Week Two: Bears at Saints—What to Watch For
1) Bears’ tackling.The Saints run alot of the same style offense that the Falcons employ, with alot of quick passes and run-after-the-catch. In Week 1, Drew Brees had 6 of his 32 completions travel more than 10 yards in the air; 11 of the 32 were dump-offs to RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. The Packers tackling was horrendous, and gave the Saints more than a few third-down conversions that extended scoring drives. Conversely, the Bears’ tackling was superb, for the most part, and limited Pro-Bowl WR Roddy White to less than 8 yards per catch, and QB Matt Ryan averaged just 6.5 yards per pass attempt. The Bears will get a slight reprieve as Saints’ WR Marques Colston will be out for this game, recovering from a broken collarbone.
2) Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham versus the Bears’ LBs. This becomes even more crucial should the Bears be without MLB Brian Urlacher, who left the team on Wednesday following the death of his mother, and whose status is understandably uncertain for Sunday. Graham is a rising star and is excellent at finding seams in the middle of the field. It will be the responsibility of LBs Lance Briggs and Nick Roach to cover those seams between the hash marks. I expect to see the Bears in alot of nickel and maybe even dime packages should Urlacher be unavailable.
3) The Bears’ Offensive Line versus The Superdome Crowd.Bears’ tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi played relatively well in their first NFL games at left tackle and right tackle, respectively; but did give up 4 sacks—not to mention a missed cut block that led to the Falcons’ only touchdown, on an interception return. The crowd will make it difficult to audible protections and hear the snap counts—which could lead to false starts and missed assignments—and we know that Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams loves to dial up blitzes. False starts change 1st-and-10’s to 1st-and-15’s, and change 3rd-and-shorts to 3rd-and-longs—limiting the penalties will be key.
The Bears opened some eyes with their dominating, 30-12 victory over the Falcons at home in Week 1. It was eye-opening, I think for a couple main reasons: 1) Jay Cutler completing over 65 percent of his passes for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns; and 2) holding the Falcons’ highly-regarded offense to a pair of field goals. So the Bears have gotten through the first part of what is arguably the hardest 3-game stretch of their schedule with a win, and now travel down to New Orleans to face the Saints in Week 2. After watching the Packers put up 21 first-quarter points and 42 total points, it seems like the key to this game will be whether the Bears’ defense can contain Drew Brees and the potent Saints’ offense. Digging a little deeper, here are some things to watch for in this game that could determine the outcome.
5) The Saints’ offensive line versus the Bears’ defensive line. Again, the possibility the Bears might be without Urlacher make this a matchup the Bears have to win. The Saints gave up 3 sacks on 49 pass attempts in Week One, a pretty impressive performance, considering they were going against the Packers’ pass rush. On the flip side, the Saints average less than 4 yards per carry. The Bears’ defensive line combined for 5 sacks and 10 other tackles for loss against the Falcons. 3 of those sacks came up the middle from DTs Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye—the battle between Melton, Okoye, and Anthony Adams against the Saints’ OGs Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and C (Ex-Bear) Olin Kreutz will be a key one to watch.
4) Kick and Punt Coverages. The Bears did a great job covering kicks against the Falcons’ Pro Bowl returner Eric Weems, holding him to 3.3 yards per punt returns and 16.5 per kick return. The Bears face another test this week with Saints’ returner Darren Sproles, who has 5 return for touchdowns in his 78 career games. The Saints gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to rookie returner Randall Cobb of the Packers, and now face the best returner in the history of the NFL in the Bears’ Devin Hester. On turf. With two such evenly-matched teams, a big special teams play could be key.
MY PREDICTION: I expect this to be a high-scoring game. And I expect a big return by Devin Hester to be the difference as the Bears go to 2-0 with a 31-27 win.