Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears Week Three Preview
The season has not started the way the Arizona faithful have hoped. With just six points scored in two games, everyone in the organization is on the hot seat. It doesn’t get easier for the struggling offense, as the Bears bring Khalil Mack and company to the desert. Let’s take a look at some key matchups and what has to happen for Arizona to pull out their first win in this week’s What to Watch For.
What to Watch For: Overview
In the midst of one of the worst openings to a season, this Arizona team needs a kick in the pants. The offense has done nothing and the defense has struggled to contain opposing playmakers, especially out of the backfield. Larry Fitzgerald is the only receiver with over 40 yards on the team. David Johnson is under 100 rushing yards through two games. Sam Bradford has been anything but himself with no touchdowns, two interceptions and an embarrassing 121 passing yards per game.
The struggles are mostly, as has been written to death, due to the offensive line. The Cardinals’ linemen are seemingly competing to have the worst group in the NFL. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Josh Rosen entering the fray would be more as a sacrificial lamb than a franchise savior. We have, however, seen Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield pull out some wins for their squads, so maybe it’s time to let the rookie loose. Something has to change.
On defense, the team isn’t as bad as last week’s 34-0 shellacking looked. They have more sacks and forced fumbles than their opponents. Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones have been as advertised while former Cowboy and Raider Benson Mayowa has two sacks through two games. Where this squad has had struggles is the linebacking corps. In week one we saw Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson wreck them on the ground and through the air. In week two Todd Gurley put up three touchdowns. The linebackers and interior line have to step up, and soon.
The Bears are on the opposite end of the spectrum as Arizona. Currently 1-1, Chicago is just an Aaron Rodgers miracle away from 2-0. It’s been a while since this team has made any real noise but this team looks stronger than it’s been in years. Even with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, the offense has put up points, and since the trade for Khalil Mack, the defense is downright frightening.
The offense hasn’t been elite but they’ve been unacceptable either. Trubisky is sitting with an even 2:2 touchdown to interception ratio. The only receiver that puts up numbers for them is Allen Robinson, as no one else on the team has matched half of his 144 yards this year. The biggest weapons Chicago has haven’t been utilized as much early in the year. Jordan Howard has been respectable but his 29 carries through two games pale compared to his career average. Tarik Cohen has only nine touches on offense. Expect both of those numbers to go up.
Finally, their seemingly dominant defense. Even before acquiring Mack, Chicago had riches on this side of the ball. Danny Trevathan has continued his Pro Bowl form. Roquan Smith has looked great, even after missing all of training camp and most of the preseason. Prince Amukamara has finally found his home after a few tumultuous stops in his career. Kyle Fuller could be an All-Pro at corner. There isn’t a spot in this defense without a difference-maker in it.
What to Watch For: Key Matchups
Arizona’s Offensive Line vs. Khalil Mack
Oh boy. This is not the guy you want to see in the midst of offensive line issues. Mack has been a game-wrecker since he arrived in Chicago, even with only a few days of practice. The Raiders probably miss him, as he alone has as many sacks as Oakland’s entire team. He also has more interceptions and forced fumbles than their team. The trade still boggles the mind. Chicago has coordinator Vic Fangio leading their defense and he’ll line Mack up all across the formation to take advantage of the mismatches.
As for Arizona, this is sink or swim time. While they must focus on the entirety of the Bears’ defense, protecting Bradford from Mack has to be priorities one, two, and three. Double team him, chip him with a back or tight end, tie his hands behind his back, whatever it takes. D.J. Humphries has his work cut out for him when Mack comes from the left, but he’s been lining up everywhere this season. The play-caller will have to take advantage of his aggressiveness with some screens and draws to try to keep him from pinning his ears back.
Allen Robinson vs. Patrick Peterson
This could be a great battle and Arizona’s best hope. Chicago doesn’t scare anyone through the air, but Robinson is a legit number one threat. Fortunately, Peterson is a legit lockdown corner. Chicago’s number two is 5’8″ Taylor Gabriel, so anticipate seeing PP2 following Robinson around and letting the safeties guard against Gabriel’s deep threat. Robinson can high point the ball, has good speed, and he may have been born with Stick’Um for hands.
Peterson got lit up last week, as Brandin Cooks put up over 140 yards, but the Bears hardly have the offensive talent or know-how as the Rams, and I don’t expect to see that again. If Peterson can take away Robinson, the Bears will have to rely on their running backs and tight end Trey Burton for plays in the passing game.
Sam Bradford vs. Josh Rosen vs. Roquan Smith
That’s right, we’ve got a three-way battle! Okay, mostly this is Bradford vs. Smith, but this game could be Sam’s last chance. Roquan has been as good as he was hyped up to be. In Fangio’s defense, the middle linebacker has a lot of responsibilities, from calling plays to making adjustments before the snap. He did well against Aaron Rodgers (for a half) and Russell Wilson.
For Sam, he has to be able to trick the rookie. There aren’t any excuses when you’ve been in the league as long as Bradford, especially not as a former first overall pick. He has struggled on out routes and over the middle, and if he makes a bad read against Smith, it’s likely to get taken away.
Prediction time: if Bradford fails to generate offense in the first half, we’ll see our first glimpse of Josh Rosen. Especially after we just watched the Browns collect their first victory since 2016 after their rookie replaced a struggling veteran and making a comeback. It would be easier for all of us if Bradford balled out, but time is ticking away for him.
What to Watch For: Cardinals Keys to Victory
In order for Arizona to win this game, a lot of things will have to go right, but these 3 keys to victory are must-haves.
1. Get David Johnson The Ball
Hand it to him. Throw it to him. Direct snap it to him. It doesn’t matter. There is no excuse for the horrific play-calling through two games which has left DJ with one touchdown and barely 100 overall yards. This defense is aggressive, which gives opportunities for screens and draws. With a weapon like Johnson, this is a perfect counter, however, Arizona has looked loathe to use the most electric player at the position so far. If they want to win, that must change.
2. Contain Khalil Mack
Based on how Mack has played against how Arizona’s line has played, he could end up with 5 sacks. That can’t happen. Every week he grows more familiar with Chicago’s defense he gets better. That’s amazing considering how he burst onto the scene in week one. Arizona needs to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand very fast, and they need to run successfully. If they can’t run, they know the pass is coming. If the pass is coming, so is Khalil Mack.
3. Load The Box
Chicago’s bread-and-butter is their running game. Trubisky, though young, doesn’t scare anyone as a passer. He can get the job done, but he won’t carry anyone to victory. Jordan Howard, however, absolutely can if given the chance. Arizona needs to trust Patrick Peterson to take away Allen Robinson and allow Budda Baker to handle Trey Burton underneath and Taylor Gabriel over the top. Chicago’s offensive line has been great thus far (jealous), so they’ll need every man they can get in the box. If they can force Trubisky to throw the ball to win, they’ll have a chance.