|ESPN.com: Chicago Bears||[Print without images]|
|Jay Cutler is coming off poor performances in back-to-back games, and if the Arizona Cardinals find a way to take away Brandon Marshall, the quarterback could wind up with his third bad game in a row. Cutler has averaged 5.9 and 6.4 yards per completion over his past two games. That’s not going to get a victory for the Chicago Bears. Still, he’s a much better player than the Cardinals’ expected starter, Ryan Lindley. Lindley has completed 51.1 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and six interceptions to go with a passer rating of 45.0 in three games.|| |
|Cardinals running back Beanie Wells seems to be on a hot streak, scoring five TDs in his past two home games, but LaRod Stephens-Howling actually leads the team in rushing (338 yards). With that duo basically splitting carries this season, the Cardinals rank last in the NFL in rushing (80 yards per game). For the Bears, Matt Forte has eclipsed 100 yards rushing just twice. But Forte averages 4.3 yards per carry, which means he’s underused. With Michael Bush now on injured reserve, the Bears brought in Kahlil Bell to handle some of the short-yardage responsibilities.|
|This game features two of the NFL’s best receivers in the Bears’ Marshall and the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald boasts more career receptions than 15 of the 21 receivers in the Hall of Fame and more career receiving yards than 14 of them. But Fitzgerald hasn’t been productive lately because of issues at quarterback. Marshall, meanwhile, has finished with 92 receiving yards or more in three of his past four games and leads the NFL in receptions (107). The Cardinals get the edge here because of the productivity of Andre Roberts, who has scored more TDs than Fitzgerald in addition to gaining more receiving yards.|
|Arizona’s quarterbacks have taken a combined 52 sacks, and the Cardinals rank last in the NFL in rushing. That points to ineptitude on an offensive line that has used five combinations of starters thus far. Chicago’s offensive line, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as Arizona’s despite all the struggles the group has endured, ranging from one player leaving the team after taking a demotion to another being lost for the season on an illegal hit. Chicago’s problems on offense can pretty much be traced back to the offensive line. But for once, the Bears will line up with a better group of blockers than their opposition.|
|Defensive end Julius Peppers is coming off solid performances in back-to-back games (two sacks, four quarterback pressures), and the Bears expect defensive tackle Henry Melton to return to the lineup after missing last week’s game with a clavicle injury. Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin is also expected to return this week. So the Bears will be almost back to full strength, which bodes well for the team considering its situation. Arizona DT Darnell Dockett has been one of the league’s most dominant inside defenders throughout his career (36 career sacks), but DE Calais Campbell is the defensive line’s top sack producer (4.5 sacks) this season.|
|Daryl Washington leads the Cardinals with 120 tackles and is one sack away from becoming the first player in franchise history (and just the fourth ILB in NFL history) to generate at least 10 sacks in a season since sacks became an official statistic. Quentin Groves, meanwhile, appears to be experiencing a career resurgence, having posted six tackles or more in four of his last five games, and Paris Lenon has racked up 95 tackles. The Bears expect Geno Hayes to return to the lineup to play opposite Lance Briggs (24 tackles over the past two weeks) and Nick Roach.
|Safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes give the Cardinals a physical presence on the back end, while Patrick Peterson brings a playmaking dynamic. Ranked No. 2 in the NFL in INTs (7), Peterson has intercepted a pass in four consecutive games. William Gay starts at corner opposite Peterson, and has picked off two passes this season in addition to forcing a pair of fumbles. The Bears expect the return of NFL INT leader Tim Jennings (8 picks) opposite takeaway machine Charles Tillman. Major Wright and Chris Conte haven’t come up with a turnover in recent weeks, but they’ve been solid.
|Devin Hester put together his best return game of the season last week in the loss to the Packers, averaging 31.5 yards on kickoff returns and 14 on punt returns. So with the team’s back against the wall in a must-win situation, maybe it’s now time for Hester to bust a return for a TD. The Bears lost Robbie Gould for the season, but Olindo Mare made both of his field goal attempts in relief last week. Adam Podlesh seems to be playing well, too. But Chicago will be tested by Peterson, who has scored TDs on four punt returns since 2011. Arizona has also led the NFL in blocked field goals in each of the past three seasons.|
|Both Ken Whisenhunt and Lovie Smith seem to be in situations where they’re coaching for their jobs over the final two weeks of the regular season. Smith has experienced late-season collapses in two consecutive seasons, but the Bears remain in contention for a berth in the playoffs. Whisenhunt’s team started the season 4-0 before losing nine of the last 10. So while it may seem like the Cardinals don’t have anything to play for, they proved in a 38-10 win over the Lions last week that’s simply not the case.|
|The Bears need to pound Arizona’s 28th-ranked rush defense with a heavy dose of Forte, and then hit some throws off play-action. Chicago’s defense should stuff the running game of the Cardinals, which averages 80 yards per game. If the Bears do that, they’ll force Arizona into a passing game, which plays to their favor considering the Cardinals’ ineptitude at quarterback. It’s almost a given that the Cardinals will look to shut down Marshall, and as usual, the club’s supporting cast at receiver likely won’t step up to fill the void. But none of that will matter if the Bears get Forte going.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 23, Cardinals 10|