By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (0-1) host the Cardinals (1-0) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Keep pounding the rock
There’s no lip service being paid when it comes to running the football for the Bears. It’s a big part of the offense and should be against the Cardinals. Matt Forte will be pounding it inside against another 3-4 front after experiencing great success against the Packers’ 3-4.
Arizona owns an aggressive, physical defense that plays with an edge. It’s a fast unit, somewhat undersized, but one that comes at teams from all sorts of angles. In the passing game, the Cardinals thrive on pressure, dialing up blitzes from every level of the unit. Their secondary is well-regarded. Safety Deone Bucannon takes the majority of his snaps as an inside linebacker, while fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu is a terror on the ball. He lines up all over the field. Against the Saints, he lined up in the box, as a wide corner and slot defender. His blitzes broke up two Drew Brees passes. These players need to be accounted for, as does defensive end Calais Campbell.
The Cardinals may get a lot of hurries and pressures, but they’re also prone to giving up some big plays. When the opportunity is there, the Bears have to execute.
Defense: Pressure Palmer
In his 16 games as the Cardinals starting quarterback, Carson Palmer is 14-2. A veteran pocket passer, Palmer’s nifty enough to avoid pressure to create throwing lanes that lead to big plays. However, he’s not interested in tucking it and running.
Against the Saints, Palmer worked the underneath routes, completing six of seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns in that regard. The Bears will want to create as much pressure as possible and get to Palmer. The secondary will be challenged by Palmer’s weapons because of the overall speed of the unit. John Brown is dangerous, rookie J.J. Nelson runs in the 4.37 range, Michael Floyd has build-up speed and Larry Fitzgerald is now a slot possession receiver but crafty with his signature strong hands and toughness after the catch.
Former basketball player Darren Fells had a big game at tight end against the Saints and is an ascending player. The screen game led to a 55-yard touchdown by rookie running back David Johnson, who should see more time due to a knee injury suffered by Andre Ellington. Veteran Chris Johnson is also a player to watch.
Special teams: Improve on kick return and coverage
The Bears’ kick return and coverage units will look to improve from Week 1. Arizona has struggled for two seasons with its return game, but David Johnson had a 43-yard return against the Saints. Nelson is a speedster on punt returns.
The Bears gave up a couple of big returns to Packers rookie Ty Montgomery, so that coverage unit needs to come together. The son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler, Drew Butler is the Cardinals’ punter and excels with hang time, which limits the return ability with fair catches. The Bears have to know where Justin Bethel is on coverage, as the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the best in the NFL.
Intangibles: Fight fire with fire
Like the Bears under coach John Fox, the Cardinals take on the personality of their coach, Bruce Arians. They play with a swagger and a toughness that Arians brings to the table. His players have bought in and they respond to his aggressive approach. Under Fox’s leadership, the bears already have the mindset that they will play a tough, physical brand of football. It will be an interesting collision of philosophies in Week 2, and the Bears will have to fight fire with fire.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.