Four Downs: Keys to beating the Cardinals

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Get after Kurt Warner
The key to this game, more so than anything else, will be how well the Cardinals’ passing offense performs. The Bears and Cardinals are remarkably similar and not just because they share identical 4-3 records. Each team has struggled mightily to run the ball this year — with the Cardinals owning the honor of having the league’s worst run game — and both teams struggle to defend the pass. The Bears are actually ranked statistically higher than the Cardinals in both of these categories, but after seeing how Jay Cutler has been abused this season due to poor pass protection, the game could get lopsided if the Bears don’t put the same pressure on Warner that Cutler receives from the Cardinals. Warner struggled last week against the Panthers while throwing 5 interceptions. The Panthers pressured Warner and also got their hands in the passing lanes and tipped and batted passes frequently. Aside from his interceptions, Warner’s stat line was convincing. He had 242 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 of 46 passing. Warner’s never been a mobile guy and he’s been sacked 14 times this year. The Bears can’t let him get comfortable in the pocket.

2. Get out to a fast start
The Bears have scored just 13 points in seven first quarters this year, and only one touchdown. Even last week against a bad Browns team, the Bears were relegated to two field goals in the first period. I know that teams generally like to establish the run early in the game and typically that will result in some stalled drives. But when your run game is as bad as the Bears, I don’t see the need to establish it in the first quarter. I want to see the Bears put points on the board early — hopefully a touchdown — and play with the lead against a good team for once. If the Bears have to play from behind against an offense as high-powered as the Cardinals, they may never catch up. Pull out all the stops on the first drive and get the ball in the end zone, even if Matt Forte doesn’t have one carry.

3. Protect the football

The Cardinals’ defense is tied for 9th in the league — with the Bears, among others — with 7 interceptions. They’ve also forced 8 fumbles and recovered 5. As we’re well aware of from the Bears’ three losses against the Packers, Falcons, and Bengals, turnovers will sink you. For Cutler’s sake, let’s hope the offensive line gives him adequate protection so that he doesn’t feel the need to force passes where he probably shouldn’t. And the Bears can’t afford to fumble the ball, either, so even if Forte isn’t finding holes, he’d better hold onto the ball unlike his performance in the Falcons game. Not only do the Bears need to protect the football, they need to take the ball away on defense and win the turnover battle.

4. Improve third-down defense

The Bears have struggled all season in getting off the field after third down. They’re allowing opponents to convert third downs at a high percentage and it’s leading to extended drives and game fatigue. One of the ways to improve their chances of getting off the field quicker is to put the Cardinals in third-and-long situations. They have a good chance of doing that because of how poorly the Cardinals have run the ball. Obviously, when a third-and-long situation arises, the defensive line can pin its ears back and get up the field to rush the passer. The more the defense is on the field early in the game, the more fatigued they’ll get and the tougher it’ll be to contain Warner and the Cardinals in the fourth quarter.

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