Here are four questions as the Bears prepare to play the Cardinals, whom they’ve beaten four times in five chances in the Valley of the Sun:
How many sacks for Khalil Mack?
The Cardinals were concerned about blocking the Bears’ new pass rusher all week.
Friday, they ruled out the man tasked with doing just that: veteran right tackle Andre Smith, who has an elbow injury.
Taking the place of Smith, who has played 100 games in the NFL, will be backup John Wetzel, who has played 20.
Earlier this week, Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Smith was “smart in understanding how to counter” some of Mack’s moves. Wetzel, though, has never faced him.
Expect the Cardinals to do what the Seahawks attempted Monday — use a tight end to chip Mack at the line of scrimmage.
“A guy of his caliber is going to attract extra guys,” Wilks said.
Will the Bears overlook the Cardinals?
No team has scored fewer points than the Cardinals, who have six in two games. Only seven teams have allowed more than their 58 points.
Considering the woes of the previous five years, the Bears have vowed not to be overconfident.
“I’ve been there before — it’s no fun,” Kyle Long said of the Cardinals. “The only thing you’re focused on doing is winning the game.”
Coach Matt Nagy said it’s “way too early to worry about somebody’s record,” but Long acknowledged the momentum the Bears have entering the game.
“There’s a lot of people looking at this game as a big crossroads for us,” he said. “And I’m sure it’s the same thing being said in their locker room.”
Halftime hot tip
Since the middle of 2015, the Bears have had nine chances to follow a victory with another one — and have failed eight times. The only winner: Oct. 22, 2017, against the Panthers at Soldier Field, when the Bears scored two defensive touchdowns in the first 18 minutes.
Can Taylor Gabriel block?
Gabriel’s playing time has almost doubled since he left the Falcons for the Bears.
In two games, the receiver has played 123 snaps — or 90 percent of the Bears’ plays.
Last year, he played 540 — or 52 percent of the Falcons’ downs.
“He’s never really been in that No. 1, No. 2 role before as a wide receiver,” Nagy said. “He’s understanding now that there’s a lot more plays and a lot more accountability.”
While Nagy wants to use Gabriel’s speed as a weapon — he has nine catches for 55 yards and three runs for 17 — there’s more to playing receiver than what you do with the ball.
“That’s code for, ‘Runs are just as important as passes for receivers,’ ” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said.
Gabriel, who is 5-8, said his lack of height actually helps him cut-block defenders. He said he has been studying offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s blocking points during meetings.
“When he’s up there and he’s putting in the run plays, we’re paying attention,” he said.
What’s the next trick formation?
In the season opener, Nagy split left tackle Charles Leno out as a receiver, then ran Mitch Trubisky behind the man who took Leno’s place, tight end Dion Sims, for a touchdown.
In Week 2, Nagy split Trubisky out wide and put tight end Trey Burton, who was recruited in college as a quarterback, in the shotgun.
Nagy said the formations have a strategic purpose, but they also keep things “a little bit light and fun” for the players. Nagy admits that he’s more apt to try such things than most coaches.
“When they work, you’re the best coach in the world,” he said. “And when they don’t, you’re the worst coach in the world.”
Receiver Allen Robinson, who joked he can throw, said that trick formations can be fun, but players respect them when they’re successful.
“It’s unusual,” he said, “but it works.”