3 keys for Bears to beat Cardinals, final score prediction originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Spirits have been elevated at Halas Hall after the Bears weathered the storm of reports surrounding Matt Nagy’s future, and secured a win against the Lions on Thanksgiving. But they’re going to have their work cut out for them if they want to keep the good times rolling this Sunday. Coming into Soldier Field are the NFC’s best Arizona Cardinals. At 9-2, the Cardinals have been one of the most complete teams all season. They rank top-five in the NFL in points scored per game, points surrendered per game, and total yards surrendered per game. They’re also top-10 in total yards per game. But if the Bears can hit on these three keys一 and get a few fortunate bounces too一 they can give themselves a chance to win the game.
FORCE KYLER MURRAY TO GIVE BALL AWAY
Kyler Murray is going to make explosive plays. No matter how hard the Bears try to contain him, and no matter how well they do, he is more than likely going to pop off for a few big gains. But the best way for the defense to stop him is to force him into making a mistake. In eight games this season, he’s thrown seven interceptions. He’s also fumbled the ball seven times, although none of those fumbles has been recovered by the defense. Put that together, and the defense should have opportunities to take the ball away and give the offense short fields. If they can ramp up the pass rush with Robert Quinn, they can increase those opportunities.
HELP O-LINE ON THE EDGES
There’s no one man to key in on when facing the Cardinals’ pass rush. They’re tied for eighth in the league with 29 sacks as a team, but Markus Golden and Chandler Jones have combined for 18 of those sacks as a duo. The only team with more sacks from a pair of pass rushers is the Panthers who have gotten 18.5 from former Cardinal Haason Reddick and Brian Burns. So Bill Lazor can’t simply shift protection over to one side to mitigate Arizona’s pass rush. To protect either Justin Fields or Andy Dalton, the Bears are going to need pass pro contributions from tight ends and running backs, at the expense of having more skill players running routes downfield.
DEFEND THE GOAL LINE
When you hear about the Cardinals offense, you mainly hear about Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. But when the Cardinals get close to the goal line, it becomes the James Conner show. Conner already has 12 touchdowns on the season (second most in the NFL) and almost all of that damage has come from inside the five-yard line. According to Pro Football Reference, Conner has 11 carries inside the five, and has converted those into eight touchdowns. No other back is as close to automatic in those scenarios as Conner has been. Jonathan Taylor also has eight touchdowns from inside the five, but those have come on 20 carries. If the Cardinals make it into those goal line situations, they’ll need to devote serious attention to Conner and force Arizona to score another way.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION
In the end, topping the Cardinals will be a tall task for the Bears. They’ll have to play a near perfect game, which is something they haven’t done all season. As the Bears strive to become a dominant force in the NFC with an electric, young quarterback, they could look to the Cardinals as a blueprint of sorts. It took them three years to get to this point with Murray at the helm. Maybe the Bears will be where the Cardinals are at in 2023?
Cardinals: 27, Bears: 16