Ready for screens? Cardinals prep for ‘dynamic’ Matt Forte

Sep 19, 2015, 4:19 PM
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs against the Green Bay Packers defenders during the ...
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs against the Green Bay Packers defenders during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals did a lot of good defensively in their Week 1 win over New Orleans, most notably holding Drew Brees and the Saints offense to just 19 points.

But while the Cardinals for the most part succeeded in keeping the Saints out of the end zone, they gave up 408 total net yards, 149 of which were from New Orleans running backs.

Needless to say, with the Chicago Bears and versatile running back Matt Forte on the docket, a bit of attention has been paid to making sure that part of the defense is shored up.

“Anytime you show something on film you are going to get it for at least a month because it’s a copycat league,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians admitted. “Until you put the fire out, that’s all you’re going to see. We have to do a better job of securing that area this week and putting out the fire.”

Easier said than done.

Since entering the league in 2008, Forte has been the preeminent running back in terms of receiving yards. He has caught 448 passes for 3,752 yards and 16 touchdowns, and in a loss to Green Bay last week was targeted with eight passes, catching five and gaining 25 yards. He also ran for 141 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“Forte, if you had one word to describe him, is dynamic,” Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “Can run the ball, obviously had over 140 in the game. Can catch the ball, had over 100 receptions a year ago. They feature him in a bunch of different ways.”

Bettcher noted the Bears will likely move Forte all over the field hoping to create confusion and mismatches. Given that he is Chicago’s best offensive weapon, Arizona can expect heavy heavy doses of No. 22, and it will be up to the Cardinals to prove they learned some lessons and corrected some flaws. They are confident it can be done.

“It’s definitely a correctable thing,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Obviously we understand our responsibilities, just here and there certain guys forgetting what to do, forgetting where their alignment is, but I’m sure we’ll get those things corrected this week.”

Part of the issue, as Mathieu went on to note, is that while the Cardinals are trying to stop the other team, their opponent has players who are paid to play at a high level, too. Sometimes, they’ll just get the better of a defense.

That’s kind of how Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sees it, as he explained when asked if the Cardinals are susceptible to giving up big chunks of yardage when passes go to the running backs.

“All defenses are if you catch them in the right coverage, right blitz,” he said, “but that’s easier said than done.”

Indeed.

The prevailing theme from the Cardinals with regards to defending the screen pass has been that their issues had more to do with what they were doing wrong than what the opponent was doing right.

Like Mathieu, linebacker Alex Okafor said it was a problem with people being out of position and making mental errors, not a physical, talent or scheme issue. That the Cardinals tend to blitz at a higher rate than other teams is not an issue, he added.

“The past two seasons we’ve always brought the pressure and we’ve never had the issues we had this past game,” he said. “And then a lot of it was just the first game and a lot of it’s discipline, so it’s very correctable and those things shouldn’t happen, plain and simple.”

Some stories for pre-game reading

Though he won’t be traveling with the team to Chicago, injured running back Andre Ellington says he is “way ahead” in terms of his recovery. With Ellington out, veteran Chris Johnson moves up to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is looking forward to seeing the former Tennessee Titan and New York Jet get more work.

The Cardinals are looking to build upon solid Week 1 offensive production.

ESPN analyst Merril Hoge believes the Cardinals can use last year’s struggles to help win games this season.

In 2012, the Cardinals got destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks. Apparently it was a memorable blowout.

The Jay Cutler question, for now, remains unanswered.

There was a time a couple years ago when Bruce Arians thought he was going to be the Chicago Bears’ head coach. They went in a different direction, though, and the Cards’ leader couldn’t be happier.

Former Cardinals training camp coaching intern Jen Welter doesn’t yet know what’s next for her, but she would prefer to stay in the U.S.

Miscellany

-With Alshon Jeffery not likely to suit up for the Bears, that means cornerback Patrick Peterson will not match up with one of the NFL’s bigger wideouts. Covering Jeffery a week after locking down the smaller, faster Brandin Cooks would have made for a nice contrast, though Peterson said he doesn’t really have a preference as to what kind of receiver he lines up against.

“If Coach tells me I have to go guard a, like when we play Pittsburgh, and I have to guard Antonio Brown, I can’t say, ‘Coach, I can’t guard him because he’s too small,’ he said. “So it really doesn’t matter.”

That said, Peterson added the smaller receivers are a little tougher to guard because they are generally quicker and more shifty getting off the line of scrimmage. Bigger receivers, on the other hand, are easier for him to press at the line.

-Cardinals tight end Darren Fells played basketball before he played football, and at 6-foot-7, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald said there is a standing bet between the two on the hardwood, with the receiver thinking Fells doesn’t have enough to take him.

“He’s just not quick enough. He can back me down — that’s the only way he could get me because his left hand is a little suspect and the jumper is OK,” Fitz said. “I have a much better jump shot than he does.”

Fitzgerald added that Fells was ready to put up a game check, though if the matchup is to take place, it will have to wait a while until the long playoff run is over.

Arians was asked who he thinks would win the matchup between Fitzgerald and Fells, and he answered by saying he’s never seen either of them play.

“But I could probably take them both,” he said, with a smile. “But I ain’t playing for no checks.”

-With a win Sunday, the Cardinals would start a season 2-0 for the third time in the last four years after having done so just three times over the previous 25 seasons.

-The Cardinals are 17-4 against non-NFC West teams under Arians.

-QB Carson Palmer is trying to become the first Cardinals QB to win eight consecutive starts since Ray Mallouf won 10 in 1948. If Palmer throws for 300 or more yards Sunday, he will become the second QB in franchise history to reach that mark in the season’s first two games. Palmer also enters the game with a career 3-0 record against the Bears, posting eight touchdown passes, one interception and a QB rating of 120.3 in the wins.

-Okafor has notched 10 sacks in his first 15 games since being drafted in 2013. Former Cardinal Simeon Rice holds the franchise records for sacks in a player’s first 16 games at 12.5. If Okafor registers two sacks Sunday he will become the first player in franchise history to produce multiple sacks in each of a season’s first two games.

-Fitzgerald has faced off against the Bears just twice in his career, torching Chicago for 234 yards and two touchdowns on 17 catches.

-Arians enters the game with a 4-0 record against NFC North teams, with three wins over the Detroit Lions (two as Arizona’s coach) and one over the Green Bay Packers, which came while he was in Indianapolis.

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