Our weekly game preview takes a look at the Cardinals, fresh off their crushing victory against the Lions.
So, remember when the Bears were 7-1, the toast of the NFL with a ball-hawking defense and a shot at the NFC crown, if not the Super Bowl? Yeah, me neither - the turnovers have stopped coming, the offense has been offensive, and now the Bears stand on the precipice of missing the playoffs should they slip any further. If last week's game wasn't a must-win, this sure is, and if last week was, then I don't know what the next step above that is, but the Bears are at that spot.
Last Year: Finished 8-8, good for second in the NFC West.
This Year: Well, the wheels were fastened on pretty well as the Cardinals darted to a 4-0 start, then fell off completely as the team went to lose their next nine before smacking Detroit around 38-10. They sit at 5-9, good for last in the NFC West.
When Last We Met: Back in 2009, the Cardinals had some Super Bowl winner named Kurt Warner at the helm instead of grown-ass party-boy Mark Sanchez Sr. - also known as Matt Leinart. En route to a playoff appearance (including a 51-45 shootout victory over the Packers), the Cardinals met the Bears in Week 9 that season, winning the game 41-20. Larry Fitzgerald had nine receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and a certain tight end hauled in five receptions, but three of them for touchdowns - that was ol' number 82, Greg Olson, although two of them were in garbage time. Also, Devin Hester had 6 catches for 94 yards.
Total Points: 30th
Total Yardage: 32nd
Passing Yardage: 29th
Rushing Yardage: 32nd
Put bluntly, you think the Bears have it bad? At least the Bears are twelfth in the league in rushing. The Cardinals added Michael Floyd with a first round pick, but still have a leaky offensive line, the prior year's second round pick Ryan Williams has been nothing if not injured, and they've started some trio of John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley at quarterback. It's like reading the names of Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Henry Burris and Kordell Stewart all over again.
Larry Fitzgerald isn't having a good season, probably cause he has that trio at quarterback - he can still be a pretty good weapon, but without a quarterback, he's not very dependable. Andre Roberts has outproduced him this season and leads the team in touchdowns, and Michael Floyd's gotten some decent reps. If they had a quarterback, this might not be a bad receiving corps. On the ground, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Chris "Beanie" Wells account for nine of the team's ten rushing touchdowns, but if Stephens-Howling leads your team in rushing, you've had bad things happen to you.
Total Points: 11th
Total Yardage: 11th
Passing Yardage: 4th
Rushing Yardage: 28th
The Cardinals' defense, by contrast, is actually really good, especially against the pass with Patrick Peterson at defensive back, Calais Campbell at defensive end, and a fierce blitz package that has four linebackers with at least four sacks on the year, led by Daryl Washington with 9. Pretty intimidating stuff from that aspect.
But for as good as the unit is on the pass, against the rush they're a little more suspect... particularly if you look solely at aggregate yardage. Hasn't helped them that they've faced the third-most rushing attempts yet contrast with a 4.4 yards-per-attempt.
The key to the Cardinals' defense is a defense that's nearly as opportunistic as even the Bears' defense - they've collected four games of at least four turnovers, including six against the Falcons in a loss and four in their win against Detroit. Peterson leads the team with seven interceptions. When they don't get huge amounts of turnovers, though, it's tough for them to move the ball and score points; in their nine-game losing streak, they never scored 20 points, and in every game they've won so far, they've scored at least 20 points.
If the Bears do this...: Win the turnover battle and make Ryan Lindley make plays. The Bears can't make dumb turnovers on offense given their own offense's struggles to move the ball, and the Cardinals have the fifth-most turnovers in the league. The Bears need to capitalize on their chances, and giving the ball away won't contribute. And in Lindley's six games (three starts), it's not been pretty - no touchdowns, six interceptions.
If the Cardinals do this...: Get after Jay Cutler and win the turnover battle. Yes, I think whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game. And with the personnel at the Cardinals' disposal, I expect them to come at Cutler with the full force of the fury.