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Saturday before football Sunday: What to watch for in Cardinals-Bears

Will the Cardinals improve to 10-2 and remain perfect on the road this season?

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals will head to Chicago with the best record in the NFL, winning nine of their first 11 games so far this season. This is a team that is coming out fresh off their bye week and despite being listed as game-day decisions, Cardinals top stars in Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are trending towards playing with both having missed the last three games with injuries.

Taking a look at the other side, the Chicago Bears are coming off a 16-14 road win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day. They will be without quarterback Justin Fields, running back Damien Williams, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Their No. 1 wide receiver in Allen Robinson is also doubtful to play with a hamstring injury. Khalil Mack is out for the season.

Yeah, that is a significant number of injuries with most being starters.

This means Andy Dalton will make his second straight start at quarterback against the Cardinals with Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet serving as his top targets heading into Sunday.

Here are three things to watch for in Week 13:

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

1. Stars Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins potentially back from their three-game absence for the No. 1 team in the NFL

In the three games Murray and Hopkins missed, the Cardinals went 2-1. It was the Colt McCoy and James Conner show that yielded very good results. Conner had 336 total scrimmage yards and five touchdowns during that three-game stretch. McCoy had 684 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a 75.6% completion percentage in place of Murray. During that stretch, Zach Ertz became fully acclimated to Kingsbury’s playbook as he had his best game as a Cardinal in Week 11 with 88 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

With Murray and Hopkins possibly back on Sunday, the sky is truly the limit on what this Cardinals offense can do. Hopkins drawing double coverage all game being arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL opens up advantageous one-on-one opportunities for Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, Zach Ertz, and the rest of the Cardinals’ arsenal of weapons.

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

2. Cardinals’ No. 3-ranked defense against a struggling Bears’ 30th-ranked offense

There is no question that the Chicago Bears’ offense has been going through their trials and tribulations with rookie quarterback Justin Fields and veteran Andy Dalton. They currently have the worst passing attack (169.8 YPG) and have the third-worst overall offense (296.1 YPG) in the NFL. Their offensive line has allowed the most sacks (37) in the league so far which gives Markus Golden and Chandler Jones another huge opportunity to feast again, as they have a combined 18 sacks on the season with the Cardinals. As mentioned earlier and to make matters worse for the Bears, their wide receiver options will be thin with Robinson and Goodwin not expected to play.

Outside of the Bears’ struggles, they do have the eighth-best rushing offense in the NFL led by David Montgomery and rookie Khalil Herbert. Not having Fields again, who has 311 rushing yards this year, takes yet another huge part away from a thin and banged up offensive unit. There is no reason for the Cardinals pass rush and overall defense to not thrive this game.

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

3. Expect the Cardinals to take plenty of shots down field with Kyler Murray back in the fold

One of the things Kliff Kingsbury has a tendency to do in Kyler Murray’s first offensive drive is to try to get him going early by calling back-to-back-to-back pass plays. Especially if DeAndre Hopkins returns to the football field, I fully expect Murray to target him quite a bit as they try to re-establish the chemistry they had prior to their three-game absence. Murray is widely-considered the best passer in football and for good reason as he leads the NFL with an 110.4 passer rating.

We all are well aware that the Chicago Bears are having a disappointing season especially with rumors last week that Matt Nagy would be fired after the Thanksgiving game (though that clearly did not happen). But one of the bright spots to their underwhelming season is the performance of their secondary, which is currently allowing the sixth fewest passing yards per game led by Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson. Kindle Vildor has struggled this season opposite Johnson but remains a player Chicago is very high on but also a player the Cardinals will try to take advantage of. Whether Vildor draws the start again or if Artie Burns take his place, expect the Cardinals to look their way often.

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Overall and some other notes

One of the more interesting things to note about the Chicago Bears is that their three team captains this week in Damiere Byrd, Angelo Blackson, and Marqui Christian are all former Arizona Cardinals. And it so happens that they play the Cardinals on Sunday. Coincidence? I think not.

The Chicago Bears have the seventh-best defense in the NFL as they ranked sixth against the pass and 17th against the run but are allowing 23.1 points per game. They held their previous two opponents under 16 points albeit against Ravens’ backup QB Tyler Huntley and a struggling Lions squad led by Jared Goff. Robert Quinn has been the star of their defense as he leads the team with 11 sacks but not having Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and possibly Roquan Smith (hamstring) will be a tough obstacle Chicago’s defense will need to overcome.

Second-year pro Darnell Mooney has already established himself as the Bears’ top receiver even when Allen Robinson was on the field. Both Damiere Byrd and Jakeem Grant are expected to see expanded playing time as a result of injuries. Andy Dalton is 1-3 all-time against the Cardinals. But that offense has only eight touchdowns passes on the season. Everything points to the Cardinals being the heavy favorites to win this game considering they are the best team on the road this season with a 6-0 record and the best team in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Sunday’s game in the oldest rivalry in NFL history between the Cardinals and Bears should be a fun one.