It’s Week 8, and we’re back again with the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron answers 5 quick questions about the upcoming matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are looking more and more like a dominant defensive unit. What would you say is the Bears biggest strength on defense? Biggest weakness?
They may not be dominant quite yet, but they really are coming together. This is Year 3 of a complete rebuild from a moribund unit that basically fell apart after the Lovie Smith firing. Traditionally a 4-3 base defense, Vic Fangio came in to run his version of the 3-4 that was so successful under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. The transition hasn't always been pretty, but the Bears have pieced together most of what they need to be a good defense. Akiem Hicks has been a force at DE and Leonard Floyd is starting to look like an impact OLB. What's really been impressive is the improvement on the back end. Kyle Fuller, healthy for the first time since his rookie campaign, is playing up to his 1st round pedigree. Eddie Jackson, rookie FS out of Alabama, had his breakout game last week with his 2 defensive TDs in a game with no offensive TDs. Prince Amukamura and Marcus Cooper have added a steady veteran presence to the secondary and Adrian Amos has looked like a man possessed after losing his starting gig to Quintin Demps in the off-season (Demps is now injured).
I think the Bears defense's biggest weakness through the first 4 weeks was Mike Glennon, who repeatedly gave the opposing team short fields or points on the board in the two blowout losses to the Bays (Packers and Bucs). Some injuries at ILB have led to more rushing yards than expected, but I'd expect that to tighten back up. One issue that will require investment in the offseason is the pass rush from the outside isn't where it needs to be. The Bears deploy Leonard Floyd in coverage more than expected, and Pernell McPhee doesn't get home as often as you'd hope. They're both on pace for 10 sacks apiece this season but no one individual looks like a 20 sack guy.
For the casual NFL fan that doesn't keep up with the Bears each week, how has rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky fared under the eye test?
I think there's a lot to get excited about, but Bears fans have to know that they're in for ups and downs. When Biscuit is on the move, he is excellent. He can make a play with his athleticism by running the ball and has incredibly accuracy throwing on the move. His game experience is lacking and he's going to make a ton of mistakes as he works through the pains of leading an NFL offense, but the skill set is there and by all accounts seems like a young man willing to work. Pure conjecture here, but it seemed like the entire team started to play more inspired football when he stepped on the field. The Bears could have beat the Vikings, a very good team, in his first start with a lucky break, and he's won his other two starts against the Ravens and Panthers, albeit in ugly games.
A lot is going to be made about that 4 for 7 line against the Panthers and a lot of Bears fans are freaking out about it. I say, “Who cares?” The game flow in that contest was really odd and there were a few positive plays called back on penalty. Trubisky threw one bad pass but otherwise looked sharp. The game just didn't need him to do much and the Bears offense never had much of a chance to get into rhythm as the Panthers did their best to hold the ball but never score.
The Saints have been able to exploit injuries or poor play from opposing offensive lines all season. How has the Bears offensive line fared so far in pass protection and in run blocking?
I'm pretty high on this offensive line. Finally healthy, the line from left to right has played well overall. Charles Leno Jr. is a solid Left Tackle. He'll get beat by better players in 1 on 1's but he's been getting better every year and signed a well deserved extension before the season. The other tackle, Bobbie Massie, is probably the weak link, particularly in pass protection, and he gets help from backs and tight ends regularly to help. He's also not as bad as many Bears fans think, and he can be an absolute mauler in the run game, but he's certainly the weak link in my eyes. Josh Sitton and Kyle Long are excellent guards and really make up the strength of this unit. They are guards that Drew Brees would love to play with as they keep the integrity of the pocket clean. They're excellent in the run game as you'll see with Jordan Howard's inside running. Cody Whitehair is a guard that they've wedged into center. He struggles with shotgun snaps and I worry about his progression as the Bears try to find their best 5 after this season. That was probably a long way to say - they're good and your guys will need to earn it on Sunday. Cameron Jordan will almost certainly have a big play or two but watch out for a big game from Jordan Howard running the ball.
Which player that Saints fans might not have heard of do you expect to make a big impact on the game?
At this point, I feel like the "unknowns" are pretty well known. We've got our own Alvin Kamara in Tarik Cohen, a shifty back with big play potential. The Bears are going to need Kyle Fuller to play well against Michael Thomas. Eddie Jackson put his name on the map last week with his big performance. I'm going to give you another Eddie though - Eddie Goldman, the nose tackle. I've watched a lot of Drew Brees over the years and the only thing that seems to truly rattle him is if there is a good interior pass rush. Goldman is in his 3rd year, has shown periods of dominance, and needs to have a big game to try and slow down Brees and that potent offense.
Predictions for the game? Final score?
Of all the games on the schedule this year, I was disappointed to see this one was an away game for the Bears. The Saints have done a masterful job in building a team perfect for that stadium and I just don't know that the Bears can win a high scoring game at this point. I think this game will be truly fascinating because the Bears will try to get the Saints to come down into the gutter and play 1940's football with them and the Saints should want a shoot out. In the end, I think the talent and experience of Drew Brees is the difference - 20-27.
Thank-you, Jeff, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Jeff and the work his guys are doing over at Windy City Gridiron. You can follow them on Twitter @WCGridiron, and as always you can follow me @dunnellz.