

In the play diagrammed above, Newton found a wide-open Smith for the 53-yard gain off a play-action fake. Jennings failed to impede Smith’s route, and former Bears safety Brandon
Meriweather bit – albeit briefly — on the play-fake, which featured a pulling guard.

With Jennings assuming Meriweather still had his assigned deep half, Smith was left wide-open. The only thing that prevented Smith from scoring was a late throw from Newton.

It’ll be on safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte not to let that happen Sunday if the Bears are in similar coverage.

‘‘Wright and Conte have done a phenomenal job of not giving up the big plays, not letting
guys get behind them like they did last year,’’ cornerback Charles Tillman said.

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