Heading into this game the Chicago Bears knew that results in the early games left them needing to win or face elimination from the playoffs. On paper that should have been routine as they were facing an Arizona side that hadn’t scored a passing touchdown in upwards of twenty quarters of football, and it ended up pretty routine with them cruising to a 28-13 win that actually flattered the losing Cardinals.
Arizona was inept enough that the team pulled Ryan Lindley to insert Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the fourth signal caller used this season and on the roster for just two weeks after being signed off the street. Hoyer fared little better, making a few of the routine throws that had eluded Lindley, but then undermining all of that with some disastrous interceptions.
In the end, the quality on the field came to the top and Arizona lurched to yet another slumping defeat, with the heady days of 4-0 but a distant memory.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
The Marshall Plan
It’s clear the Bears like to force the ball to Brandon Marshall as often as humanly possible, and you can see why with some of the catches he was able to make in the game. The Cardinals for their part knew full well that was the game plan and not only allocated Patrick Peterson to Marshall in man coverage all day, but even resorted to covering him with two defenders at the line on occasion — as if he were the gunner on a punt team. I have only seen one other receiver receive that kind of treatment: Megatron. Marshall was thrown at a total of 15 times in the game, and no other Bears receiver was targeted more than four times. In fact, Marshall was thrown the ball five times more than the rest of the Bears receivers put together. And what did that volume of targets yield? 68 yards and a touchdown from six catches. Peterson can hold his head up high for the job he did on one of the NFL’s best receivers, especially as the times he was beaten (with the exception of the zone coverage on the touchdown that Arizona messed up entirely) he was in exceptionally close coverage but just couldn’t stop Marshall from coming down with the ball.
Pick a Pack of Peppers
These games remind you how truly dominant Julius Peppers can be when he turns up to play. The three sacks he recorded in this game put him into the double-digits for the season once again and he added another hit and three more hurries to those takedowns. Peppers also batted a pass as he was a real force in the passing game, constantly harrying the Arizona quarterbacks. The dominance with which he was able to overwhelm left tackle Nate Potter was dramatic, beating the Cardinal repeatedly with speed and strength around the edge. Peppers earned himself a +6.7 grade for this game, by far his best of the season, and making three good games on the bounce for him.
Who Needs Urlacher?
There was speculation when Brian Urlacher went down that the Bears may not be any worse off without him, and in fact might actually be better off given how he had been playing with his injuries this year. There is no question that he is there leader on defense and no accounting for the intangible benefit that has, but from a strictly performance point of view his play had become a problem, and the Bears were already adjusting their scheme to hide his failings. Lance Briggs and Nick Roach in particular in this game filled the void as if there was nothing missing, with both players having excellent games. Both linebackers were a force in the run game, knifing through the line and inside of tight ends to combing for nine stops, but Briggs was also excellent in coverage, deflecting a pass away from Larry Fitzgerald and limiting receivers to just 27 yards from the four catches he gave up.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Tale of Two Quarterbacks
It’s impressive that the Cardinals have managed to be so completely inept at quarterback. Kevin Kolb had improved massively this year and, given the ‘protection’ in front of him, had actually performed well before the inevitable happened and he was broken for the season. Since that point the Cardinals might as well have wheeled out a Jugs machine or simply installed the Wing-T for all the good their passers have done them. Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer completed just a single pass over 20 yards in the air in this game and each threw a disastrous interception. Neither player was able to haul his passer rating out of the 50s and, in truth, but for Larry Fitzgerald giving one more heroic effort in vain, their numbers would have been even worse. You start to wonder just how much worse they could look if they installed a purely rushing offense just for fun.
Fitzgerald Still One of the Best
He hasn’t complained at all this season, but the revolving door of quarterbacking ineptitude has clearly affected Fitzgerald in a way it never has before, and there have been games where he hasn’t looked the force we know he can be. In this game he took the opportunity to remind everybody that he can still be amongst the toughest men in the NFL to cover. The Cardinals sent it his way 12 times and he caught eight passes for 111 yards, snagging six of those passes against Charles Tillman, the man that can hold Megatron quiet when the two meet. Fitzgerald made leaping grabs that we have been used to seeing him for years, and ran with purpose despite the failings of those around him. We can only hope for his sake the Cardinals find an answer at quarterback, because he is far too special a talent to waste.
Campbell Wasn’t Giving Up
At times this game seemed like the Chicago Bears vs. Calais Campbell, as he was the only member of the defense that was constantly making plays and disrupting what the Bears wanted to do. He notched himself a sack, and three more hurries, but he also batted a pass down and was a real presence in the run game, demonstrating the kind of hustle that some of his teammates were absent of. Campbell made several plays where he beat blockers and then chased down the runner from behind, but perhaps his most impressive effort play came late in the second quarter (1:34), where he chased down a screen pass from nowhere to make a tackle and prevent what would otherwise have been a huge gain for the Bears.
– The 97 yards given up by Charles Tillman this game represent a season high, 10 more than his previous worst outing.
– Jay Cutler went deep (20+ in the air) nine times in the game, four to the right, five to the left. He was 0-for-5 to his left and 3-for-4 to his right.
– RT Bobby Massie’s improvement came off the rails in this game as he surrendered four pressures, some of them quickly, to Corey Wooton and Shea McClellin
PFF Game Ball
They came from different teams, but there were two standouts to this game, so Julius Peppers and Calais Campbell each take a game ball for their efforts.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam