NEWS

Warner's turnover tendencies focus for Bears

Matt Trowbridge

The Arizona Cardinals, last in the NFL in rushing, depend heavily on Kurt Warner.

Sometimes too heavily. Warner threw five interceptions last week.

“All quarterbacks go through games like that,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Jay went through a game like that earlier. Normally it’s a one-time thing.”

Jay Cutler’s “game like that” was a season-opening debacle in Green Bay, when he threw four interceptions. But Warner and Cutler have had troubles more than once. The two, who meet Sunday at Soldier Field, are tied for second in the NFL with 11 interceptions.

Part of that is because they’ve been asked to do more to make up for non-existent running games. The Bears (4-3) rank No. 27 in rushing, with almost half of their 654 yards in two routs of NFL bottom-feeders Detroit and Cleveland.

“We want to run the ball. We will run the ball,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “But we also want to have balance. And we have a pretty good guy back there taking those snaps, so we’re going to give him opportunities to make plays.”

Cutler and Warner know how to make plays with the best of them — both threw for more than 4,500 yards last year. But they can also be forced into mistakes. That looks to be the key again for a Bears defense that forced five turnovers last week against Cleveland.

“Every week you want to go out and take the ball away,” Bears safety Kevin Payne said.

But especially this week. Warner is prone to both big plays and big mistakes, as he’s shown in his biggest games. Warner averaged 385 yards passing in his three Super Bowls, but also threw interceptions that were returned 47 and 100 yards for touchdowns in the two Super Bowls he lost.

“With a guy like Kurt Warner back there to make plays, they are very, very dangerous,” linebacker Nick Roach said. “His placement where he puts some of his passes is incredible.”

Both Warner’s mistakes and his big plays come from the same trait: He’s willing to stand in a collapsing pocket and risk getting sacked to make a big throw.

“You don’t ever comfortable getting hit or having guys around you all the time,” Warner said on a teleconference. “You’d like to have it different ways. But I’ve learned how to be successful in those situations. I’m able to function in that.”

So it’s not enough just to pressure Warner to beat the Cardinals (4-3). The Bears need to sack and otherwise jostle the two-time MVP, who has 95 fumbles and 125 interceptions in 117 career games.

“He has confidence his wide receivers are going to get open, so he tries to extend the play by stepping up into the pocket,” defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. “He doesn’t care about getting hit. And he knows the ins and outs of the defense having practiced against coach Smith when he was in St. Louis.

“That’s why it’s a challenge to us to keep hustling and work on our second moves. We can never give up on a play because he won’t give up on a play.”

That’s a tall order for a Bears defense with just one sack in Chicago’s last three games. But that’s the surest way to slow down the Cardinals, who had three 1,000-yard receivers last year, including All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald and three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin.

“They’ll play a four-receiver package quite a bit,” Smith said, “but you start with those two guys. That combination is as good as any in the league.”

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Bears 20

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 ormtrowbridge@rrstar.com.

Bears keys to the game

Take the ball away. Playing the Cardinals and Kurt Warner is a lot like playing the Saints in the 2006 NFC Championship Game. Drew Brees threw for 354 yards in that game, but Chicago won easily by sacking him three times and forcing four turnovers.

Make a Tommie Harris sighting. Harris was credited with four tackles last week, but in his only noticeable play, he inexplicably shoved Derek Anderson instead of sacking him and Anderson got away.

Double-team Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona has two other 1,000-yard receivers, but there’s only one Fitzgerald, who set playoff records of 546 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last year. “We have to take advantage of things elsewhere so we can free him up more,” Warner said. “We haven’t played well enough offensively yet doing all those things to present him with the unique opportunities he had down the stretch.” All the more reason to keep double-teaming him.

Start faster. This is becoming a broken record, but the Bears have been shut out in the first quarter in five of their seven games this year. Their only scores are against the Lions (1-22 in their last 23 games) and Browns (1-13 in their last 14).

--Matt Trowbridge