By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (3-4) are on the road to face the Saints (4-2) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Get into scoring position
Tied for the second-fewest red-zone trips in the league with 14, the Bears can’t win if they don’t score in New Orleans. The Saints are just flat out a different animal offensively. Since rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has taken over, he has moved the team into the red zone only twice in three games, earning just a pair of field goals.
If the Bears get inside the Saints’ 20, they must score touchdowns. Running the ball effectively remains the key to the Bears offense. Jordan Howard is fifth in the league in rushing, is second in yards after contact and leads the offense with 32 rushing first downs. The Saints can be moved off the ball, ranking 30th in rushing yards per carry. Owning the clock, moving the chains and keeping the dangerous Drew Brees off the field as much as possible is a winning combination for the Bears.
Defense: Push the pocket
Few defenses blitz Brees, but in those situations, he has been intercepted three times and sacked twice. Getting in the A gap and pushing the pocket with size makes it difficult for Brees to step up, which he loves to do. Sacking him is difficult, given that the Saints are first in the league in fewest sacks per pass play. Bears defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman will need to get their hands in the air and get significant push up front to create pressure.
Brees gets rid of it quickly and is quite content in bleeding a defense with short passes in a high-tempo attack. The bulk of his completions have come on passes of six yards or less. The Bears defense can’t get frustrated if it doesn’t get to Brees before he gets rid of the ball. Chicago must remain patient up front and tackle on the back end to limit New Orleans’ big-play potential.
Special teams: Strangle speed
There’s nothing special about the Saints’ special teams unit, other than speed and some solid kicking. The speed on that Superdome surface can sneak up on an unsuspecting team that typically doesn’t play in domes. The Saints struggled last year and hired former long snapper Bradford Banta as their new coordinator. They’re getting good starting field position after ranking 18th in kick and punt return average. While their coverage units rank near the bottom in average, the Saints are third in the league in opponents’ drive start average, around the 25-yard line.
One of the fastest Bears is punt returner Tarik Cohen, who stands to benefit from the artificial surface. The Bears’ coverage units need to stay clued in and be aware, as they rank 30th in covering punts and 32nd in covering kicks to this point.
Intangibles: Peace and quiet
With Trubisky going to work for the first time in the Superdome, his best hope for early success is to quiet the crowd. He’ll face in tough job in being saddled with silent counts and an environment in which communication is difficult. Blocking all that out to make plays in front of a vocal fan base is one of many intangibles in this matchup. If the Bears offense bogs down with false starts and mental errors, the place will erupt, and Trubisky will find no peace and quiet to work in.
Numbers: Turnover trick or treats
After collecting six takeaways, including three returned for touchdowns the last two weeks, the Bears feel they’re tracking toward becoming a dangerous defense. Finding the ball against Brees and the Saints is no picnic. After committing no turnovers in the first four games, Brees has turned it over in the last two weeks, a trend the Bears hope continues. Overall, the Saints are a plus-five in turnover difference, ranking fifth in the league. The Bears are 28th.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.