Bears vs. Cardinals: What to Watch 4
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Cardinals defensive end Markus Golden is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 4 last year — reuniting the bookend tandem of Golden and Chandler Jones that helped the 2016 Cardinals lead the league in sacks per pass play.
Golden was third in the NFL with 12½ sacks that year, and Jones — the former Patriots Pro Bowl selection drafted two picks after Shea McClellin in 2012 — added 11. With Golden out last year, Jones led the NFL with 17½ sacks. Mitch Trubisky has struggled at times to make plays under pressure, so a second standout pass rusher could be a problem.
That puts the onus — mostly, anyway — on Bears offensive tackles Charles Leno Jr. (vs. Jones) and Bobby Massie (vs. Golden) to raise their game to the appropriate level and keep the heat off Trubisky. So far, they’ve been mostly effective — and pass protection obviously is a team effort — but keeping Trubisky clean looks like the best way to maximize his effectiveness at this stage.
On paper, this is a mismatch in the first half: The Cardinals have been outscored 40-0; the Bears have outscored their opponents 27-3.
The Bears’ defense has allowed 150 yards on 56 plays (2.7 average) in the first half, the fewest yards allowed in the NFL. The Cardinals’ offense has gained 96 yards on 32 carries (3.0 average) in the first two quarters — the fewest in the league — and has yet to cross midfield in the first half.
Players to watch
While Khalil Mack’s impact has been immediate, rookie linebacker Roquan Smith figures to blossom in a defense that suddenly has multiple playmakers.
After playing eight snaps in the opener against the Packers, Smith started for the first time in the NFL and played 59 snaps against the Seahawks. He had seven tackles and broke up a pass.
“[Smith was] kind of put in a spot real quick,” Mack said. “But I think he handled it well with the amount that was given to him. It’s tough in that situation, but he’s got a good mind, and he works his tail off, and his speed was felt out there as well as his ability to make plays. We keep making that stuff, we’re going to be all right.”
With the momentum of the Mack-infused defense against a struggling Cardinals offense, the Bears (-5½) are venturing into relatively new territory as road favorites. The last time they were bigger favorites on the road was in 2012, when the Bears (8-6) were seven-point favorites against the Cardinals (5-9). They won, and covered, 28-13 in the next-to-last game of the Lovie Smith era.
The Bears took care of business at Soldier Field against the Seahawks last week. Even against an apparently inferior opponent, doing it on the road will be a fair measuring stick for this team.