Yep. I said it. It might be a good thing that Larry Fitzgerald is out 2-5 weeks with a hamstring injury. At least for this game. While the loss of Fitzgerald takes away from the overall talent level of the receiving corps (with Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson filling the other two spots in the mighty triumvirate), Troy Walters presents an interesting challenge for the Chicago secondary. Cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman have been, throughout their careers, physical and aggressive athletes with big play ability. When they are able to muscle in against a larger, slower receivers, they are at their most effective. They have, however, struggled against smaller, shiftier, faster players such as Santana Moss (and, in the Divisional Playoff round last year, definitely Steve Smith). Now, it's true that Walters isn't in the same stratosphere as Smith and Moss. It's also true that, if the Cardinals split him out wide and keep Bryant in the slot, he presents an interesting match-up problem for Chicago's secondary.
Johnson and Boldin are simply too big, don't accelerate fast enough, and aren't crisp enough out of their cuts to take advantage of the one hole in Chicago's back four: They're overly aggressive and can be fooled on double moves, playaction, and pump fakes.
When the Bears have been beaten deep, it's on these types of plays. Safeties Mike Brown and Chris Harris are just as physical and aggressive, if not more so than Vasher and Tillman. If they have a weakness, it's that they fall for misdirection more often than they defend it. The Cardinals are too overmatched in all facets of the game to not attack whatever weaknesses they can find. They must exploit the aggressive tendencies of the Bears secondary and cash in for long gains.
Of course, the one issue with double moves, playaction, and pump fakes (or pretty much any type of misdirection play) is that they take a long time to develop. The relentless pass rush that the Bears are able to create with just their front four may not allow these plays to be run as designed.
In this match-up, the Cardinals are screwed. Pure and simple. The Bears defensive line isn't quite as loaded as the Falcons when it comes to pure pass rushing talent, but they make up for that in run support. With Atlanta, you could at least lean on the size advantage the Cardinals offensive line held over the Falcons defensive line. The disparity is nowhere near as great between the Cardinals and the Bears from a size perspective.
From a talent perspective, the Bears hold a pretty massive edge. Ian Scott and former first round pick Tommy Harris are excellent two-way, two gap defenders. They shore up the middle of the defense and occupy blockers in the run game in order to allow middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to roam around and make plays. Against the pass, they collapse the middle of the pocket, not allowing the quarterback to safely step forward once ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye have blown by the tackles.
Given the defensive line's ability to fill gaps, get penetration, and close holes in the running game and Arizona's complete lack of ability thus far to open up any holes or win any battles at the point of attack thus far this season, the Cardinals won't be successful running the football. However, even though the offensive line has been woefully ineffective in pass protection this year, Arizona does stand a chance at slowing down the monstrous Bears pass rush when they do drop back to throw.
Strangely enough, it all starts with Edgerrin James.
If James wasn't able to rack up easy yards against San Francisco and Kansas City, he certainly won't have a career game against a stout Chicago front seven that includes Pro Bowl performer Lance Briggs, All-World, All-Purpose Brian Urlacher, and the underrated Hunter Hillenmeyer. The Bears are too strong, too fast, too aggressive (counters and misdirection plays haven't worked for the Cards before and they won't work on Monday Night Football, even if Chicago over pursues on the play), and too much more talented than the Arizona offensive line for Edge to have success running the ball against them.
Where he can be successful, however, is in the passing game. And I don't mean by using his highly regarding pass blocking skills as a supplement to the offensive line. By working as a receiver (catching mostly screen passes), Edge can find running lanes and will be able to get out into space, where he's most effective.
Thus far this season, Dennis Green seems to be obsessed with getting the ball in James' capable hands as much as possible without much regard to situation or strategy. By getting Edge more meaningful touches, Green will maximize his effectiveness. After all, while he had more carries last season than any other, most of Edge's success last year was when Peyton Manning saw the opposing defense lined up to stop the pass and audibled to a run, knowing that James would see value as well as quantity out of his carries.
Screen passes, screen passes, screen passes. Playaction, double moves, pump fakes. The strange thing is that, having watched Matt Leinart pretty extensively at Southern Cal, he actually has a better pump fake and executes playaction more convincingly than anyone else on the roster. Not bad for a rookie. If the Cardinals are able to take advantage of Chicago's aggressive style of defense, they may have a chance to see some success on offense. They may even want to try faking some misdirection plays (which is just as contrived as it sounds). Early in the game, they should be able to effectively run a reverse or an end-around. If they're able to do so, they can continue to fake the ball to the wide receiver and simply hand the ball to James with modest results. I guarantee that at least one member of Chicago's front four and one member of the back seven will follow the receiver while Edge is busy running down the field. That at least evens the odds a little.
In order to loosen up the defense and hopefully create some viable running lanes, Arizona needs to do exactly what they did last week against the Chiefs: Open the offense up early and keep slinging the ball all over the field. The running game can wait. Make them stop the pass, which is what the Cardinals are better at anyway. If they can't stop the pass, keep throwing it. If the passing game starts to slow down, start running.
The important thing to remember is that the Bears defense is much less daunting when they're off balance. They're young and aggressive and will begin to question themselves if the Cardinals have early success in the passing game. This lack of balance will pay dividends in the third and fourth quarters when Chicago's defenders begin chasing shadows and over pursuing plays that aren't actually there.
The other thing coach Green needs to keep in mind is that this game is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. If the Cardinals are lucky enough to jump out to an early lead like they did in Kansas City, Green needs to keep his foot on the accelerator and not underestimate how dangerous the Bears offense (and, after they create a turnover, the Bears defense) can be.
If a 14-0 lead wasn't safe against the Chiefs and a 21 point lead almost wasn't enough against the 49ers, it most certainly won't be enough against a far superior Chicago Bears team.