By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears matchup against the Cardinals on Sunday in Arizona.
Offense: Prepare For Stunts And Blitzes
Due to injury or performance the Bears offensive line has been a revolving door, even during games. In the absence of cohesion, trouble lurks against Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton likes to blitz, most often when he puts five defenders on the line of scrimmage. In blitz passing situations according to Stats, Inc. the Cardinals defensive quarterback rating is 62.7, which is third best in the NFL. They also have a league best 23 sacks on blitzes and a league best 10 interceptions. The Bears must prepare for stunts, twists, and games by the front seven Arizona, which features talented defensive tackles Darnell Dockett who is 6’4” and Calais Campbell who is 6’8”. Running the ball is easier than it is to pass on the Cardinals, who rank first in the NFL in defensive quarterback rating, rank fourth in passing yardage allowed, and number one in interceptions with 22. Star cornerback Patrick Peterson has seven of the interceptions, and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Six times in the last nine games, the Cardinals have given up more than 160 yards rushing.
Defense: Don’t Let Lindley Beat You
Young quarterbacks have proven to be difficult for the Bears to handle this season. Seattle’s Russell Wilson, and San Francisco’s Colin Kapernick beat the Bears, but Cardinals rookie Ryan Lindley cannot. The San Diego State product has thrown 141 passes, completing only 51% with no touchdowns and six interceptions with a 45.0 quarterback rating. The 6-4 quarterback has good size, strong arm, and smarts, but no accuracy, and he didn’t in college either. He struggles to escape the rush and the Cardinals have given up a league worst 52 sacks. The Cardinals statistically have the NFL’s worst offensive production including a running game that is producing just 3.5 yards-per-carry. The Bears defense will seek takeaways and points from a Cardinal team victimized by four pick-sixes and two scoop and score fumble return touchdowns.
Special Teams: Rediscover Return Game
Devin Hester returns to a stadium where he was part of the historic comeback win over the Cardinals in his rookie season of 2006. It’s still his best day as a pro. He returned a career high six punts for a career high 152 yards, including the game winning 83-yard touchdown in a 24-23 win. Arizona’s kick coverage has allowed 27.1 yards-per-return, among the worst in the NFL. The Bears excel at covering punts and they must tackle Patrick Peterson, who is an outstanding punt returner. He had four punt return touchdowns last season as a rookie when he averaged 15.9 yards, but this season his average has dipped to 8.6 yards per return with no touchdowns. He is capable of breaking one every time he touches the ball. The Bears remain the league leader in opponent punt return average at 3.3, which is 2.5 yards ahead of New England and Denver who are 2-3 on the list. The longest punt return on the Bears this season is a league low 17 yards and the Bears share the NFL lead with Kansas City with 16 downed punts, which is a big reason why only 22 of Adam Podlesh’s 67 punts have been returned for an unbelievably low 73 total yards.
Intangibles: Team Psyche
It is legit to wonder where the team’s psyche is at after starting seven and one, only to lose five of the last six games all to current playoff teams(Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota, and Green Bay). The Bears know they have to beat a 5-and-9 Arizona team on the road but in a month they’ve dropped seven straight games over the last two seasons. During the six game span, the Bears are averaging only 14.2 points. They will need to go into Arizona with the belief they can start converting opportunities into touchdowns and defensively the belief they can dominant an inferior offense run by a rookie quarterback who has 45.0 quarterback rating.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.