Arizona's offense is not as prolific as it was last season, but Larry Fitzgerald is still a force to be dealt with.
There has been plenty of discussion about the state of Arizona’s passing game, but let’s be clear: The Bears will face a significant challenge regardless. Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin’s sprained ankle has made him a question, and quarterback Kurt Warner hasn’t maintained his MVP-caliber pace of a year ago. But both deficiencies are relative. Even if Boldin sits, the Bears would face tough receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. And even though Warner’s production has decreased somewhat, he’s still on pace to throw for 4,375 yards over 16 games. You figure that cornerback Charles Tillman will shadow Fitzgerald on Sunday, but that would leave Zack Bowman to face Boldin or Breaston when and if the Bears use man-to-man coverage. The Cardinals would like that matchup. Finally, safety Danieal Manning’s back injury could throw the Bears’ secondary rotation out of whack. Would that mean more time for cornerback-turned-safety Nathan Vasher?
The Bears won a legendary game at Arizona when the teams met in 2006. Ultimately, the difference was Devin Hester’s 83-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Three years later, the Cardinals’ special teams aren’t quite as vulnerable. Football Outsiders ranks them in the upper half of NFL special teams, but for some reason this still seems like the kind of game where Hester could make a significant impact. Defensively, the Cardinals have given up 21 passes of at least 20 yards.
Last year, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a significant shoulder injury during a 30-21 loss at Tampa Bay. Sunday, he’ll return to Raymond James Stadium already nursing a couple of injuries. Rodgers sat out two days of practice because of a sore toe on his left foot and a sprain in his right foot. He is fully expected to start and play the entire game Sunday, and to this point the Packers aren’t concerned about the injuries. As of Friday, No. 3 quarterback Brian Brohm remained on the practice squad and thus was ineligible for emergency duty. Nevertheless, a pair of injured feet should be of particular concern for a quarterback who already has been sacked an NFL-high 31 times this season. Luckily for Rodgers and the Packers, Tampa Bay has managed only 11 sacks this season -- the third-worst mark in the NFL.
If Mark Tauscher replaces Allen Barbre at right tackle Sunday, as expected, it will create the Packers’ fifth different combination of starting offensive linemen in eight games. Most of the changes have been unavoidably based on injuries, especially to center Jason Spitz and left tackle Chad Clifton. Barbre, on the other hand, has underperformed. But no matter what the reason, he Packers have been undeniably set back by the constant upheaval. More than any other position, good offensive line play requires cohesion that can be achieved only over time. The Packers are nowhere close to that level. I thought the Packers might try to impose rookie T.J. Lang as their new starter at left tackle, but it appears Clifton will get his job back. No matter who the starters are, however, it’s paramount for the Packers to establish some consistency in this lineup, beginning Sunday against the Buccaneers.
Detroit is hoping to get receiver Calvin Johnson back in time for Sunday’s game at Seattle, and there’s little debate what the Lions have been missing. Johnson has been sidelined for two full games, and a good part of a third, because of a knee injury. In the two full games, where opponents presumably game-planned for his replacements, the Lions have averaged 219 offensive yards, 13.5 first downs and five points per contest. In their other five games, they’ve averaged 322 offensive yards, 20 first downs and 20.6 points per contest. Johnson not only is the Lions’ top offensive weapon, but he clearly changes the way opponents have to approach the Lions' offense.