How are the Cardinals trending after their 10th victory of the season?

·5 min read

Trending up

Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. The man’s future is so bright that he wore sunglasses on a cloudy day, leading a defense that held the Bears to 22 points – only 14 of which came in meaningful minutes.

The best offense. The Cardinals started so many of their drives in Bears’ territory that a park ranger should have come on the field and warned Andy Dalton about leaving out picnic baskets (that’s a Hanna-Barbera joke, ask a Gen Zer to pull up Yogi and Boo-Boo on YouTube.)

There were two interceptions in the first half that came when a football bounced off a Chicago receiving target. Then Dalton threw to Byron Murphy. Dalton threw a dart of a pass as if Murphy had a red-and-white bullseye on his chest. And then defensive lineman Zach Allen went all OBJ and made a one-handed grab for Arizona’s final interception.

“It’s what you always want to see,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said, “a big man get a pick and run it down and celebrate … that’s what’s fun.”

Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals free safety Jalen Thompson (34) reacts after his interception in the first half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals free safety Jalen Thompson (34) reacts after his interception in the first half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The average start of those four drives was the Chicago 21-yard line. They ended with three touchdowns and a field goal.

Byron Murphy. The former Scottsdale Saguaro player’s interception was his fourth pick in his last nine games.

Umbrellas and raincoats. The rain caused the ball to slip out of Kyler Murray’s hands the first time he touched it. It never got much better for either team. He ended up fumbling twice. The slippery elements also were a factor on two of Bears quarterback Andy Dalton’s four interceptions and a fumbled snap midway through the fourth quarter.

Efficiency. The Cardinals scored on three of their four possessions in the first half. Arizona’s defense, meanwhile, was on the field for five drives, forcing two interceptions and two punts.

Time management. The Cardinals had the ball for less than 11 minutes in the first half. The Bears, for their part, had possession for nearly twice as long. Yet, Arizona led at halftime, 21-7.

Budda Baker. The two-time All-Pro intercepted an Andy Dalton pass in the first quarter and returned it 77 yards to the Arizona 8-yard line. Big-play Budda is making a habit of this. He had a 90-yard interception return against Seattle last year. The play Sunday at Chicago made Baker the second Cardinal with two interception returns of 75 yards or more, sharing the distinction with Hall of Famer Larry Wilson.

Jalen Thompson. Baker’s partner at safety, Thompson intercepted Dalton’s first pass and returned it 6 yards to the Bears 28, setting up the Cardinals first touchdown. You know what should make Cardinals happy? Baker is 25. Thompson is 23. Murphy is 23. Starting corner Marco Wilson is 22. That’s your starting secondary.

Kicking. In bad weather, the Cardinals kicker came through. Matt Prater made all three point after attempts and both field goal attempts. Punter Andy Lee had a 58-yard punt downed at the 2-yard line to start the fourth quarter. As a holder for place kicks, Lee also successfully fielded a bad snap.

Trending down

Budda Baker. The three-time Pro Bowler was tracked down before he could get to the end zone — again.

“I just saw Andy Dalton in front of me,” Baker said. He had a sheepish grin. “Got a little too cute. Tried to jump over him. Got tackled from behind.”

His teammates were telling him to slow down to set up his blockers, but he didn’t listen.

“I just didn’t really know who was behind me,” Baker said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not trying to get caught again (like when Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf swooped down on him last year) and have to hear about it for the rest of the year.”

Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (3) intercepts the football in the first half against Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (3) intercepts the football in the first half against Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

He’s going to hear it. This defense is a close unit. They’re going to rib him over it.

“Man, we’ve got to score those plays,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. He was grinning like he was going to make Baker pick up the tab for dinner. “I gave him a hard time, but it was a big play. He set it off. That’s what our leaders and our guys who are supposed to play big, that’s what we need from them.”

Dennis Gardeck. The Cardinals defense pinned the Bears at their 15-yard line in the fourth quarter, forcing them to punt. But Gardeck hit punter Pat O’Donnell, drawing a 15-yard penalty. On the next play, Byron Murphy rescued Gardeck by intercepting a pass and returning it to the Bears 28.

Play calling. They always look bad when they don’t work, right? And when they do, crickets. That’s the life of a play caller. Kliff Kingsbury knows that. But we have to ding him for calling a direct snap to running back James Conner on third-and-goal from 1 in the fourth quarter. All quarterback Kyler Murray had done at that point was account for three touchdowns, including one rushing.

Kingsbury said he’d like to have that call back. But he also said he’s trying to be judicious in how many times he calls plays in which Murray has the option to run. He doesn’t want to expose him to that many hits. Make sense. But taking the ball out of Murray’s hands at the goal line just seems like a bad call.

Holding steady

Budda Baker. The 25-year-old celebrated his interception by “rocking the baby.”

“For those of you who don’t know,” he said, “my girlfriend could deliver our baby at any moment. We’re past the due date.”

He flew in on a private jet with team owner Michael Bidwill, rather than on a charter flight with his teammates.

He’s flying back with Bidwill, too.

“Right after this,” he said. “I’m showering, and I’m going. … I’m having a little girl.”

Here’s hoping everything holds steady until he gets back and that they have a healthy, happy delivery.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals defense trending up after four interceptions in Chicago

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