After a well-placed Thanksgiving bye, the Arizona Cardinals are well-rested and ready to tackle the six-game run-in to the end of the regular season, beginning with a trip to the Chicago Bears. Coming off a divisional win, the Cardinals will have full confidence heading in. With the return of Kyler Murray imminent, fans will be excited to see a balanced Cardinals offense once again.
Contrastingly, the Bears only managed to halt a five-game skid with a narrow and unconvincing win against the Detroit Lions, the worst team in the league. Under Andy Dalton, Chicago’s offense has a concrete ceiling. As for their defense, they’ve been decidedly average. There is a very clear way to beat them. It’s one that the Cardinals are fit to employ on Sunday.
Balanced Arizona Cardinals Offense Will Use Returning Murray
Chicago’s Stats Do Lie, Somewhat
Chicago has a history of good defense, but this unit is far from the ’85 Bears. Especially in the absence of their best player, pass rusher Khalil Mack, the Bears have fallen to absolute mediocrity, ranking middle of the pack in total defense. They do have some top guys, like safety Eddie Jackson. But, in truth, it is an underwhelming group.
Notably, the Bears have been relatively poor against the run, ranking eighteenth in rushing yards allowed, and they’re sixth in passing yards allowed per game. Smashing the ball up the gut of Chicago’s defense seems to be the way to run against the Bears; Jamaal Williams got 65 yards out of them as a backup. To Chicago’s credit, teams focus on the inside run not only because of their weakness up the middle but actually to avoid their proficiency out wide.
Outside stuff is a little more difficult against the Bears, owing to their speed at the second level, particularly in linebacker Roquan Smith. The Bears are more effective against outside runs and, in Arizona’s offense, could cause problems for Kliff Kingsbury’s screen game.
That interior is a vulnerability, though.
Ranking sixth in pass defense seems to present Chicago as good against the pass. It is less impressive when prefaced by teams focusing on running the ball. 17 passing touchdowns conceded is illustrative of how teams gash the Bears with the run game and pass off of it when the Bears reinforce themselves up front, compromising the back end. There are holes everywhere that a balanced Cardinals offense can exploit.
If It Ain’t Broke…
James Conner‘s excellent performances throughout the year, and especially since he’s taken over the reins as the lead back, set him up for a big role against the Bears. The most effective component of Arizona’s interior run game, regardless of availability, Conner is the perfect player to carry the load against Chicago. Scoring-wise, the Bears give up fewer rushing touchdowns than they do passing touchdowns, but Conner leads the NFL in total touchdowns. Against this defense, he can have a day.
Conner’s ability is going to buck the trend against Chicago; most teams score more with the pass, but it would be ridiculous to dial back Conner’s usage in the red zone and short-yardage situations. However, Conner will be the bell cow in all territories of the field; against Chicago, forcing the Bears into compensating up front will open up opportunities to reintroduce a certain franchise quarterback.
Pass Game Key In Balanced Cardinals Offense
There seems to be a very clear projection of how to beat the Bears. It’s the oldest strategy in the book: using the run to set up the pass. That focus on the run game becomes ever more prevalent given Arizona’s situation at quarterback. Murray is trending to return but, although he’s still up there as an MVP candidate, it can’t be ignored that he’s not played in a month. Arizona’s run game is going to be strategically important in terms of supporting Murray, as well as exploiting Chicago’s flaws. Both Conner and Eno Benjamin will see significant time.
Chicago’s need to help their run defense leaves holes elsewhere. Bringing Jackson down into the box leaves the less-rangey Tashaun Gipson on the back end. Lions quarterback Jared Goff has a decidedly average arm, but even he was able to blow the top off this defense. Arizona’s run game will force these inadequacies in the defensive backfield and give Murray a favorable situation in the deep-to-intermediate passing game.
Chicago runs a tonne of zone defense because it utilizes the speed of their linebackers best. Inherently though, there are holes in it that, given time, Murray can attack. After time out, his body might not be fully up to speed, but the Bears are a team that Murray can beat cerebrally. Furthermore, despite their statistically decent pass defense, the Bears don’t create a lot of turnovers in the passing game; only five this season. This gives Murray some leeway as he gets back into MVP-caliber form.
Set up by a consistent run game, Murray can thrive in his return; this balanced Cardinals offense will beat the Bears on Sunday.
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