Shining a spotlight on the key players in the Bears’ depressing, soggy 33-22 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday:
Kyler on the run
The Cardinals already were ahead by seven when quarterback Kyler Murray took a shotgun snap from the Bears’ 9 with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter.
On third down, Murray dropped back and was flushed right by Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn racing around the left edge. The Cardinals, who had lined up in an empty set, had all five receivers run routes into the end zone, where they were covered by seven Bears defenders.
Murray’s scramble turned into a full-on sprint when he turned the corner at the 18 and pointed toward the right pylon. By the time he pump-faked at the 15, five of the Bears’ seven players in coverage were still in the end zone. The one who wasn’t was on the opposite hash mark.
It wasn’t until Murray got to the 5 that two defenders sprinted forward: cornerback Jaylon Johnson and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree. Neither could even touch Murray as he slipped into the end zone past the right pylon.
“He had a few plays, a couple of scrambles, where we’re in man coverage, and he got on the outside,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “There’s techniques involved with the defensive end and the linebacker and how they play levels, and I feel like we were OK with that yesterday. There were times we were really good, and there were times where they took advantage of it.”
When the Bears interviewed defensive coordinators last offseason, they were struck by how many talked about the ultimate defensive challenge: stopping mobile quarterbacks. Murray’s athleticism was on full display after missing the previous three games because of an ankle injury. He ran 10 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns, saving his scrambles for moments when the Cardinals needed them the most. Five of his 10 runs came on third downs or for touchdowns.
Montgomery catching on
Running back David Montgomery had eight catches — his previous season high was three — and a season-high 51 receiving yards. The Bears made a concerted effort to throw his way.
“The thing with David is, very rarely do you see the first guy make the tackle — in the run game and the pass game,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. “I think that that’s a nice security blanket for [quarterback Andy Dalton], knowing that if you do check the ball down, there’s a good chance you’re going to get positive yards.”
The Cardinals’ strategy was rooted in game flow — one of Montgomery’s catches came in the first quarter, after which the Bears were chasing points, and the Cardinals were playing more conservative coverage.
“Defensively, they were getting some depth,” running backs coach Michael Pitre said.
Long drives — based on runs and checkdowns to Montgomery — were counterproductive because they drained the clock with the Bears behind. But it was the only way the team could score.
On the Bears’ 13-play scoring drive in the second quarter, Montgomery touched the ball nine times — on seven runs, including a one-yarder for a touchdown, and two catches.
On the Bears’ 13-play scoring drive in the third quarter, Montgomery touched the ball 10 times — on five runs, four catches and a direct snap in which he handed the ball off to Jakeem Grant on a trick play.
Nagy reached into the past for inspiration, citing two former Chargers: quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
“Philip Rivers is one of the greatest ever at checking the ball down and getting a lot of yards because he’s smart, just taking what the defense gives you,” Nagy said. “And LT would catch the ball on a little checkdown, and before you know it, you look at the stat line, he’s got 12 targets, he’s got 12 catches for 95 yards.
“I think that’s what yesterday was. It was one of those days. When David gets the football one-on-one, he’s usually going to get forward yards.”
Jaylon in coverage
On fourth-and-two, DeAndre Hopkins was the only Cardinals receiver to line up to the right. Johnson pressed him in man coverage. Hopkins released outside and stiff-armed him with his left hand. Murray threw a perfect pass over his right shoulder, and Hopkins caught the ball at the 1, getting two feet down before falling out of bounds on the side of the end zone to go up 7-0.
On 19 coverage snaps, Johnson allowed only one catch: the touchdown.
In his first game in five weeks because of a hamstring injury, Hopkins tied season lows with two catches and two targets. His 32 receiving yards were his second-fewest this season.
Entering the game, Johnson was on alert for Hopkins’ lying eyes.
Hopkins does a better job than most of masking when the ball is in the air, keeping the defensive back guessing as to when it will arrive.
“He has a tremendous catch radius,” Johnson said last week, “being able to track the ball and make tough catches.”