Cards Drop Bears 23-16


Posted Aug 26, 2006


In the all-important third preseason game, the Cardinals showed that they can play with the big boys by upsetting the Bears 23-16 in Chicago. Yet in a game where nearly everything went right, there were several red (and yellow) flags indicating that all may not be peachy in the desert.

The Offense

It's easy to look at all of the points that the Cardinals put up against last year's top defense and conclude that the Cardinal offense is rolling.  A closer look weakens one's resolve.  The Cardinals' first touchdown drive was extended by a bogus pass interference call on Bears' backup DB Dante Wesley.  The field goal at the end of the first half was made possible by a 4th down attempt that the Bears would have never gone for in the regular season.  And Arizona's final touchdown score against the first string defense came courtesy of Antrel Rolle's field-shortening interception.

Basically, the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage early.  Any running back not named Barry Sanders would have had the same success that Edgerrin James had on his three carries because there simply wasn't anywhere to go.  But after Chicago DE Alex Brown left the game with a dislocated shoulder, JJ Arrington was able to take advantage and exhibit some of the best running he's done in a Cardinals uniform.

The line play was an even bigger factor in the passing game, as Kurt Warner was pressured, sacked, and had a couple of balls batted away at the line of scrimmage.  However, he was able to scramble away in a couple of instances in which he was pressured, something we haven't seen from him in a while.  This may indicate that Kurt is finally 100% healthy after battling injuries for several years now.

Matt Leinart came in and did not look like a QB with just under two weeks of NFL practices under his belt.  He was poised, accurate, and even showed some scrambling ability of his own.  His 15-for-21 in completions should come with an asterisk, however.  When you take away his 6-for-6 at the end of the first half with the Bears playing an incredibly soft, near-prevent defense, Leinart's completion percentage drops to a mortal 60%.  Even more ominous was Leinart's one pass attempt of over 20 yards; the ball was so badly under-thrown that you had to wonder why the Bears were playing him soft at all.

Bryant Johnson had a fantastic game at wideout, as did Anquan Boldin, but we've come to expect that from him.  Larry Fitzgerald left us shaking our heads when he whined to an official after a pass that he clearly trapped was called incomplete.  He then flung the football across the field in an act that would have cost the Cards 15 yards in a regular season game.  He did later atone a bit by catching the longest pass of Leinart's 2-minute drill at the end of the first half.

The Defense

It's hard to know just how to feel about the team's defensive play in this one.  On one hand, the Bears' first string offense was able to put up just six points.  On the other, it was easily the best start so far by Rex Grossman, suggesting that the Cardinals defense might be a step or two behind San Diego's or (gulp) San Francisco's.  On one hand, Brian Griese carved up the second string defense like a Thanksgiving turkey.  On the other, he's done that all preseason, and it's not heartbreaking to see your second-string defense give ground when staked to a big lead.

The biggest problem was lack of pressure on the quarterback.  One sack by Calvin Pace and one tipped pass that was nearly intercepted by Calvin Pace is all that the D-line was able to do against the passing game.  They were far more successful against the run, however, containing well enough to limit all rushing plays but a sneaky end around to under 10 yards.  Gerald Hayes punctuated the effort with a tackle for a big loss in the second quarter.

Given the embarrassing lack of pressure against a so-so offensive line, it's extremely impressive the way that the secondary was able to stay with the Bears' receivers.  They were never able to get much separation, just good positioning, even after some five-second looks.  Antrel Rolle did get beat badly twice, but he flagrantly tackled the would-be receiver once and illegally contacted another time to limit the damage on those burns.  He also atoned nicely with his pick, which was simply a beautiful read.

Rolle wasn't the only naughty Bird, as several offsides and holding calls totaled 94 yards lost on penalties for Arizona, and there were others that were either missed or declined.  The Bears, however, were just as shaky with the refs, committing 13 penalties of their own.  Arizona had the second-most penalties in the NFL last year, a trend that doesn't appear to be dissipating, and a bad habit that they won't always get away with like they did in this game.

Special Teams

Scott Player had a 56-yard punt, Neil Rackers belted a touchback nine yards deep in the endzone, and he and Nick Novak each hit long field goals with plenty of room to spare.  It's exciting to consider the possibilities of a Neil Rackers in a domed stadium.

On the negative side, Player's first punt was partially blocked, his second one nearly blocked, and that 56-yard punt was returned for 19 yards by second-rounder Devin Hester.  This is another case of line play favoring Chicago, but overall you've got to like what we're seeing from the special teams.

Final Word

Despite the final score, Arizona did not really outplay Chicago in this game.  The important lesson to take from this is that they didn't need to.  In a ridiculously tough third place schedule, the Cardinals must face these Bears, the Seahawks twice, Atlanta, KC, Dallas, and Denver.  There's absolutely no way that the Cardinals are going to outplay all seven of these opponents, and it's frankly unlikely that they'll outplay the majority of them.  But if they can hang with the tough teams enough to catch some breaks, they'll win several of those games.  Then there would be enough scrubs on the remainder of the schedule to propel these Cardinals to a playoff berth.

On the other side of the coin, there's also cause for concern.  The Cardinals' skill players can match up with any other team in football, but if they don't improve their line play, they'll be in for a long season.  The third preseason game is supposedly the most telling, but maybe not in this case.  The Bears are going to make a lot of teams look bad at the line of scrimmage, and it's going to be more important to see how the Cardinals stack up against teams like the Rams and the Niners in that regard. 

 

Keith Glab is Associate Editor of FutureBacks.com and Co-Founder of BaseballEvolution.com



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