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Keys to the Game

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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Cardinals

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The Bears (5-9) will host the Arizona Cardinals (3-11) Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning the game:

(1) Contain quarterback Kyler Murray.

Don't be fooled by their record; the Cardinals are a different team with Murray, a two-time Pro Bowler who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma in 2018. After opening 1-8 while Murray was recovering from a torn ACL he sustained in Week 14 last year, Arizona is 2-3 since he returned to action.

A dangerous dual threat, Murray has thrown for 1,075 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 155 yards and three TDs on 29 carries in five games. Last Sunday in a 45-29 loss to the 49ers, he guided an offense that established season highs in points, total yards (436) and rushing yards (234).

It appears that Murray has regained the same mobility he had before his knee injury.

"He is fast and he can move and he does a good job in the pocket," said Bears cornerbacks coach/passing game coordinator Jon Hoke. "He gets out of the pocket. He had a play versus Atlanta on that last drive to win the game, he must've run 70 yards and gained 20. He looks pretty good to me. All the respect in the world for him coming back and putting in the time to rehab it. It has not shown up as, 'Oh, he's not moving the same as he used to.' He's still moving pretty good."

While Cardinals top receiver Marquise Brown will miss Sunday's game due to a heel injury, Murray likely will look to get the ball to tight end Trey McBride, who leads Arizona with 66 receptions for 712 yards and two TDs. Since Murray made his season debut, McBride tops all NFL tight ends with 38 catches and 425 yards.

The Bears will counter with a defense that enters Week 16 on a roll. They've generated 14 takeaways—including 12 interceptions—in their last four games, the most in the NFL during that span, and have registered 15 sacks in their last five games.

The defense also has excelled against the run. After allowing a season-low 29 yards on the ground last Sunday in Cleveland, the Bears run defense ranks No. 1 in the league. The Cardinals offense is 24th in total yards and 29th passing but is 7th in rushing, led by tailback James Conner, who has produced 717 yards and 5 TDs on 143 carries.

(2) Show improvement on offense.

Last Sunday the offense struggled against a stout Browns defense that entered the contest ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total yards, passing yards, first downs and third-down efficiency. The only time the Bears reached the red zone was when the offense took over at the Cleveland 1 following an Eddie Jackson interception return.

To score points and sustain drives versus the Cardinals, the Bears must improve on third down after being held to a season-low 22.2% conversion rate (4 of 18) by the Browns. The key may be to stay out of third-and-long situations by leaning on their ground game. The Bears' rushing attack ranks fifth in the NFL but was limited to 88 yards in Cleveland, its second lowest output in the last 11 games.

On Sunday, the Bears will face an Arizona defense that ranks 31st in the league against the run, allowing an average of 139.6 yards per game.

Coach Matt Eberflus told reporters this week that he wants the offense to stretch the defense by throwing long passes. That could help a unit that has mustered just four touchdowns in its last three games.

"It's important we keep taking the shots down the field because when you do that, you back people off and it opens up the intermediate part of it," Eberflus said. "You get people to play more shell that way and we feel that can get people to open up the run game for us too."

Quarterback Justin Fields will make his 11th start of the season Sunday. The third-year pro has thrown for 1,976 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions—with two of his picks coming on Hail Mary passes at the end of both halves in Cleveland. His top target this season has been receiver DJ Moore, who leads the Bears with 80 catches for 1,123 yards and seven TDs. In addition, Fields tops the Bears in rushing with 488 yards and 2 TDs on 96 carries.

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

(3) Finish strong.

The Bears outplayed the Browns in taking a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter last Sunday before Cleveland rallied for a 20-17 victory. It was the third time this season the Bears have lost a game in which they held a double-digit advantage in the final period.

"It's definitely tough, I can definitely say that," said middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. "But this game challenges you in different ways. The game is always won above the shoulders, and that's in the mind. You have to believe it in the mind before you can go out there and win. We have a great group of guys in the locker room, great coaching staff. And each time we step foot on that field, our main goal is to play for four quarters. Obviously, we know football is a game that you have to play until the final seconds, 'til that clock hits zero. So nothing really matters as far as how good we played. The ultimate goal is to win."

The Bears yielded just 162 yards through the first three quarters but permitted 215 yards in the final period, including pass plays of 57, 51, 34 and 31 yards.

A week later, the defense is confident that it will rebound.

"Knowing the guys that we have, it's not hard to bounce back," said cornerback Jaylon Johnson. "It's not hard to continue to fight adversity. That's what this game is about. A lot of us have been playing this since we were eight years old. It's always about wins and losses, taking those losses and learning from them and growing from them. That doesn't change at the level we're at."

The Bears have been out and about in the community throughout the holiday season. Check out players donating gifts to local youth organizations, surprising travelers at O'Hare International Airport and much more.

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