By Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) I’m very excited about some of the matchups in this game. Not just on the field, but the intellectual battle between Mike Martz and Gregg Williams. This is a big game for the Saints. They’d hate to go 0-2 in a very competitive NFC South. If the Bears can get two wins out of this stretch of tough games (ATL, NO & GB) they would feel great about their chances for this season. Here are some of the tings I’m looking at on Sunday:
Bears Blitz Pick-up: The Bears were happy with their blitz protection last week. For the most part, they kept Jay Cutler clean. New Orleans is a different animal. They struggle with getting pressure with just their front-4, so they have to blitz. Cutler called it “exotic” which means they will show plenty of different shells and blitz from all areas. Defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams believes in confusion and pressure. The Saints will have looks where they only have 2-down linemen with everyone else floating around in an attempt to confuse the Bears. Last week against the Packers, the Saints sent rushed 8 players 3 times. If the line can pick up the blitz and Cutler and the receivers hit some hot reads, there is the potential for big plays. Communication will be key and that’s where the noise in the Superdome comes into play. It’s a distinct home-field advantage. There may be last second call changes that have to be relayed down the line. Everyone has to be buttoned up and looking in. Especially the outside guys. The Bears got their play calls in quicker with Mike Martz upstairs in the booth. Every second will count to combat the noise.
Safety Play: Chris Harris has been struggling with a hamstring pull all week. That means the Bears may have to lean on a very inexperienced group: Major Wright, Brandon Meriweather and Chris Conte. Meriweather has years in the league and has played well, but he’s still getting his feet wet in the Bears season. Major Wright would be left to make some of those final calls. Chris Conte is a rookie who played corner in college. Drew Brees has made a living carving up defenses. His ability to read the hips of defenders and attack them as they turn is amazing to watch.
Special Teams: The Saints coverage team was terrible last week. Randall Cobb got loose for a 108 yard touchdown return and had another return of 27 yards. But they did have some return success of their own. Darren Sproles had a punt return for 72 yard touchdown and a kickoff return for 57 yards. In the NFL last week there were 3 kickoff returns for touchdowns and 8 punt returns for touchdowns. It seemed like on kickoffs teams were complacent, expecting the touchback and not being prepared for players to bring the ball out. Lovie Smith told me that seeing all the returns is good teaching tool for his team and the league to be ready. Devin Hester seemed to have some trouble fielding punts last week. He fumbled one and had to drop to his knees a couple other times. The Superdome isn’t an easy place to field punts. Adam Podlesh was solid in his Bears debut.
Bears Defensive Line: Was what we saw real last week? Or did the Bears take advantage of an Atlanta line that had some new pieces. I’d like to believe the Bears now have a rotation of players that can rush the passer. Henry Melton got 2 sacks and 7 QB hits on Matt Ryan last week. Julius Peppers picked up a couple of sacks as well. The rotation of players was very effective. From Peppers to Nick Reed all those guys made plays. Matt Ryan was running for life. And the defensive line play made it easier for the back-7 to make plays on the ball. Green Bay was an elite defense last year, playing at home and could only get Brees on the ground 3-times. He is decisive and gets rid of the ball quickly. If the Bears end up in a situation where they have to blitz, that means trouble. Brees doesn’t panic and will spread the ball around. Last week, four different Saints receivers had 70 yards or more. Three of them had touchdowns. Watch out for Sproles out of the backfield. He’s very good catching the ball out of the backfield.
For live updates from New Orleans this weekend, follow Laurence on Twitter (@LHolmes670).