Bears vs. Cards: What to Watch for Tonight

The Bears will play their third exhibition game tonight against the upstart Arizona Cardinals. Week 3 of the preseason is always the most telling in terms of which teams can play and which teams are in trouble, and head coach Lovie Smith has promised to play his starters into the third quarter. Perhaps most importantly, the team needs to prove it can run the ball and stop the run once again.

The Bears will play their third preseason game this evening and their last in front of a home crowd. They will face the Cardinals, who made a splash in free agency by bringing in running back Edgerrin James to complement the best pair of wide receivers in football, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Here are 10 things to watch for tonight at Soldier Field:

1. Does Rex Grossman finally put it all together?
Grossman was all over the place last Friday night against the Chargers, completing three of his first four passes, then missing six in a row, then hitting four in a row, and then throwing that awful interception at the goalline when he forced one into double-coverage. Head coach Lovie Smith has said unequivocally that the former Gator is his Week 1 starter no matter what transpires in the preseason, but he still needs to put together a complete performance just to ease his critics for a while.

2. Will Brian Griese play at all?
Griese has been on the field for a grand total of four series in two games, yet he has found the end zone three times with three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Since he is still coming back from a serious knee injury a year ago, not to mention that he has little else to prove at this point, the former Wolverine seems perfectly content to watch from the sideline these next two weeks and let his previous body of work speak for itself.

3. How much of a difference will Thomas Jones make?
Perhaps the biggest story of the night will be Jones getting the starting nod coming back from the bum hamstring that caused him to miss almost all of training camp, but considering how poorly the Bears have run the ball these last two weeks, he may be in for a rude awakening. Adrian Peterson is averaging only 1.8 yards per carry, but if Jones can put some life back into a stagnant running game, Bears fans will feel much better knowing that the passing attack won't be asked to carry too much of the burden.

4. Can the defense cure itself of the sloppy tackling?
The first-team defense surrendered an awful lot of yards between the 20's against both San Francisco and San Diego, and although they clamped down when they needed to and kept opponents out of the end zone, a lot of poor tackling has been on display. None of the Bears defenders seem overly concerned, chalking it up to the fact that they don't practice tackling that much in the preseason, but if Charles Tillman thought Michael Turner had a good stiff-arm, wait until he gets a taste of James.

5. Will the front four continue to put pressure on the QB?
After letting Alex Smith roam free in and out of the pocket two weeks ago, Philip Rivers saw an awful lot of pressure and took a handful of big hits last Friday. Adewale Ogunleye in particular was camped out in the backfield all night long, and with a statue like Kurt Warner playing behind a suspect Cardinals offensive line, it would be nice to see Ogunleye and Alex Brown meet at the quarterback a few times tonight.

6. Is Ricky Manning Jr. making a case to start?
Manning got a $21 contract to leave Carolina and come to Chicago, and although he was brought in to play nickelback and provide depth behind Tillman and All Pro Nathan Vasher, the former Bruin has been fairly vocal about his desire to start. He showed his prowess in run support by delivering a huge hit in the backfield against the Chargers last week, and with Vasher probably out for the rest of the preseason as a precautionary measure, Manning will get plenty of chances to show what he can do.

7. Will the real Mark Bradley please stand up?
Upon the team's arrival in Bourbonnais for training camp, Bradley was expected to be the leading contender to start at receiver opposite veteran Muhsin Muhammad, but the former Sooner has only caught two passes for 18 yards in two games. He has shown flashes of brilliance at times in practice, but right now, Bernard Berrian gets the start tonight, and slot man Rashied Davis is making all the plays everyone was hoping Bradley would make.

8. Can the return game continue to flip the field position?
Davis took back a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown last week, and punt returner Devin Hester has broken a long one in each of the first two games. If these two speed merchants can keep putting pressure on opponents and give their offense a short field to work with, the Bears will have a much better chance to put points on the board starting at midfield as opposed to their own 20-yard line.

9. Is the kicking game as solid as is appears?
Backup kicker Josh Huston was released yesterday because incumbent Robbie Gould has been just about perfect so far, and second-string punter Joel Stelly could be the next to go if veteran Brad Maynard lives up to his reputation. Gould had trouble with long field goals last year but drilled a 49-yarder last week, and Maynard is a big key for this team if he can pin opponents deep and force them to drive the length of the field against the Bears and their ferocious defense.

10. With the fans come out to Soldier Field tonight?
It was a drizzly night a week ago, but it was a mild disappointment when the official attendance for last Friday's preseason game against the Chargers was only about 45,000. The third exhibition game is always the most indicative of where these teams will be come the regular season, so a packed house of crazy Bears fans certainly would be a welcome sight.

JC


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