Last week, the Arizona Cardinals snapped a nine-game losing skid by beating the Detroit Lions 38-10. The Cardinals intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, returning two for scores.
The focus of Arizona's defense was Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson. The Cardinals shadowed "Megatron" with cornerback Patrick Peterson on most plays, allowing the second-year defensive back to use his size (6-1, 219) and strength to be physical with Johnson at the line of scrimmage.
Yet Arizona didn't stop there. On a number of occasions, on passing downs when Johnson was lined up in the slot, the Cardinals lined up two defensive backs a few yards across from him. Both defenders used press coverage, bracketing Johnson throughout his route.
Megatron was able to haul in 10 passes for 121 yards, so the Cardinals didn't completely shut him down, but their scheme limited the big play and kept Johnson out of the end zone.
There's no reason to think Arizona won't use the same strategy against Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Coming into Week 16, Marshall led the league in receptions (107) and is second to only Megatron in receiving yardage (1,392). And similar to Detroit's offense with Johnson, Chicago's passing attack starts and ends with Marshall.
The Cardinals know that, if they can limit Marshall in the same way they limited Johnson, they'll have a good shot at winning today's game. Let's break down the game tape to show how Arizona will approach Marshall this afternoon.
Johnson (yellow) lines up in the right slot. The Cardinals place two defenders (blue) directly across from him. Arizona will blitz three linebackers, giving them a five-man rush, with man coverage on both receivers out wide and the tight end.
Johnson runs a crossing pattern but he has two receivers on his back the whole way. This forces Stafford to throw the hitch pattern out wide, a pass that falls incomplete.
Here we have Johnson in the left slot. Again, two defenders are lined up in press coverage across from him, with man coverage out wide.
Johnson runs a fly pattern outside the left seam. He's bumped at the line of scrimmage and then bracketed all the way up the field. Stafford again has to look elsewhere.
Johnson is in the right slot, with two defenders in his face. It's the same look the Cardinals gave in the previous series.
Yet this time, the inside defender slides inside and blitzes at the snap. This leaves Peterson in man coverage with Johnson. The blitz forces Stafford to throw an early pass to Megatron, who is blanketed by Peterson on an out route. The pass falls incomplete.
I fully expect the Cardinals to deploy this same strategy against the Bears and Marshall. When he's in the slot, which is often in Mike Tice's offense, pay attention to how Arizona covers him. If they approach him like a gunner on a punt, like they did Megatron, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is going to have to look elsewhere. This will put extra emphasis on the play of Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett, who have to be able to beat man coverage when Arizona double-teams Marshall.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.