What We Learned: Cardinals vs. Bears

The Chicago Bears are now 0-3 this preseason and appear to be getting worse, not better. What did we learn about the Midway Monsters after yet another debacle? Start with these five observations:

1. Other teams are game-planning against the Bears defense
Coach Lovie Smith keeps hiding behind the fact that this is still the preseason and he's doing very little – if any – actual preparation for his exhibition opponents, but it certainly appears as if the Chargers, Raiders and Cardinals did a decent amount of homework and had an idea of how they were doing to attack the Chicago defense. A total of 10 different San Diego, Oakland and Arizona quarterbacks have combined to complete 56 of 92 throws for 733 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, which comes out to a fantastic passer rating of 87.8. Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart, John Skelton and Max Hall of the Cardinals totaled 21 of 31 for 274 yards with two TDs and no INTs this past Saturday, a Kurt Warner-like 116.9, and they did it firing to rookies Stephen Williams and Max Komar, not Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

The Raiders and Cardinals in particular did the majority of their damage on slants and crossing patterns in the middle of the field, especially on third down, and that's a sight Bears fans have seen way too often in recent years.

2. Cutler hasn't gotten comfortable with throwing to spots
For a quarterback like Jay Cutler, who has a cannon attached to his right shoulder and spent the majority of his football life throwing the pigskin just about anywhere he pleased, Mike Martz's timing-based passing game represents a radical change to his thought process on any given play. For the most part, Cutler is used to waiting for his receiver to come open and then delivering the ball accordingly, using his arm strength to squeeze it through even the tightest of windows. But playing for Martz, now he is being asked to take a leap of faith and put the ball in the air to a certain spot on the field, making it the responsibility of the wideout to be in the right place at the right time, and the slightest hiccup can lead to disaster.

Cutler's first interception Saturday against Arizona, when he was late getting the ball out to Johnny Knox running a comeback along the left sideline, led to an easy pick by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and is the most glaring example of Cutler's learning curve remaining somewhat steep – nobody ever ran this offense better than Warner, and he did it with finesse, now power.

3. 2007 was more of a fluke season for Harris in Carolina
After two years in Chicago, most of which was spent in the starting lineup at either safety position, Chris Harris was deemed expendable and got himself traded to the Panthers during training camp of 2007. He went on to have the best season of his career in Carolina, recording 97 tackles – by far his best total to date – and leading the league with eight forced fumbles. Needing improvement at both safety spots coming into 2010, general manager Jerry Angelo re-acquired Harris from Carolina in return for linebacker Jamar Williams, but little was made of the fact that the Panthers didn't make much of an effort to hold on to Harris.


S Chris Harris
Scott Boehm/Getty

Now, Bears fans are remembering that Harris wasn't a reliable safety in the first place, as he has been at least partially to blame for two of three touchdown passes surrendered by Chicago this preseason and also came up empty on a couple of open-field tackle tries Saturday against the Cardinals, so it's fair to wonder if Harris was ever as good as his 2007 suggested he had become on Tobacco Road.

4. Hester is kidding himself if he still thinks he's No. 1
One of the more disappointed players in the locker room following Saturday's dog of an effort was Devin Hester, who said he needs to make more plays if this offense is going to score more points because he's "the top receiver on this team." Hester has apparently spent too much time listening to Smith and all the proclamations made in the past that he is indeed a No. 1 wideout in the NFL, when the evidence clearly leads to Knox and Devin Aromashodu being Cutler's top targets. It doesn't really matter if there is a primary weapon in town, and kudos to Hester for stepping up and being accountable after a miserable display, but he needs to worry about taking better of advantage of the opportunities he is given, not living up to Smith's ridiculous claim that the former All-Pro return man deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne.

While Knox and Aromashodu have both caught TD passes during the exhibition slate, Hester's dubious highlight reel against the Cardinals included dropping a throw from Cutler on a fly pattern – granted, it would have been a tough grab – and fumbling the one snap he got in the Wildcat formation.

5. Peppers' pressure is secondary to penetration up front
Bears fans have to be ecstatic with what they've seen from Julius Peppers through three preseason contests, as the five-time Pro Bowler has put a good amount of pressure on the passer and also made some impressive tackles defending the run. Nevertheless, the first-team defense has failed more often than it has succeeded, probably because enemy offenses continue to be able to move the chains on third down. Tommie Harris may be healthier than he has been in recent years and hasn't missed so much as a single practice from Day 1 of training camp, but until he starts to get better penetration from his three-technique tackle position, QBs will be able to step up in the pocket and avoid the off-the-edge presence Peppers is providing.

Although the organization did its best to sell everyone on the notion that Peppers was going to make the rest of the defensive line better, especially Harris, there has been zero osmosis effect thus far.


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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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