The Arizona Cardinals were once a 4-0 team and thinking playoffs. Their season is, in some ways, similar to the Bears’ collapse this year. Now both teams have head coaches fighting for their jobs and an entire city displeased with the product on the field.
In this specific match up it's a team fighting for its playoff life vs. a team fighting for their head coach and a moral victory (if there is such a thing in the NFL). It's a game where, if you enjoy good offensive play, touchdowns, or moving the ball forward on offense in general, you should probably shield your eyes.
The Cardinals rank dead last in offense, which is not much worse than the Bears who rank 29th overall.
It's a match up with two innovative and successful defensive coordinators in Rod Marinelli and Ray Horton. Horton hails from Pittsburgh where he was an assistant coach and has essentially turned this Cardinals’ defense into a juggernaut. His name will be considered for some head coaching jobs, and could potentially be pursued by the Bears in the off-season, should they have a vacancy.
Breaking down Cardinals’ personal
On defense, the Cardinals have Pro Bowl caliber talent all around the field. It starts with a player I've called a hidden gem in the desert and quite possibly the best ILB in the NFL. Daryl Washington has had a breakout season and was one of the catalysts behind the 4-0 start prior to the nine game losing streak. His 115 total tackles and 9.0 sacks both lead the team. He also has two forced fumbles and an interception.
The Cardinals can generate pressure up front in their base 3-4 defense. They rank fourth overall in pass defense due in large part to the pressure from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket up front. The stat line on the Cardinals’ ends aren't extremely impressive, but this front-7 has been able to put opposing teams’ quarterbacks in bad situations where they end up turning the ball over.
It brings us to a secondary that has the talent and athleticism to be elite, but have been consistently beaten in run defense. It's a unit that has fantastic ball skills but lacks the ability to make a secure open field tackle.
Patrick Peterson, as a cornerback, is coming into his own. He is still inconsistent but has progressed into having better technique and learning to play the ball much better from his rookie year. After his breakout on special teams in 2011, his importance on defense has gone understated. Peterson along with Pro Bowl safety Kherry Rhodes makes a dangerous combination for opposing quarterbacks.
For the Cardinals on offense, the personnel this team has to try and move the ball down field is an absolute joke. It ranks among some of the worst offensive units I have ever seen. The quarterback this weekend is a sixth round pick out of San Diego State named Ryan Lindley.
Lindley is 5'4”, 230, and has a big arm, but he still hasn't grasped the concept of reading defenses. In the Ken Whisenhunt-run offense he looks outmatched and confused, and with pocket pressure, he ends up making terrible decisions. Lindley is an extremely inaccurate passer, which should have the Bears’ defense primed for some turnovers.
The Cardinals’ running game is non-existent, as they rank dead last on the ground, only averaging a mere 80 yards per game. The current starter is Beanie Wells, who is coming back from an injury but hasn’t been able to get enough push to gain valuable yardage. He had two goal line touchdowns and a 31-yard run against the Lions in week-15.
The lack of any consistent offensive production stems from the offensive line's inability to block. The line has stabilized, but the Cardinals still rely on rookies and first-time starters. It is an area the Bears should be able to take advantage of, especially with the surplus of experienced pass rushers.
For NFL fans around the country it’s truly a shame to have such a talent go underused and basically be downgraded because of the personnel around him. Larry Fitzgerald is living out the prime in his career in a coffin with the tools and quarterback situation he has around him.
The worst part is he just signed a long-term deal which has him here for the duration of his career. Fitzgerald is still a major threat, but if the ball can't find his general vicinity, the Bears will not have a problem containing him.
The Cardinals have a group of young, developing wide receivers, who, with a good quarterback, can be successful. But Ryan Lindely is not that guy, and they will not be used to their full capabilities.
How the Bears can attack the Cardinals
- Run the ball. It's the one way teams have been able to consistently win games against this Cardinals’ defense. Matt Forte has been producing on the ground but has been overlooked because the Bears have gotten down early and relied on the pass frequently. The Cardinals rank 28th in run defense, giving up 136 yards per game.
- Bring pressure on nearly every down. The corners can cover, especially with Tim Jennings back, and this team should not be worried about Ryan Lindley beating them consistently through the air. Lindley is easily flustered in the pocket. Overwhelm him with stunts, corner/safety blitzes, and lots of different looks.
- Cutler cannot do what he did in Minnesota in forcing things that just aren't there to Brandon Marshall. The two interceptions cost this team another win, and the Cardinals can take the ball away and win the game solely off the opposition’s mistakes.
- The Bears’ defense needs to get back to what they do best, and that's turning the ball over. They have dominated over the lesser offenses this season in forcing turnovers and scoring.