Week 2 NFL Game Preview: Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears

Week 2 NFL Game Preview: Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears
Matt Forte runs through the Cardinals defense for a touchdown in the second quarter of a game on Dec. 23, 2012. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

The last time these two NFC teams faced off, the lead of the Bears’ 28-13 win over Arizona on Dec. 23, 2012 read as this on ESPN.com: “Of course the defense made the plays that mattered most for Chicago. These are, after all, the Bears.”

Well, for this go around a lot has changed. The coaches aren’t Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt anymore. The stars aren’t Bears starters Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson and the Bears’ defense isn’t what it once was.

This will be an NFC clash between two hard-nosed coaches in John Fox and two-time head coach of the year Bruce Arians. Arians won the award in 2012 and 2014.

Outside of the NFC North, the Bears haven’t faced an opponent more times than the Cardinals. This marks the 91st matchup between the historic franchises, the Bears lead the all-time series 58-27-6.

These two teams have been playing one another since the 1920 season, in the first year of what was then called the American Professional Football Association.

If you didn’t know this already CBS Sports’ Zach Zaidman provides us with this piece of knowledge regarding the history of the Bears and Cardinals.

Quick look

For what it’s worth, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is a perfect 3-0 against the Bears with eight touchdown passes and an interception and a 120.3 passer rating. All of those wins came during his Cincinnati Bengals playing days.

Jay Cutler on the other hand, is 2-1 against Arizona, including 1-1 in a Bears’ uniform. Cutler had a rather quiet day the last time these two NFC foes squared off in 2012. He completed 12-of-26 pass attempts for 146 yards and a touchdown.

It was running back Matt Forte that carried the offense in the victory with 95 total yards and a touchdown, including 88 rushing yards on just 12 carries.

The Bears will need their top players for this gritty matchup, but that might not be possible. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf/hamstring), outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee/wrist) and defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (knee) all missed Friday’s practice session and are listed as questionable.

Jeffery is likely out, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Sunday morning. The Bears want to get their No.1 receiver back to full health rather than prolong his injury.

This should be a good game. Even if any of those three key Bears can’t suit up, they have guys in place ready to step up including former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho, who is now officially over his non-football illness.

What the Cardinals are thinking

Stop Matt Forte.

Much like Green Bay attempted to do a week ago in Chicago, the Cardinals will want to slow down Forte and the Bears’ rushing attack. Well, they will have to try to slow down Forte as a receiver as well. He was used all over the field in Week 1 under offensive coordinator Adam Gase and will be moving forward.

Arizona allowed a league-low 54 yards to New Orleans running backs last week as the Saints averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 20 attempts. The longest run allowed by the Cardinals was a measly nine yards.

Does that mean they will completely shut down Forte and the running game?

It’s easier said than done, but the Cardinals have a great front led by defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker and linebacker Alex Okafor.

Containing Forte on screens and out routes will be most important after allowing Saints’ back Mark Ingram to catch eight passes for 98 yards, including a long of 59.

Arizona will be seeing tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receivers Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson for the most part with Jeffery almost certainly out. The Saints put up 355 passing yards against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, so expect them to buckle down against Cutler and Co.

Offensively, Palmer will want to build off an impressive performance where he tossed 307 yards and three touchdowns as he averaged 9.6 yards per completion.

Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Darren Fells each reeled in 80 yards or more while Fells, rookie back David Johnson and John Brown added touchdown receptions. It’s a solid group of playmakers that have a chance to flourish under a now healthy Palmer.

Expect the Cardinals offensive attack to be at full force with No. 1 running back Andre Ellington out and veteran Chris Johnson drawing the start. It’s a nice matchup against a rebuilding Bears’ defense that didn’t see many deep balls against the Packers in Week 1.

What the Bears are thinking

If Forte can’t get it going on the ground, this game will go on the shoulders of Cutler, who didn’t excel when asked to do that a year ago under Marc Trestman.

It will be a battle against a stout Arizona defensive front, but if right guard Vladimir Ducasse and right tackle Kyle Long can open running lanes on the right side of the field it will help plenty. They both held their own in that aspect of the game last week.

Cutler will have Wilson, Royal and Josh Bellamy as his targets with Jeffery likely out. Bellamy played eight snaps while Marc Mariani took the field for six in last week’s season opener. Both guys should be out there in three wide receiver packages often.

Bennett is a huge difference maker in the middle of the field and with Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon questionable with a groin injury that is an area they need to exploit. Bennett was an in-line blocker more often than not last week, but expect Gase to let him loose on Sunday.

Cutler needs all the help he can get outside of just Forte and his consistent play.

On defense, Vic Fangio has to get more out of his unit in terms of rushing the passer. After not recording a single sack or quarterback hit on Aaron Rodgers last week, the Bears need to get things going against a more statue-like quarterback in Palmer.

Arizona’s offensive line hung tough last week against New Orleans allowing no sacks and only one quarterback hit. With left guard Mike Iupati (knee) ruled out, Ted Larsen will draw a start for the second straight week.The Bears need to take advantage.

Pernell McPhee might not be able to go which would be a huge loss after he was really the only guy generating pressures last Sunday. Now, outside linebackers Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Sam Acho will see more playing time and all three have plenty of pass rush ability.

Jared Allen didn’t look good at all last week and he needs a bounce back performance if that’s possible for him at this point in his career. Having Ego Ferguson active alongside Will Sutton, Jarvis Jenkins and rookie Eddie Goldman would be huge because the Bears could use all the help they can get along the line.

After generating no turnovers a week ago, Fangio is certainly preaching that to his group this week. Getting Palmer uncomfortable is a huge key to victory in this game.

Injury Report

BearsOUT: Linebacker Jon Bostic (ankle) and cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), linebacker Pernell McPhee (wrist/knee) and defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (knee); PROBABLE: Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (back), linebacker Sam Acho (illness) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (thigh).

Cardinals OUT: Running back Andre Ellington (knee) and guard Mike Iupati (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) and safety Deone Bucannon (groin); PROBABLE: Tight end Jermaine Gresham, wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Troy Niklas.

Final Score Prediction

Bears 24, Cardinals 20

At home, the Bears have a big chance of knocking off the Cardinals. Arizona has a steady and physical defense and a solid offense, but don’t be shocked to see the Bears snap their six-game losing streak that dates back to last season. It won’t be easy, but expect the Bears to be in most games this season under John Fox’s command, including this one.

Season predictions: (0-1)

Qwikcast.com Weather Report

Mostly Sunny. Highs around 70. East winds 5-10 MPH.

A look ahead

The Bears fly out to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the loudest NFL stadium next Sunday before returning home to host the Oakland Raiders in Week 4.

Read up on the five Bears players you should keep an eye on in Sunday’s clash with Arizona, here.

Thoughts on the Cardinals-Bears Week 2 matchup? Make sure to weigh in on the comment section below.

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