Not many people would have thought that the New Orleans Saints would win four games in a row after quarterback Drew Brees was lost to a thumb injury. That's exactly what the 5-1 Saints have done though, and are one of only six NFL teams without at least two losses. They now travel to Chicago to take on one of the league's most feared defenses in the 3-2 Bears. Chicago has allowed an average of only 13.8 points per game this season and have forced 10 turnovers. The Saints have taken care of the ball well however, and have converted some key third downs to maintain possession of the ball in the second halves of games. Here is how these two units match up against one another in what is expected to be an extremely physical battle on Sunday.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. BEARS PASS DEFENSE
New Orleans quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has completed 72.4% of his throws the last four games as the starter, averaging 231 yards per game while throwing 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Bridgewater has been extremely careful with the ball, often choosing checkdown options instead of taking risks downfield. Wide receiver Michael Thomas continues to be one of the most consistent weapons in the National Football League, and arguably the best receiver in the game today. Thomas has 53 receptions for 632 yards and 3 touchdowns, with an incredible 30 of his catches resulting in first downs. He has at least five receptions in every game this season, and is successful regardless of what type of coverages opponents roll at him. Another focal point of the Saints passing game has always been running back Alvin Kamara, who is second on the team with 33 catches for 276 yards. Kamara may be limited this game though with ankle and knee ailments, and could be a game time decision to even play. Tight end Jared Cook is beginning to show why the team invested so heavily in him as a free agent. Cook has caught 15 of his 27 targets for 168 yards and two touchdowns this year. Seven of those catches and both scores (on nine targets) have come in the last two games however, totaling 77 yards. While Cook is becoming more involved in the Saints offense, Bridgewater is also beginning to target veteran wideout Ted Ginn Jr. more often as well. After having 7 receptions from Brees for 101 yards in the season opener, Ginn was fairly non-productive for a few weeks, but Bridgewater is beginning to look down the field for his veteran speedster to open up the team's routes underneath. The New Orleans offensive line has neutralized some of the league's most disruptive pass rushers over the last month, allowing Bridgewater to get more comfortable within the offense. Offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead have been especially impressive versus edge rushers, with each playing at an All-Pro level.
Chicago's pass defense is giving up just 229 yards per game through the air, intercepting 4 passes and sacking opposing quarterbacks 17 times. The key to their pressure up front is edge rusher Khalil Mack, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks and leads the league with 4 forced fumbles. The Bears defense suffered a big blow this week however, when they placed defensive lineman Akiem Hicks on injured reserve. Chicago does still have a formidable rush tandem of Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith to compliment Mack, while tackle Nick Williams has added 4 sacks inside. The Bears secondary is a physical and opportunistic unit that has been responsible for eight turnovers so far this season. Cornerback Kyle Fuller has two of Chicago's interceptions after a seven interception All-Pro year in 2018, and is one of league's most underrated players at the position. Prince Amukamara is a cagey vet at corner, and is behind only Fuller on the team in pass breakups. The Bears have a spectacular playmaking duo at safety in Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Jackson intercepted six passes and scored 3 defensive touchdowns a year ago, while Clinton-Dix has picked off 2 passes and has scored once this season.
Matchup to Watch:
Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk vs. Khalil Mack
Mack is perhaps the most disruptive edge player in the NFL. He's forced 10 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles, has intercepted a pass, and has 17 quarterback sacks in only 18 starts with Chicago. He is most effective when lining up on the offense's left side, but will move around the defensive formation. The Oakland Raiders contained Mack well in their upset win two weeks ago with a variety of combination blocking and by being extremely physical. Each of the Saints star tackles will have their shots at the Bears' All-Pro. While New Orleans will likely provide their tackles with double teams at times, Armstead's and Ramczyk's ability to control Mack in one on one opportunities will both allow the rest of the New Orleans line to focus on Chicago's other rushers, and allow Bridgewater to better utilize his weapons down the field.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. BEARS RUN DEFENSE
The biggest question surrounding New Orleans this week is the health and game status of Alvin Kamara. He is the team's leading rusher, with 373 yards and a score on 86 carries. If Kamara is unable to go, the bulk of the carries will fall to sixth year vet Latavius Murray, who has 32 rushes for 138 yards and a score this season. Murray was the team's most effective rusher in the second half of last week's win over Jacksonville, and has also been a solid receiver on screen passes. The Saints ability to stay patient with the run, as well as the physicality of their offensive line, has allowed them to be more productive in the rushing game in the second half of each of the last four ballgames. Rookie center Erik McCoy has been particularly impressive, both as a pass blocker against interior rushers but even moreso in his run blocking. McCoy and the rest of his linemates will be faced with a very formidable challenge on Sunday.
The Chicago run defense ranks fifth in the league, allowing only 81 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The Bears have allowed only one team to rush for over 100 yards against them this season, but that was their last game against Oakland when the Raiders rolled up 169 on the ground. The loss of the dynamic Hicks up front hurts the team, especially from a depth perspective. Defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Williams do a tremendous job of occupying blockers, while also creating plays themselves. The Bears have an active and athletic crew at linebacker, who are often able to run free because of the abilities of the defensive line in front of them. Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith are sideline to sideline linebackers that are the team's top tacklers and in on every play.
Matchup to Watch:
Erik McCoy vs. Eddie Goldman
McCoy, a rookie second round pick, has played better with each game and looks like a fixture for years at the center spot. He'll face a mauler with Goldman inside this game, and must control him for the Saints inside rushing attack to flourish. Like the Saints running game as a whole, McCoy seems to get stronger as the game progresses. If the same thing takes place on Sunday, the entire New Orleans front line could wear down the Bears defensive front that is thinner without Hicks.
Two weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders had more offensive success than any other team has had in 2019 against the Chicago Bears. The Raiders kept balanced throughout the game, forged their way to 398 total yards, and a short controlled passing game that kept quarterback Derek Carr unsacked. Exactly the type of offensive game plan the Saints have had in recent weeks. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs played a starring role, pounding out 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries. Jacobs is a similar runner to the Saints Latavius Murray; upright and powerful between the tackles. The Bears have also been vulnerable to opposing tight ends and bigger, physical wideouts. Michael Thomas should create opportunities against Fuller and Amukamara because of his size advantage and physicality, and the Saints will likely employ a short quick passing attack. New Orleans tight end Jared Cook is questionable with an ankle injury, One player to watch is Saints tight end Josh Hill. One of the league's better blockers at the position, New Orleans may use Hill to chip on Khalil Mack to slow his rush, then slip him into the flat as an extra short range target for Bridgewater. The Saints have had to manufacture offense in sometimes not pretty ways over the last month. Without Brees and perhaps now both Kamara and Cook, the game may very well have a physical throwback look on this side of the ball, with the Saints looking to continue their physical edge over one of the NFL's most respected defenses.
Where is the most important match up for the Saints offense against Chicago's defense?
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Michael Thomas vs. Kyle Fuller/Prince Amukamara
Ryan Ramczyk/Terron Armstead vs. Khalil Mack
Erik McCoy vs. Eddie Goldman
Jared Cook/Josh Hill vs. Bears LB's