New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) warms up with teammates before a preseason NFL football game Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
When the Chicago Bears take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon on the lakefront, they will be not only facing an undefeated team, but they will also be going up against arguably the most talented offense that they will see all season long.
Not only do the Saints have a record-shattering quarterback in Drew Brees, but they also have the most explosive tight end in the league in Jimmy Graham, and as if those two challenges weren’t enough, the Saints also have the versatile Darren Sproles, who can catch balls out of the backfield and bust long punt returns seemingly at will. Finally, the Saints also have an excellent wide receiver in Marques Colston, who may not be the guy getting all the headlines but is still more than capable of catching the ball in all areas of the field.
With all of those players demanding the attention of the Bears, the question has to be asked: which one of them is the biggest threat to Chicago on Sunday? Is it Graham’s vertical ability, Sproles’ speed, Colston’s underdog status, or Brees as the ringleader of the offense?
Starting with Brees, the Bears are obviously going to have a tough time in containing him. He isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks, but he gets rid of the ball quickly and he also has a great offensive line in front of him. Couple that with the fact that the Bears are allowing 278 yards per game through the air (good for 23rd in the league), and you can see why Brees is a concern.
Graham is no easier to deal with. He is averaging 114.5 yards per game on his own, and has already caught six touchdowns in just four games. His 458 yards receiving are second in the league behind only Julio Jones, and if it wasn’t for the 396 yards that Jordan Cameron has racked up, Graham would be the leading receiving tight end in the league by nearly 100 yards over Antonio Gates.
Despite the fact that Sproles struggled in a few games this season, he is still the leading receiving running back in the league, racking up 277 yards receiving (201 of which have come after the catch, which is second in the league to only Jones. He only has one receiving touchdown, but on a team so loaded with weapons, that really can’t come as a surprise.
Finally, there is Colston, who has 21 catches in five games (the same as Detroit WR Calvin Johnson) and has nearly 300 yards receiving for his troubles. He also only has one touchdown this season, but 14 of his 21 catches have gone for first downs, so he is a definite go to on third downs for the Saints.
So which of these players should the Bears keep the sharpest eye on for Sunday? The obvious answer here is Brees, since he is the one distributing the ball and the one whose timing needs to be interrupted, but the real answer for the Bears specifically is Graham.
The Bears haven’t exactly shown a penchant for defending passes over the middle of the field well, with Reggie Bush burning them repeatedly in Week 4 and Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham having a good game against the Bears in Week 1, but that isn’t the only place that they would have to worry about Graham (and Sproles, in fairness).
It’s on the vertical balls to the end zone that Graham is at his most dangerous, and the Bears have to guard against that as best they can. Whether that’s assigning a linebacker like James Anderson or a safety like Major Wright to help out over the top in those situations, it will be imperative for the Bears to keep as many bodies on Graham as they can, because if he can get the clearance necessary to go up for a jump ball, he will go up and get it. Period, end of story.