Bears offense vs. Cardinals defense
For much of the first half of the season, the Bears’ offense was holding its own in games and was actually carrying the defense. The last few games, however, the offense has looked out of sync and the offensive line — which hasn’t run blocked well all season — has struggled to keep Jay Cutler upright. The Bears are capable of putting points on the board — they’re actually averaging .3 points per game more than the Cardinals. But they can’t seem to capitalize when they move the ball into the red zone. The Cardinals’ defense is nothing special. They’re ranked No. 18 overall, and their pass defense is actually worse than the Bears’, ranked No. 20. What worries me about this particular matchup is that the Cardinals are 9th in the league in interceptions and 10th in the league with 17 sacks. I haven’t seen enough out of the Bears’ offensive line all season to make me feel comfortable about this matchup.
Bears defense vs. Cardinals offense
What’s interesting about the Bears’ pass defense (No. 12) is that it’s actually ranked higher than their run defense (No. 16), even though I’d argue that they’re better at stopping the run than the pass. Cedric Benson’s 189-yard game a few weeks ago altered those rankings. What it also shows, though, is that the Bears are not giving up as many yards through the air as it seems. What is hurting the Bears instead are third downs. The Bears are near the bottom of the league and are allowing opponents to convert third downs at a rate of 40 percent. The good thing about this matchup is that the Cardinals’ offense is ranked No. 26 in 3rd down conversion percentage. Getting off the field is key for the Bears defense to avoid long drives and fatigue. What swings the pendulum in the Cardinals’ favor in this matchup is Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. Unless Charles Tillman can lock down Fitzgerald, those two will play a big role in the Cardinals’ game plan and could pick apart the Bears’ secondary.
It looks as though the Bears’ special teams has recovered from poor outings the few games before last week’s commendable performance. They held explosive kick and punt returner Josh Cribbs in check and Robbie Gould was money. This matchup isn’t even close. Johnny Knox has been a better kick returner than LaRod Stephens-Howling. Likewise for Devin Hester over Steve Breaston in punt return duties. Robbie Gould and Neil Rackers have both missed just one kick this year. Arizona’s Ben Graham is a pretty good punter with a better net average and two more punts downed inside the 20 than Brad Maynard. But the Bears get the edge in special teams.
What Sunday’s game on the lakefront amounts to is a mid-season playoff game. Both teams are of about the same caliber with identical records and both are trying to make a playoff push. The Cardinals play in a much weaker NFC West, so they could still win their division whereas the Bears have little chance of catching the Vikings and need the wild card if they’re to be playing in mid-January. Because the Bears need this game more, it could make them a more dangerous team, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s been a lot of talk about how the Cardinals have been a better road team this year than they have been at home, while the Bears haven’t lost in six straight contests at Soldier Field, dating back to last year. One of those streaks is going to end today, and while I wish I could say I think the Bears’ streak will prevail, I just don’t like the way they’ve been playing in comparison with what they’ll be facing against the Cardinals.
Final Score: Arizona 21, Chicago 20