The Chicago Bears top three wide receivers - Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson - were all listed as questionable heading into the regular-season opener. It was unclear even Sunday morning who would suit up and who would sit.
That won't be the case for the Bears this weekend, as all three wideouts have practiced in full this week and are not listed on the official injury report.
That's good news for Jay Cutler and Chicago's offense, which struggled to push the ball down field due to the health of its top three wideouts.
"There were a lot of things in play. Alshon's health was definitely one of them," Cutler said today.
With the passing attack healthy, everyone will get their full allotment of reps in practice this week, which will go a long way toward building needed chemistry against the Arizona Cardinals this week.
"I thought the guys we had fought hard on the outside [against] a lot of man-to-man," said Cutler. "Similar situation this week. Arizona is not afraid to play man; they are not afraid to come and get you and bring more than you are capable of blocking. I thought [the receivers] had a good week. I thought the last couple of days ... all of those guys competed hard out there. We’ll see what we have on Sunday.”
The Cardinals boast one of the best coverage corners in the NFL in Patrick Peterson, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro.
“You look at him – he’s 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and then he runs a 4.3 40-yard dash," said Cutler. "You see him jam guys and then run with anybody on the field. He's got unbelievable ball skills. He’s a guy you have to be aware of and you have to know where he is at. He’s not a guy you really want to take a lot of chances with.”
In order to shut down Chicago's top pass-catching target, most believe Peterson will shadow Jeffery during Sunday's contest. To counter that, the Bears will likely move quickly on offense, utilizing the hurry up, thus wearing Peterson down as he chases Jeffery all over the field.
"I don't know what they'll do," Cuter said. "You know, because we have so many formations and we do go pretty fast, I don't know if they're going to want him running all over the field or not. We'll play that out when we get there."
The health of the club's receivers will help in that effort, allowing offensive coordinator Adam Gase to utilize more of his playbook.
“I feel like there’s more we can do," Gase said. "We’re going to use guys for their skill set the best that we can. So if there’s a couple things here and there that we can’t do right now, it’s all right. We’ll be able to implement them later on in the season. But for right now, with the guys that we have up, I really like the plays that we have going in and the game plan we have going in.”
The Cardinals use a blend of 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and have a wildcard in Tyrann Mathieu, who will line up at multiple spots in the secondary throughout the game.
"They have a lot of personnel groups so they'll put him at safety, they'll put him at nickel, they'll put him at kind of an outside backer type of thing," Cutler said. "They'll put him on the line of scrimmage. They'll blitz him off the edge. He's kind of their move guy, their jack of all trades. And he does everything really well. So we'll be aware of him as well."
Drew Brees and the Saints piled up 355 yards through the air against the Cardinals last week, so there will be opportunities for big plays. Yet most of New Orleans' passing yardage came from backs out of the backfield. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson combined for 149 receiving yards, while the Saints' top three wideouts had 49, 41 and 29 yards respectively. With Peterson and seven-year veteran Jerraud Powers at cornerback, and the rangy Mathieu lining up all over the field, the Bears wideouts will have their hands full Sunday afternoon.
"They bring about everything you can possible ask for," Gase said. "It’s a great challenge for our guys. It’s something different than what we saw from the Green Bay Packers."
Arizona's former defensive coorindator, Tood Bowles, is now the head coach for the New York Jets and was replaced by James Bettcher, who served as Bowles' outside linebackers coach. While Bowles has moved on, Gase said Arizona's defensive system has not changed much.
"I don’t want to say he’s more aggressive than what Coach Bowles was, but he’s fairly aggressive, and they’ve done a good job of mixing things up," said Gase. "But it’s the same system. When you had a change at coordinator like that and you have a lot of the same players, I don’t think they’re going to go too far outside the box because they did have great success last year. I know those players seem to play their scheme very comfortable in the way they’re playing.”
Scheme aside, there will be times in this contest in which the Bears wide receivers will have to flat-out make plays and win one-on-one battles, something they failed to do last week. If a healthy trio of Jeffery, Wilson and Royal play to their potential, Chicago's offense should have plenty of firepower to keep pace with the Cardinals and pick up the team's first win of the season.