Chicago Bears: Arizona Cardinals
Week 16 Report Card: Chicago Bears 28, Arizona Cardinals 13
Too bad we didn't see more of it since Matt Forte suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter that knocked him out of the game. Forte rushed for 88 yards on 12 attempts. That's right, he averaged almost 7.5 yards per carry. The Bears also received strong contributions from Armando Allen and Kahlil Bell. The offensive line blocked better, but the group still didn't open up the holes as well as it needs to in the season finale and in the playoffs if they make it. Forte seems to be gaining the majority of his yardage outside and on off-tackle runs. He needs to be gaining more up the middle, and the offensive line needs to make that possible.
Jay Cutler missed on his first six passes and finished the game having completed worse than 50 percent of his throws. Still the quarterback deserves credit for hitting five in a row late in the second quarter before capping an 80-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall. This grade should probably be a "D." But Cutler gets credit for remaining patient and bouncing back to make some clutch throws during the two-minute warning in the second quarter. Cutler also completed passes to receivers not named Marshall for a change, and the offensive line held the Cardinals to only one sack.
There's not a ton to say here. The Bears dominated in this category. Cardinals leading rusher LaRod Stephens-Howling carried the ball 11 times for 20 yards. As a team, Arizona finished with 29 yards on 19 attempts. That's not what you'd call winning football by the Cardinals, who gained just 7 yards on their longest run of the day. What's more is Chicago played Sunday without defensive tackle Henry Melton. So the Bears weren't at full strength on Sunday, but still managed to get it done.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the game's best receivers. So it wasn't a surprise to see him finish with 111 yards on eight receptions. The Bears kept Fitzgerald from putting points on the board, and the longest completion they gave up all day went for a 24-yard gain. Charles Tillman picked off Ryan Lindley and scored on a 10-yard INT return. Kelvin Hayden picked off another Arizona pass. Findley and his replacement Brian Hoyer each threw interceptions, and suffered two sacks apiece in addition to finishing with passer ratings of 55 and 51.4, respectively.
Special teams coach Dave Toub won't be pleased about the unit giving up an 82-yard touchdown on a blocked field goal. The Bears stuffed Arizona on a fake field-goal attempt, but muffed a couple of punts, including one that bounced off D.J. Moore (although Devin Hester seemed to be responsible) and gave the Cardinals possession at the Chicago 36-yard line in the second quarter. Hester averaged just 6 yards on punt returns, but managed to take a kickoff 40 yards. Adam Podlesh finished with a 40.3-yard net average and knocked three punts inside the Arizona 20.
Despite a week of controversy ranging from Brian Urlacher's remarks about fans to questions about the job security of the coaches, Chicago's staff prepared the team well for a long trip out West in the face of difficult circumstances and a must-win situation. It also says something about the staff to see the Bears continue to compete hard even though they need help to get into the postseason. The Bears returned to their habit of forcing takeaways on defense, and the offense executed better (just a little) than it had been in recent outings.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Bears exorcised discussions of doom-and-gloom for at least another week Sunday by destroying the Arizona Cardinals 28-13 on the strength of a pair of defensive touchdowns from Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman to snap a three-game slide, while keeping alive flimsy playoff hopes.
Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall in the second quarter, and running back Matt Forte rushed for his fourth TD of the season, in addition to averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
But it wasn't all smooth. The club lost Forte (ankle) and safety Chris Conte (hamstring) in the third quarter with injuries. The team didn't immediately disclose the severity of the injuries, and it's unknown whether they'll affect the availability of Forte and Conte for the Dec. 30 season finale at Detroit.
Still looking to snag one of the remaining playoff seeds, the Bears need their full arsenal of weaponry on hand next week against a Lions team that will look to play the spoiler role.
Let's take a closer look:
What it means: The Bears remain in contention for a spot in the playoffs, but the Minnesota Vikings made the road difficult by defeating the Houston Texans 23-6. With the New York Giants losing to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14, the Bears get into the playoffs next week if they defeat the Lions and the Vikings fall at Green Bay.
The only other way Bears can advance to the postseason is if the Seattle Seahawks fall Sunday night to the San Francisco 49ers, and then lose again in their season finale on Dec. 30 against the St. Louis Rams.
Scoring D: Bowman's recovery of a Beanie Wells in the end zone gave Chicago its eighth touchdown of the season, and Tillman tacked on No. 9 when he picked off a Ryan Lindley pass intended for Andre Roberts and skipped in for a 10-yard TD that made the score 28-10 after Olindo Mare's extra point.
Tillman's INT return helped the Bears tie the record for interception touchdowns set in 1998 by the Seattle Seahawks (9). In all, the Bears have scored nine touchdowns on defense this season and the club is one shy of the 10 total return TDs generated by the '98 Seahawks (eight INT return scores, two fumble recovery return TDs).
The nine TDs surpasses the team record set in 1992 (three interception return TDs and four fumble returns).
The Bears now own a 21-2 record in games they scored a TD on defense, including 6-0 under those circumstances this season. The defense now has 40 takeaways on the season.
Peppers performs: Julius Peppers generated three sacks in a game for the first time since 2010 on Sunday by dropping Lindley twice and Brian Hoyer once in Sunday's victory. Peppers contributed 1.5 sacks against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 28, but finished with two more sacks in a game just once all season.
The performance by Peppers on Sunday marked just the third time since 2008 the veteran finished a game with three sacks.
Peppers sacked Hoyer for a 6-yard loss in the fourth quarter, and swatted the ball loose before the quarterback recovered at the Chicago 40 to set up an Arizona punt.
Closing in on 1,000: Forte delayed reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the third time in his career when he suffered a third-quarter right ankle injury. He needs just 9 yards Sunday at Detroit to accomplish the milestone. Forte rushed for 88 yards in a little more than two quarters of action against the Cardinals, and averaged 7.3 yards on 12 attempts.
Forte last reached 1,000 yards rushing in 2010, and fell 3 yards short in 2011 when he reached 997 yard before suffering a knee injury that knocked him out of the final four games.
Not named Marshall: Yes, Cutler completed a few balls to receivers not named Marshall against the Cardinals. Coming off a loss to the Packers in which he didn't complete a pass to any other receiver outside of Marshall, Cutler made connections with rookie Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett. The quarterback also completed passes to tight end Kellen Davis, Forte and Armando Allen.
What's next: Given the team's mounting injuries, the Bears likely will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to the practice field Wednesday to start preparing for Sunday's season finale against the Lions.
Conte hurt the hamstring late in the second quarter when he got tangled up with Arizona tight end Rob Housler on a short fade right in the corner of the end zone. The pass was ruled incomplete but Conte remained on the sideline for the Bears' final defensive series of the half and later ruled out for the rest of the game.
Second-year player Anthony Walters replaced Conte at free safety.
The Bears lost reserve safety Craig Steltz two weeks ago when he tore a pectoral tendon that required surgery to repair. Steltz was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 11.
Conte started all 15 games for the Bears this year despite dislocating his shoulder in the preseason.
Granted the opponent is a hapless Cardinals squad, but the Bears flashed a portion of their typical formula for success: takeaways (Zack Bowman's fumble recovery for a touchdown in the first quarter) on defense, and efficiency with the rushing attack (Matt Forte scored a touchdown, and averaged 7.7 yards per attempt).
Predictably, though, the Bears' passing attack mostly short-circuited in the first half. That facet of the game involved only Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall for the majority of the half, before the quarterback finally completed a pass at the 1:45 mark of the second half to Alshon Jeffery, followed by another completion to Earl Bennett. Cutler didn't complete his second pass of the contest until the 2-minute warning, after starting the game 1 of 11 for 30 yards.
Cutler closed the half with five consecutive completions and capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring strike to Marshall with 19 seconds remaining.
Let's look at how the Bears might attack in the second half.
CHICAGO BEARS at ARIZONA CARDINALSWhen: 3:25 p.m. Sunday | TV: FOX, locally: Ch. 32, WFLD-TV
RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM; WLEY (107.9 FM)
CHICAGO BEARS (8-6)
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 82-66
Career record (including playoffs) vs. Ken Whisenhunt: 0-1 | Career record vs. Cardinals: 1-1
Last week: Lost to Green Bay Packers 21-13.
Key stat:Since advancing to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season, the Bears have posted a regular-season record of 12-15 during the months of Dec. and Jan., and counting the current season, are 1-7 during those months over the last two years. The Bears are also 5-9 over the last two seasons when the opponent scores first and they’re 1-6 over that same span when they trail at the half.
Offense rank: 29th (305.9 ypg) | Defense rank: Fifth (319.6 ypg).
Offensive leader: The NFL leader in receptions (107), Brandon Marshall called for more accountability on the offensive side of the ball after last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. He seemed to be one of the few on the team with the credibility to do it, given he’s put together seven 100-yard receiving games this season, and is tied for third in the NFL in touchdown catches (10).
Defensive leader: Cornerback Charles Tillman forced his 10th fumble of the season against the Packers to establish a single-season career high in that category. With Tim Jennings slowed by injury and the offense struggling, Tillman needs to continue to take away the ball to give this team as many opportunities as possible to score points. Tillman ranks among the top to since 2003 in INTs (32), INT return yards (596), INT return TDs (7), forced fumbles (39) and pass breakups (123).
Jay Cutler hasn’t put together a 300-yard passing game in 15 consecutive outings, and he’s thrown three INTs in his last two starts.
Matt Forte hasn’t put together a 100-yard rushing performance in six consecutive games.
Marshall has caught a touchdown pass in two consecutive games, in addition to finishing with 160 yards or more receiving in two of the last three contests.
The defense has allowed opposing offenses to convert 41.2 percent or better on third down in three consecutive games.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-9)
Coach: Ken Whisenhunt | Record: 49-51
Career head-to-head record vs. Smith: 1-0 | Career record vs. Bears: 1-0
Last week: Defeated the Detroit Lions 38-10.
Key stat: The Cardinals rank first in the NFL in INTs (22), and are holding opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 68.0 passer rating. With 32 total takeaways, the Cardinals rank fourth in the NFL behind Chicago, New England and the New York Giants. Interestingly, the Cardinals have generated 16 of their takeaways (13 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries) over the past five games.
Offense rank: 32nd (264.2 ypg) | Defense rank: 11th (335.8 ypg).
Offensive leader: Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has caught more passes than 15 of the 21 receivers in the Hall of Fame, and has generated more receiving yards than 14 of the 21 receivers in the Hall. Despite Fitzgerald’s gaudy career numbers, he hasn’t hauled in a touchdown reception since Nov. 4.
Defensive leader: Cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off his seventh pass of the season last week against the Detroit Lions, and he now ranks No. 2 in the league in INTs behind the Bears’ Jennings. Peterson has picked off a pass in four consecutive games, and is the first Cardinal since Aeneas Williams in 1994 to accomplish that feat.
The Cardinals have sold out 73 consecutive games at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Beanie Wells has run for five touchdowns in his last two home games.
With nine sacks, Daryl Washington needs just one more to become the fourth inside linebacker in NFL history to post at least 10 sacks in a season.
However, if the Bears take control of the game early, they need to consider sitting Jennings and Melton as soon as possible for what should be a physical regular-season finale on Dec. 30 in Detroit.
Jennings and Melton are two of the club’s best defensive players, and the Bears will need them in order to win at Detroit, and in the playoffs.
The Bears might also consider similar moves with players such as quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and receiver Brandon Marshall if they can find a way to take early control over the Cardinals.
As banged up as the Bears already are, they need to avoid further attrition. At the same time, they need to win at all costs, which is why it’s important to dominate early.
“We’ve got 15 [or] 16 days left [before the opener]. So we’ve got to make the most of that,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We need to clean this up as much as possible, and get everything dialed in because it seems like sometimes things are hitting on all cylinders, and other times, they’re not; which is gonna be the case when you put in a new offense, and guys are being a little bit uptight about making mistakes.
"We’ve just got to relax and go out and play. With the talent we have and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Martz] calling plays, we’re gonna be hard to stop if we’re cooking.”
Cutler and the team’s offense sit in the deep freeze marinating on Saturday night’s woeful performance, in which the quarterback took four sacks, threw two interceptions and finished with a 31 passer rating. Cutler shares in the blame for what transpired against the Cardinals, but the breakdowns manifested themselves on all levels.
Although protection improved somewhat, Cutler still took four sacks. The quarterback and the receivers weren’t on the same page either, as Cutler seemed hesitant with his reads, in addition to showing a lack of comfort in the pocket, which he attributed to being somewhat shell shocked from taking five sacks the week before against the Oakland Raiders.
In practice, Cutler typically lets the ball fly blindly -- trusting in Martz’s system, which calls for the receiver to get to a designated spot -- at the end of his drop. Against the Cardinals, the quarterback seemed to wait until he actually saw receivers break open, which led to late throws resulting in incompletions and interceptions.
“The starters knew we were going to play a lot, and we didn’t play how we wanted to,” receiver Johnny Knox said. “That’s how it goes in football; everything isn’t going to go your way.”
Knox broke toward the sideline on the opening drive, with Cutler throwing the ball late and inside to Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for an interception. Cutler completed just three passes to Knox for 57 yards (including a 41-yard strike), despite targeting him eight times.
Cutler’s second INT came on an under-thrown ball -- also thrown late -- intended for Devin Aromashodu.
“There were a few issues [with miscommunication with the receivers],” Cutler said.
Even the team’s equipment broke down.
Cutler’s helmet communicator malfunctioned in the first half, leading to problems relaying the plays between Martz and the huddle. Teams typically make contingency plans for such emergencies (such as use of hand signals), but it’s clear the Bears didn’t.
The Bears also admitted to a lack of preparation for some of the looks the Cardinals’ secondary gave, which would seem to be an issue considering how close the Bears are to opening the regular season.
“We still have yet to really put in a whole game plan, and really lock down what we’re gonna do offensively against a defense like tonight,” Cutler said. “They did some stuff that I don’t think we were really ready for. They went to a lot of single-high [safety coverages] against us, and we were unprepared for that, which is an excuse. You’ve still got to make corrections and make [adjustments] on the fly.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith seconded that thought, adding that his team hasn’t made enough strides toward shoring up the requisite basics of winning football.
“Everything we do is about getting ready for Detroit, but of course we’re not gonna [show too much of the offense in the preseason],” Smith said. “That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about right now -- blocking, tackling, those kinds of things -- it doesn’t matter what the scheme is or what we game-planned. We should be playing better ball with some of the basic fundamentals of football.”
Smith is correct. In 36 snaps, the first-team offense generated two turnovers, 155 yards and failed to convert in its only trip to the red zone. After making halftime adjustments, the starting offense lost 11 yards in three plays on its final drive of the night before punting.
“We’re not ready for prime time yet. But we will get there,” Smith said. “These problems that we’re having right now -- whether it’s mental or just not being able to make plays -- we see where we are as a football team. We have time still. Right now, that’s about all we can give you.”
Clearly, that’s not enough.
Read the entire story.
The former Bears standout visited the Arizona Cardinalson Friday, according to ESPN.com's John Clayton.
Unfortunately for Brown, Arizona may not be the best fit considering the Cardinals have Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes and Matt Ware on the roster, but the former second-round pick out of Nebraska proved he could still play last season.
Brown, who originally hails from Scottsdale, Ariz., had 103 tackles and three interceptions for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, participating in all 16 regular season games for the first time since 2003.
The reason for Brown's demise with the Bears was two-fold; he no longer possessed the quickness to cover at free safety, while lacking the durability to line up for extended periods of time at strong safety.
But there was one thing you never questioned when it came to Brown, and that was his leadership, although his blunt criticisms of the Bears' poor play over the years occasionally rubbed a few teammates the wrong way.
The Arizona Cardinals officially released safety Antrel Rolle on Thursday to avoid paying a $4 million roster bonus and the $8.1 million salary Rolle was set to earn in the final year of his rookie contract.
The Bears are expected to make a serious run at Rolle, even though Arizona will make re-signing Rolle one of their “top free-agent priorities", according to the team's official Web site.
Rolle is eligable to sign with any of the 32 NFL teams, and will not be affected by the league's final eight rule.
Rolle wrote on his blog at Playerpress.com that he expects to be on the phone quite a bit in the coming days.
"I'm leaving myself open to all markets right now," he wrote. "I will be looking for teams with certain defensive schemes and teams that have a good reputation as far as how the organization is run. But right now I am willing to listen to anyone."
Rolle also said he's willing and able to play anywhere in a defensive backfield for whichever team signs him.
"I don't consider myself just a safety now since I switched over from cornerback," he wrote. "I can play all over, return punts, play some on offense. I really just consider myself an athlete more than a position player."