The NFC South leading New Orleans Saints, at 4-2, host the 3-4 Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon. The Saints have won their last four games after an 0-2 start, the latest a 26-17 road victory over Green Bay last week. Chicago has won two in a row, and is coming off of a 17-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Let's have a look at how the Saints offense matches up against a rugged Chicago defense.
Saints Rush Offense vs. Bears Rush Defense
Mark Ingram has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last two games, and leads the Saints with 389 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Rookie Alvin Kamara has complimented Ingram extremely well, adding 215 yards and a score on the ground while leading the team with 6.3 yards per carry. The two have led a 10th ranked New Orleans rushing attack that has averaged yards per game during their four-game winning streak.
Paving the way for the running backs of course is the offensive line, which has played very well despite an early season player shuffling because of injuries to tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. Armstead's return to left tackle has allowed rookie Ryan Ramczyk to stay at right tackle, and at times he has looked like a future Pro Bowler, as well as keeping Andrus Peat inside at guard, where he has arguably been the team's best lineman.
A point of concern could be last week's abdominal injury to right guard Larry Warford, which reportedly could keep him sidelined for several games. Replacing Warford in the lineup will be Senio Kelemete, who has played well when called upon, but now weakens the Saints depth along the offensive line. New Orleans has been using tight ends Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui effectively in run alignments, and the wideouts have been effective down field blockers, opening running lanes for Ingram and Kamara on the second level.
The Bears run a 3-4 base scheme that ranks 11th in rush defense, giving up around 104 yards per game, and have yet to give up a 100-yard rusher. They have a big and athletic front line, led by 3rd year defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and former Saint Akiem Hicks. Jonathan Bullard and another former Saint, John Jenkins, add big bodied depth that can wear down an opposing line, and can certainly be a challenge to the New Orleans blockers. Linebacker Danny Trevathan leads an active unit free to make plays because of the ability of the big Chicago front line to occupy blockers.
Saints pass offense vs. Bears pass defense
Drew Brees had his second 300-yard passing game of the season last week against the Packers. After some shaky moments in the first half, he dissected them with 194 yards on 15/19 passing with a touchdown after the break. Brees has averaged around 269 yards per game for the 3rd ranked Saints passing attack, while throwing 11 touchdowns, but has thrown 4 interceptions over the last two games.
The offensive line has protected Brees well, allowing just five sacks and preventing their veteran quarterback from taking many hits. The Saints have used a quick rhythm passing attack, getting the ball into the hands of playmakers like Kamara, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. for open field opportunities. Thomas leads the team with 35 catches and 403 yards. Ginn has developed into a solid compliment, averaging 82 yards receiving in their 4 wins and leading the primary pass catchers with a career high 81% catch percentage.
Rookie Kamara becomes a bigger part of the Saints passing game each week. His 29 receptions are second on the team, and is being utilized in multiple packages. Coby Fleener has cooled off after a solid start, and has seen his snaps limited due to the use of Hill and Hoomanawanui in the running game. Michael Thomas has missed practice time with a knee injury this week, and looks like he could miss Sunday's contest. Willie Snead has missed two of the last three games while recovering from a hamstring injury. Should Thomas miss the game, Snead's return to the lineup becomes more crucial
Chicago's 9th-ranked pass defense looks to bring heavy pressure that forces mistakes. Hicks, who always showed great potential while with New Orleans, leads the Bears with 6 sacks and is playing at an All-Pro level. Saints tackles Armstead and Ramczyk will also have their hands full with Chicago linebackers Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee, each athletic rushers with 4 sacks apiece, and able to create havoc all afternoon.
The Bears have a trio of cornerbacks in Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and Marcus Cooper, that are more than capable of controlling an opposing receiving corps. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson was arguably a 1st round talent at Alabama that fell to the 4th round because of injury concerns. He has been a playmaker in the Bears secondary, returning both an interception and fumble for 75-yard scores in last week's win over Carolina. Linebacker Danny Trevathan will probably be matched up with Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram a number of times out of the backfield in a key showdown.
What to Look For
The New Orleans offense has turned the ball over five times in the last two weeks after suffering zero giveaways in their first four games. The Bears defense thrives on creating instant offense off takeaways, but are a hard-nosed group that gives up yards and points grudgingly.
The Saints seem likely to be without Michael Thomas, and Snead is not yet up to full speed with a hamstring injury. Look for New Orleans to involve backs Kamara and Ingram even more heavily in their passing game, with perhaps a bigger emphasis on the tight end position. Ginn and fellow wideout Brandon Coleman will still be counted on to make some plays to keep the Bears secondary from sitting on the shorter routes. The Saints interior linemen, Andrus Peat, Max Unger and Senio Kelemete will need to control the big bodies of Hicks and Goldman for New Orleans to have success on the ground, particularly on early downs to keep the Saints in manageable 3rd down situations.
Offensively, who do you feel has to play the best to get the Saints a victory?
This poll is closed
Ingram and Kamara
The receivers and tight ends