Through two weeks the Arizona Cardinals have struggled on offense and defense. Surprisingly the defense has looked like a shell of its former self. The once stingy Cardinals defense has struggled to consistently stop the run and create turnovers. On Sunday the defense gets another chance as the Chicago Bears come to town after an impressive win against the Seahawks last Monday night. Today we take a look at the two biggest areas where the Cardinals defense need be victorious if the team hopes to get their first win of the season.
Neutralize Howard and Cohen
The Bears offense begins with the ground game buoyed by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is one of the better young running backs in the NFL. The third year player gained over 1,000 yards each of his first two seasons. Head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have made it a point to get Howard the football. Howard has averaged 19 touches a game. Through two games Howard has averaged just under 90 yards of total offense for Chicago.
Behind Howard is Cohen, best known for his big play ability in the passing game and on returns. Cohen was targeted 71 times through the air in 2017, finishing with 53 receptions for 353 yards. Cohen is now in his second year and looks to be in the mix at running back for the Bears. Through two games he has averaged 6.5 touches a game on offense but has added six returns with a long of 42 yards.
Cohen and Howard are the Bears version of thunder and lightning with each capable of making big plays on offense. Defensive Coordinator Al Holcomb will need to find ways to stop the bigger Howard while also keeping tabs on the explosive Cohen. The Bears find ways to motion players on offense to get the defense’s eyes moving. The jet sweep action of Cohen distracts from the shovel pass underneath to Howard or another Bears weapon. Nagy and the offense are not afraid to use both running backs in the backfield and keep the defense guessing. The Cardinals will need to find a way to keep both backs in check or risk the Bears gaining large chunks through the ground game which will open up the play action passing downfield.
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This calls for an appearance from linebacker Deone Bucannon. Bucannon needs to be able to neutralize either running back in the passing game. The Cardinals have struggled doing that through the season’s first two contests. Bucannon is one of the few options for Arizona who has enough size and speed to combat the talented Chicago backs. The front seven will need to do the job on their own to open up the secondary to focus on making quarterback Mitch Trubisky pay for mistakes.
Punish Trubisky for Mistakes
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is starting just his 14th game in the NFL. In college at North Carolina he started just 13 games for the Tar Heels. To put it plainly, Trubisky is inexperienced but he does have tremendous talent as well. Chicago’s offense attempts to put their young quarterback in positions to make plays ahead of the chains. As mentioned the ground game is the first weapon. However, the Bears are not afraid of using the short passing game to set up the run, and eventually the deep pass.
Even with the offense focusing on keeping Trubisky out of trouble, the second year quarterback is not opposed to making bad throws down the field. Trubisky has averaged 185 yards a game through the air and has thrown for two touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. In reality the quarterback should have more interceptions to his name were it not for dropped opportunities from the Seahawks secondary. Trubisky has looked tentative at times and the Cardinals will need to take advantage.
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There are two things which have become clear regarding the Chicago quarterback. The first is that Trubisky will retreat when facing pressure in the pocket. While this may seem trivial for some, what sets Trubisky apart from other quarterbacks is that he will spin away from the pressure and give ground to escape the rush. Against the Seahawks on Monday night, Trubisky did this on a couple of occasions. However, Seattle was unable to bring down the quarterback and make him pay for running away from the pass rush.
The second issue facing Trubisky are the risky throws he has shown a propensity to make. The Seahawks defense benefited from a pair of questionable throws on Monday night. Seattle’s depleted unit had chances at more takeaways but were unable to make the play. Arizona is healthier than the Seahawks on defense and should present a greater challenge to Trubisky. The Cardinals will need to make the most of their chances on Sunday and punish Trubisky. Turnovers will be there for the taking, Arizona will just need to finish the play.
The Difference Maker
The game plan for the Cardinals defense should be to get back to basics. Get back to stuffing the run game with the front seven and force the Bears into obvious passing situations. Arizona welcomes back Markus Golden and hopes the rusher can provide added pressure on Trubisky. It will come down to how effective Golden and Chandler Jones can be at getting to the quarterback. A healthy and active pass rush increases the likelihood of mistakes being made by the second year quarterback. At the end of the day the defense has the chance to put their stamp on this game and lead the way to victory against the up and coming Bears.