Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears runs with the ball during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 22, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
In just about every game they’ve played this season, the Chicago Bears have been the subject of plenty of questions as to whether or not they’d be able to knock off their opponent, but their Week 5 matchup against the New Orleans Saints is a different animal.
This game, which will pit the 3-1 Bears against the 4-0 Saints, will be arguably the truest measuring stick as to what kind of team the Bears are. Yes, they went up against a tough Cincinnati Bengals team in Week 1, but they are an AFC team. The Saints though are a team that is at the top of the NFC South and has already knocked off a couple of quality teams, with the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins both falling victim to the Saints’ potent offense.
So how can the Bears beat the undefeated Saints? We have five keys to victory for Chicago as they attempt to right the ship after their defeat last week at the hands of the Detroit Lions.
Front Four Must Get Pressure on Brees
Obviously, the strength of the New Orleans Saints’ game is their passing game, with Drew Brees ranking as one of the most prolific and most accurate passers in the game today.
We’ve also been talking for weeks about the Bears’ front four on their defensive line, and how they need to get pressure on the quarterback without the help of a lot of blitzes from the linebackers and safeties, but this week that need becomes even more important. With a multitude of weapons for Brees to choose from, the Bears are going to have to dial up a lot of different schemes to keep everyone covered, and that likely means that the front four will be left to their own devices much of the time.
It’s going to be critical for Julius Peppers to continue the progress he made last week, and also for Shea McClellin to get out of the rut he has been recently, because if the Bears can’t get Brees moving around in the pocket, it’s a certainty that he will burn the Bears’ defense, no matter how good their pass coverage is.
Graham and Sproles Must Be Limited
All season long teams have been trying to focus on stopping Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, and all season long they have been getting burned in the process. Graham was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, the first tight end to ever be given that honor, and after a couple of poor weeks offensively Sproles absolutely lit up the Dolphins in the Saints’ Monday Night Football victory over the previously undefeated ‘Phins.
For the Bears, the duo provides some unique challenges. Perhaps the best example of the Bears facing this kind of threat this season was in Week 1, when the two-headed monster of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham had a decent day over the middle of the field, but not a spectacular one. Also, the Bears kept Giovanni Bernard and Benjarvus Green Ellis largely in check in that game as well.
That “bend but don’t break” philosophy has to be in the forefront of the Bears’ minds as they go up against Graham and Sproles. Those two are going to get their touches, and they are going to get first downs, but if the Bears, and this goes especially for safety Major Wright and linebacker James Anderson, can limit their production to just “decent”, then the Bears have a good chance to win. If those two carve the Bears up, then it’s going to be a long afternoon on the lakefront.
Don’t Forget About That Colston Guy
Lost in all the furor over the Saints unique weaponry on offense is wide receiver Marques Colston, who surprisingly is a bit of a third fiddle on this team. He is an explosive playmaker, having caught 21 passes this season for 298 yards and a touchdown. He is also second on the team in both yards per game, receptions over 20 yards, and in targets, all behind Graham’s totals in those categories.
For the Bears, this means that Colston is still an important part of the offense despite all of the focus this week on Sproles and Graham. He may not have the gaudiest numbers in terms of yards after catch (only 78, well behind Sproles, Graham, and even Pierre Thomas), and his longest completion this season is only 31 yards, but he is still a very viable weapon against an otherwise occupied secondary.
That means that Charles Tillman (who may end up covering Graham if he lines up in the slot during the game) and Tim Jennings will both have to be cognizant of where Colston is on the field at all times, because he could benefit from all the attention paid in other directions.
Jay Cutler Must Have a Rebound Game
Cutler’s turnover spree last week may have caused a lot of Bears fans to either throw their hands up in frustration or just shake their heads, but he can’t be thinking about that when going up against a Saints defense that has been pretty successful against the pass this season.
The Saints are only allowing 192 yards per game through the air this year, which is good for sixth in the NFL. Quarterbacks have only thrown four touchdowns against them while throwing seven interceptions, which is tied for third in the league. Finally, the Saints have racked up 12 sacks this season, which is double the six that the Bears have picked up this year.
Even with the difficulty of the task that Cutler will be facing, there is still some reason for optimism. After games in which he’s thrown three or more interceptions in his career, Cutler has a 6-1 record in the next game after that, which tells fans a few things about him. The first, of course, is that he ends up being a bit more cautious with the ball than he is when he’s in full gun-slinging mode, but it also tells fans that he is able to put the past behind him effectively, and comes out motivated to do well after a bad outing.
Against a Saints defense that is really solid this season, Cutler is going to have to be smart in terms of spreading the ball around, and also has to get rid of it quickly, because pressure from the Saints’ unique blitzes will make his life challenging if he hangs around the pocket for too long.
Offensive Line Must Enable a More Balanced Attack
With the Saints’ successes against the pass this year, one area that the Bears absolutely have to exploit if they are going to succeed offensively in this game is the Saints’ weak running defense.
That means that Matt Forte and company are going to have to get some good running lanes to run through, and the Bears’ offensive line hasn’t exactly been providing that in recent weeks. Forte has broken a couple of big runs, but he has also been getting tackled a lot at the line of scrimmage, and despite their early successes, the Bears’ right side of the line hasn’t been doing a good enough job in holding their blocks long enough for him to get past that first line of defense.
If the Bears are going to run against the Saints (and it is possible, because the Saints have been allowing over 110 yards per game on the ground), then they will need Jordan Mills and Kyle Long to clear the way on that right side, but they also need to get Matt Slauson active in the game, as he has done a great job of sliding across the line to clear holes on that right side of the line.
If the Bears can get Forte the lanes he needs, then he can succeed, but it all starts with the blocks of an offensive line that has gotten a lot of praise this year but has been slipping the last few weeks.