Lesson learned? Defense will be measured vs. Carson Palmer on Sunday

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Carson Palmer was outstanding in the Cardinals’ 31-19 victory over the Saints last week — 19-of-32 for 307 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 122.8 rating. (Rick Scuteri/AP)

The Bears gave all due respect to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, whose late-career rejuvenation under coach Bruce Arians can’t be denied: Palmer is 14-2 in his last 16 starts, with a 97.6 passer rating (30 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and nine games with a 100-plus passer rating.

But regardless of good or efficient Palmer has been, he’s not Aaron Rodgers, which gives the Bears a fighting chance when they face the Cardinals on Sunday at Soldier Field.

You had to review the game on videotape to see just how good Rodgers was last week against the Bears — his ability to avoid pressure and turn escapes into opportunity; his inventiveness with the ball; and most of all his incredible pin-point accuracy, putting the ball where only his receiver had a chance for it, that made even the best coverage useless. Rodgers made at least five throws that no more than two or three other quarterbacks in the league can make — without making a mistake.

Even in live action, Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman noted that we were witnessing an MVP at the height of his powers — his confidence and body language, everything about Rodgers painted a picture of a master at work. His 7.0 rating by Pro Football Focus — easily the best in the NFL last week — was better than any single game during his MVP season last year.

For a Bears secondary that is as nondescript as it has been since before Charles Tillman was drafted, it was a beating, but also a lesson learned.

“No question,” said cornerback Alan Ball, who was victimized by two of Rodgers’ three touchdown passes — one of them despite outstanding coverage. “Aaron Rodgers is one of the best in the game. When he’s playing at his best — he was playing at a high level on Sunday — I think that makes us elevate our game to the next level.

“I learned from it. Corrected something I saw. And hopefully if I see that play again this year, I’m going to be make it.”

For what their worth, performance ratings by Pro Football Focus illustrate how much better the Bears secondary was against Rodgers. In three games against him in Mel Tucker’s defense, the Bears’ secondary has a combined PFF rating of -9.7, -7.0 and -5.7. On Sunday — with the Packers missing Jordy Nelson — it was -1.7. That’s not bad for a secondary that has virtually no identity outside of safety Antrel Rolle’s three Pro Bowls.

“He’s definitely one of the most accurate, if not the most accurate quarterback in the league,” Rolle said. “He throws extremely well on the run. And he made some perfect throws. If that’s how they were going to beat us, so be it. We battled. We fought to the end and were real close to [winning]. Unfortunately we came up short. But it’s not going to stop us from climbing.”

Is it? That will be worth watching Sunday at Soldier Field — a good indicator of what kind of progress the Bears’ defense is making under Vic Fangio. If the Bears’ defend Palmer as well as they defended Rodgers, they should get better results. If they’re actually getting better.

“As far as talent level, they’re both 1-0 right now,” Jared Allen said when asked about Rodgers vs. Palmer. “They both looked pretty darn good on Sunday.”

That’s all well and good. But we all know that Carson Palmer is not Aaron Rodgers. It’s up to the Bears’ defense to show us the difference.

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