Bears vs. Cardinals kicks off Sunday at noon. The Bears are currently 7.5 point home underdogs. Sunday weather predictions show a high of 45 degrees and a 54% chance of rain, with winds at 10 to 20 MPH. This is relatively mild weather for December in Chicago, but it could still play a role when going up against a dome team from a warm-weather state.
Bears vs. Cardinals Betting Lines
In the above graphic, I have noted the spread and the projected spreads according to my two models, PFF, and 538’s two models for Bears vs. Cardinals. Why use two models from one source? I like to use multiple models to crosscheck each other. Because the more models that say something is a good bet, the more assurances you get. That’s what all of us gamblers want, assurances.
Bears vs. Cardinals Cover History
In the graph, the blue line represents the expected point differential based on the spread. For example, if the spread is CHI +7, the blue line will have a data point at -7, since the Bears are expected to lose by seven. The orange line represents the actual result. Therefore, any data point above the blue line means that the Bears covered the spread and any data point below the blue line means the Bears did not cover.
In Matt Nagy’s tenure as head coach of the Bears, he has compiled a record against the spread (ATS) of 28-33. As an underdog, Nagy’s teams are 14-18 ATS. At home, his teams are 15-15 ATS. Combining those two factors, Nagy’s teams have a record of 6-8 ATS as a home dog. This represents a cover rate of 43%, versus the league average cover rate of 52%. In these games, the over has hit 36% of the time.
“Good coaches win. Great coaches cover the spread.”
Since 2019, when Kliff Kingsbury became Arizona’s head coach, the Cardinals have compiled a record against the spread (ATS) of 24-17-2. As a favorite, they are 7-10 ATS. On the road, they are 15-5-2 ATS. Combining those two factors, the Cardinals have a record of 3-2 ATS as a road favorite since 2019. This represents a cover rate of 60% versus the league average cover rate of 49%. In these games, the over has never hit.
Bears vs. Cardinals Team Stats
The final ranking for each unit is the average of DVOA, EPA per Play (10% win probability filter), and success rate. DVOA is a metric developed by Football Outsiders that measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to the league average based on situation and opponent. Meanwhile, EPA per Play is a stat that aims to measure the value of individual plays in terms of points using historical data for down, distance, and field position. Finally, success rate measures the percentage of plays that generate positive EPA on offense or a negative EPA on defense.
By the numbers, the Cardinals are far superior to the Bears. The only category in which the Bears top the Cardinals is offensive rushing DVOA. Overall, this matchup puts the third-ranked offense (ARZ) against the 21st ranked defense (CHI), and the 28th ranked offense (CHI) against the fourth-ranked defense (ARZ).
Cardinals Offensive Overview
Play-Caller: Kliff Kingsbury
Personnel Groupings: RB-TE [WR]
- 1-1 [3WR]: 49% (Pass Rate = 61%)
- 1-2 [2WR]: 22% (Pass Rate = 41%)
- 1-0 [4WR]: 19% (Pass Rate = 56%)
Play Action %: 36.6% (2nd)
Screen %: 16.2% (1st)
Third Down Conversion Rate: 43.6% (7th)
Red Zone TD Conversion Rate: 70.5% (3rd)
Explosive Play / Pass / Run Rate: 10% (10th) / 12% (2nd) / 9% (28th)
Score %: 44.1% (6th)
Turnover %: 8.5% (4th Lowest)
Expect tons of play-action and options from Arizona. Kyler Murray can beat teams deep as the Cardinals have deep options available on most pass plays. However, he is not afraid to take what is there in the short and intermediate game either. If the Bears go conservative in coverages, Murray will start taking the short game and the WR group offers tons of YAC potential.
Deep vertical concepts are built into almost every pass play out of any alignment. The Cardinals love to use 3-4 WR sets with short and intermediate routes underneath the deep shots. Because of this, the defense never knows which routes are going deep, and which ones will break off in the short or intermediate.
The Cardinals like to use deep routes that cut across the field horizontally from TEs and slot WRs. These routes offer multiple options that can be branched off of (hook, in) that keep defenders honest. And with the way the Cardinals space the field with deep routes, it opens up holes for Murray downfield.
DeAndre Hopkins is a bad man. He is an expert at using his body to convince DBs that the ball is coming to create separation. In addition, Rondale Moore is extremely versatile. The Cardinals love to motion him into the backfield, especially in empty sets. If he is on the field, the Cardinals can motion into a run on any play.
For example, they often use him on end-around plays. Watch all the misdirection here with Moore coming left to right for the end around after the play-action fake. While this is not out of an empty set, I want to highlight the amount of misdirection involved in their run game.
I watched the tape of the Cardinals game against the Green Bay Packers. I chose the Packers because they were the most like the Bears defense in multiple areas. Specifically, in terms of base defense, blitz rate, two-high pre-snap alignment rate, and man/zone coverage rates. I excluded the majority of the second half, as the Cardinals trailed by two scores late and likely ran more hurry-up and passing offense because of that.
The Cardinals use pre-snap motion on about 40% of all plays reviewed. This includes motion on half of their drop back passes, 80% of their option plays, but not on any of their straight hand-offs (excluding option plays). Additionally, they used play-action on about 30% of pass plays. But their pass blocking did not seem to be married to their run game all that strongly.
Among plays reviewed, the Cardinals kept extra players in for pass protection only once. They ran five-man protections on all other pass plays, with an extra player chipping and peeling off for a route frequently. Almost every snap came out of the shotgun, and they ran hurry-up offense on over 20% of their plays.
The “Pos. Rank” uses multiple position specific stats to generate a relative ranking for each player at their position. The percentile is simply a representation of their rank. For example, Kyler Murray ranks 3rd out of 34 qualifying QBs. This results in a percentile of 91% (MATH = 1 – (3/34)). In the right most column, you can see the stats used to generate the ranking.
Offensive Line stats represent the entire unit, rather than any individual player. I believe that it is just too subjective of a stat to place statistical blame on individuals without knowing their assignments.
Cardinals Defensive Overview
DC: Vance Joseph
Blitz %: 30.5% (8th)
3rd Down Conversion Rate: 32.6% (3rd)
Red Zone TD Conversion Rate: 57.6% (14th)
Explosive Pass / Run Rate: 6% (2nd) / 17% (32nd)
Score %: 29.7% (3rd)
Turnover %: 16.1% (6th Highest)
Boom or bust, the Cardinals defense under Vance Joseph likes to take calculated risks to make impact plays. They primarily run a single-high scheme and like to get heavier on running downs. When they expect teams to run, they load up the box and send run blitz concepts. Furthermore, their linebackers and DBs play an instinctive brand of football, firing through gaps as soon as they present themselves.
There is not an apparent rhyme or reason to the way the Cardinals’ players attack; the most important thing for them is simply to stay on the attack. If the run blitzes don’t get home, this defense is often left susceptible. And that is apparent from their run defense statistics.
That same aggressive approach carries over to the Cardinals pass defense. This defense aims to dictate the game with their attacking mentality. On almost one third of all passes, the Cardinals have blitzed their opponent. They do a great job of weaponizing the threat of pressure to alter pass protection and create free runners at the QB.
On top of that, they will often send more rushers than the opponent has blockers to get the numbers advantage at the LOS. This can lead to big-time pass opportunities given the Cover 0 scheme being run downfield, but the Cardinals have done a surprisingly great job of limiting big pass plays this season.
When the Cardinals do not send extra defenders, they are one of the best coverage units in the NFL. They vary their assignments in coverage when in their base defense, as it is not out of the ordinary to see them drop an interior defender into “low hole” coverage.
Primary coverage concepts when not blitzing include Cover 2 and quarters. All in all, Vance Joseph has this unit humming with his bag of tricks. They run one of the more creative and varied defensive schemes you will likely see in the NFL. While this opens the door for explosive plays, the Cardinals have done a solid job of limiting the impact.
The “Pos. Rank” uses multiple position specific stats to generate a relative ranking for each player at their position. The percentile is simply a representation of their rank. For example, Budda Baker ranks 24th out of 79 qualifying safeties. This results in a percentile of 70% (MATH = 1 – (24/79)). In the right most column, you can see the stats used to generate the ranking.
Bears vs. Cardinals Injury Report
The Bears are at a significant disadvantage on the injury front, with many starters deemed questionable. While the Cardinals have a few key starters listed, most names mentioned are expected to be ready come Sunday.
Bears vs. Cardinals Summary
On Sunday, the Bears vs. Cardinals matchup has the potential to get out of hand if Chicago is not careful. If Justin Fields is starting at QB, I expect a lot of sacks and a lot of explosive plays from the Bears offense. Fields is a great prototype to create against such an aggressive defense, but his propensity to take sacks could be highlighted here as well. But if Dalton is starting for the Bears, I would expect a few deep shots when they are wide open, and a lot of intermediate work. The Bears should focus on getting the ball out fast and trying to create YAC opportunities.
Regardless of the starter, the Bears should commit to their outside zone runs, as the potential to bang, bend, or bounce for big yardage should present itself a few times in this game. Given the Cardinals attacking nature on defense, they would also be wise to take some PA shots with outside zone blocking concepts.
Ultimately, the Bears defense has a very tough assignment this week because the Cardinals are varied in their attack and have tons of talent among their skill position players. Containing Kyler Murray presents even more of a challenge. If Roquan Smith cannot go, the Cardinals will be able to create mismatches and conflict out of the backfield regularly.
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