By Jeff Joniak
OFFENSE: LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Bears head coach Marc Trestman was hired by New Orleans head coach Sean Payton as a consultant in 2007 and 2008, when he was between jobs at North Carolina State and Montreal. He knows what Payton’s plan is. So does Bears offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who built terrific lines for Payton in New Orleans.
Scheme designs, philosophy, and concepts are similar. The key is the talent, the execution and the time spent in the system. Drew Brees has a seven-year head start on Jay Cutler. The Saints defense was gutted for more than 7,000 yards in 2012, the most in NFL history. However, new coordinator Rob Ryan has put together a radically different scheme with radically different results. It’s 3-4 based, but they have not gone nuts with the pressure packages like the Steelers do. Right now, the Saints are getting stellar play from defensive end Cameron Jordan and allowing less than 14 points per game. Jordan has four sacks, and outside linebacker Junior Galette has three. Seven different Saints have combined for 12 sacks. It is a young, energetic, and fiery group missing starters Brodrick Bunkley at defensive tackle and Roman Harper at safety.
DEFENSE: PREPARE FOR AN AIR RAID
We know the ball will be in the air. As Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young says, the Saints bleed you to death by a thousand cuts. Drew Brees is accurate, confident and chucks the ball all over the yard with excellent pre-snap recognition. From the short stuff to lasers down the seam and outside-the-numbers fly patterns, the Bears will have to defend it all. Head coach Sean Payton has constructed an efficient, productive offense since 2006, but the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham and the arrival of Darren Sproles in 2011 allows the Saints the ability to threaten every blade of the grass. They are matchup challenges for the linebackers and safeties. Brees works a terrific two-man game outside the numbers, giving the defense difficult assignments and exploiting them as well as any quarterback in the game. Graham already has six touchdown catches, and Sproles has at least a 39-yard catch and run in each of his last six NFL seasons. How the Bears defend those two players and the steady chain-mover Marcus Colston will be intriguing. That trio produced 18 catches, 310 yards and three touchdowns Monday night against the Dolphins.
SPECIAL TEAMS: SPROLES STOPPERS
A tad over 5’6’’, Darren Sproles will be the smallest player on the field Sunday, yet as dangerous and impactful as any. He is thick at 190 pounds, and when he entered the NFL nine years ago he covered 40 yards in 4.47 seconds. His threat factor comes in his lower body strength. He makes you pay for missed tackles. While he does have five career return touchdowns, he’s been shut out on punts since 2011 and on kickoffs since 2008 with the Chargers. Two of his 11 punt returns have gone for more than 20 yards, and he’s had three 20-plus yard kickoff returns. The Bears kick coverage was outstanding against Detroit’s Michael Spurlock, but they lost contain on his 57 yard punt return. Sproles is more than capable of stinging the Bears with a similar breakdown on Sunday.
INTANGIBLES: TALE OF THE TURF
Perhaps October Kentucky Blue Grass can slow the Saints! Obviously, it will take more than that, but depending on the conditions, this intangible would seem to give the Bears some percentage of favorability. Drew Brees often says the Saints are built to play “their type” of football anywhere, anytime. However, Brees is 0-4 at Soldier Field, dropping three games as a Saint, and one as a Charger. This is an October game, not a December or January game in Chicago, when Brees dealt with difficult cold weather conditions. The Saints had four turnovers in the NFC championship game loss to the Bears in 2006, three turnovers in a 2007 meeting and two in 2008. Turnovers may be the only thing slowing down the Saints. The last time the teams met, the Saints rolled in the Superdome 30-to-13, and Brees completed 70.3 percent of his passes to eight different receivers.