Bears at Cardinals: What to Watch for Monday

The Bears take their unblemished record to the bright lights of Monday Night Football this week. The Cardinals were a trendy pick to make some noise in the NFC West this season, but poor offensive line play and a change at quarterback have Dennis Green & Company preparing for the future. Here are 10 things to watch for on game day in the valley of the sun.

1. Will Matt Leinart resemble the player the Bears saw in the preseason?
Although he was a training camp holdout and only signed a week-and-a-half before the Bears-Cardinals preseason game, Leinart carved up the Chicago secondary to the tune of 15-of-21 for 144 yards and a touchdown. We have quickly learned that preseason performance is rarely indicative of regular season performance – just look at Rex Grossman – but the former Trojan looked very comfortable in the pocket. Leinart played pretty well last week against Kansas City in his first career start, throwing two early TD passes before letting the game slip away 23-20. The Bears have made Matt Hasselbeck and J.P. Losman look awfully bad the last two weeks, and you can be sure that the defense Leinart faced back in August will not resemble the unit he'll see on Monday night. Expect to see defensive coordinator Ron Rivera throw all kinds of looks at the young signal-caller.

2. Is Grossman going to have a field day against the Arizona secondary?
Grossman is off to a brilliant start to the season and is in the conversation for league MVP right now. Ever since he threw that terrible interception at Minnesota that was returned for a touchdown, he's fired five scoring passes without an INT. He should be licking his chops for this week's matchup because Arizona is 29th in the NFL against the pass. Perhaps most importantly for the former Gator, tight end Desmond Clark is off the injury report and looks to be fully healthy again after spraining his foot three weeks ago. The more he can occupy defenders in the middle of the field, the softer the coverage will be for the likes of Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian.

3. Will Adewale Ogunleye be healthy enough to play?
Ogunleye was inactive last week after hurting his hamstring against Seattle. Israel Idonije got the starting assignment, and rookie Mark Anderson came up with two more sacks in reserve duty. The Bears are incredibly deep along the defensive line, so the coaching staff does have the luxury of making sure Ogunleye is truly 100% before putting him back out there. With a bye week following Monday night's game, it might be wise to have him sit one more game to ensure that he is ready to go in Week 8 against San Francisco. Although Ogunleye is surely chomping at the bit to get back out there.

4. Are Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson going to keep splitting carries?
Benson got 14 carries last week against Buffalo and scored the first two touchdowns of his career, but it will be interesting to see if his heavier workload was just a product of a lop-sided scoreboard. Jones looks to be rounding into shape, running for 98 yards two weeks ago and then cracking the century mark with 109 last Sunday. Benson appears to be the better back in short-yardage situations and near the goalline. Jones is the better receiver and more reliable picking up blitzers in the passing game. The two of them could be a dynamite combination if they continue to split time, but if the game is close, expect Jones to get the lion's share of the work.

5. How great can Tommie Harris be?
Harris was credited with a grand total of zero tackles last week against the Bills, but he still may have been the key to the defense playing so well. The former Sooner has been absolutely unblockable in one-on-one situations this season, accumulating five sacks in his first four games and stating his case as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Opposing offensive lines have to account for him on every snap – usually committing more than one blocker in order to get the job done – and has made the rest of the defensive front that much more effective. The Cardinals have a few glaring weaknesses, none bigger than their ineffective offensive line. Harris could be a one-man wrecking crew on game day.

6. Can the offensive line continue to keep Grossman on his feet?
The offensive line for the Bears has been solid as a rock this season, especially in the passing game. They have only allowed five sacks in five games, and although the running game was largely ineffective the first three weeks, both Jones and Benson have put up big numbers the last two Sundays. Not only are they a veteran crew, but perhaps the most important element to good offensive line play is chemistry. John Tait, Ruben Brown, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, and Fred Miller have all started every game this season. Grossman likes to hold on to the ball extra long sometimes trying to make a play down the field, and he's been able to get away with it for the most part because of the solid protection he's received.

7. When will Brian Urlacher start to make some big plays?
As hard as it is to believe, the Bears have the best scoring defense in the NFL despite the fact that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hasn't really gotten into the act yet. Urlacher is on pace for 115 tackles, just shy of the 122 he had in 2005. However, he is yet to record a sack or interception. The entire defense has been sensational so far, so the captain really hasn't needed to do too much. Plus, with the front four getting so much pressure on the quarterback, blitzing linebackers haven't been necessary. But if Urlacher starts dominating the highlight reel once again, look out.

8. Is Robbie Gould ever going to miss a kick?
One of the understated reasons for the smashing success of the offense so far this season is the fact that Gould has been nothing short of automatic. The former Nittany Lion leads the NFL in scoring with 66 points. He's been good on all 15 of his extra points, but much more impressively, he's a perfect 17-of-17 on field goal attempts. Gould was just 3-of-8 from 40-49 yards out his first season with the Bears, but so far in 2006, he's 8-of-8. He's getting plenty of opportunities with the way Grossman & Company have moved the ball up and down the field, and Gould is putting points on the board every chance he gets.

9. Does the Arizona offense have any chance without Larry Fitzgerald?
You have to think that the stars are aligned for the Bears this season. They faced the Seahawks right after Shaun Alexander cracked a bone in his foot, and now they take on the Cardinals with Fitzgerald on the shelf with a bum hammy. Not that this Bears defense needs to shy away from any opponents. Nevertheless, it takes a little luck to march through an NFL season the way Lovie Smith's crew has so far. Expect Anquan Boldin to see his share of double-coverage.

10. Will Monday Night Football make any difference with this team?
Uh, no.

JC


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