As if facing a talented Chicago Bears defense wasn’t enough, The New Orleans Saints offense will now do so without three key receivers Sunday — Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Marquez Callaway.
After a prolonged absence of Thomas due to ankle and hamstring injuries and losing Sanders to COVID reserve, we recently found out Callaway, who was huge last week with eight catches and 75 yards, will also be out with an ankle injury sustained against the Carolina Panthers.
So, what does this mean?
It could mean a lot of things. One thing’s for sure, and that’s Alvin Kamara will probably get around 10 touches in the pass game. And you can probably look for over 50 yards receiving from Tre’Quan Smith.
But there is one guy in particular who needs to step up — and that’s Jared Cook.
This Saints passing attack has figured out ways to churn out yards and be effective despite missing important guys. They’re third in the league in success rate on passes, according to PFF, and they are gaining the fifth-most passing first downs per game, via Team Rankings.
In order for that to continue, I think they need to get the big guy involved.
Cook’s having a bit of an ‘eh’ season, averaging about 40 yards per game, but also scoring three TDs. He hasn’t been super consistent on a yards per route run basis, but when he’s targeted, good things generally happen.
The Bears are stout just about everywhere defensively except at linebacker. And they’ve been somewhat susceptible to tight ends over the middle of the field.
Danny Trevathan, who’s had a good career, is past his prime at this point and has been a bit of a liability in coverage this year. He is in coverage on the play above. He allows Grandpa Gronkowski to cross his face and beat him on the crosser.
Trevathan has allowed 20 catches out of 25 targets for 286 yards — 14.3 (!!!) yards per reception — which is just kind of crazy for a linebacker. He’s also allowing over an 80% catch rate.
Jared Cook should get some opportunities in the middle of the field this game. Much like last week when Brees was looking off defenders and hitting him on seam routes.
The Bears defense is very multiple. There’s not one particular coverage that they use a lot more than another. They play some one-high man, some Cover 3 and some Cover 6. And they trust both of their safeties — Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson — deep.
They’re not like some of these other defenses the Saints have played recently where you kind of know going in what coverages they’re going to be in most of the time.
One thing I did notice about their secondary when watching tape was their aggressiveness at corner. Kyle Fuller is one of the best off-coverage corners in football and can jump on a quick-developing route at any time. Rookie Jaylon Johnson is very talented, and makes a ton of plays on the ball. Johnson has nine pass breakups but gives up some big ones too.
One of my bold predictions for this week is that Brees will throw a TD off of a double move. This aggressiveness I mention is a big reason why.
Also, the Saints tried to hit on one to Deonte Harris last week, as you can see at the bottom of the graphic below:
The Panthers didn’t bite.
The Bears also tend to get a bit grabby at times, referenced by their second-most DPIs in the league (second to the Saints). Chicago is tied for the most defensive holdings as well.
This ought to aid the Saints’ downfield passing game Sunday.
Something else I noticed on tape when watching the Bears-Rams game was the effectiveness of the curl/flat concept against this defense, putting the flat defender in a tough position.
It’s good against zone and man and generally gets the ball out fast. Also the Bears, who play a 3-4 defense, will sometimes drop an edge rusher into the flats, making this read easier.
I talked about the Saints manipulating flat defenders in my last film study article, referencing this play.
Brees is just so good with his eyes, and the flat defender has no chance.
If they want to get aggressive and jump on one of these curls, hit them with the aforementioned double move.
Khalil Mack, who was listed as questionable to play Sunday, will be a huge factor whether he plays or not. If he does, he’ll almost certainly have a positive impact. If he sits, the Saints will have another advantage.
He has the highest PFF pass rush grade in the league among edge defenders at 90.7.
This pass rush is no joke and it’s a huge reason their defense is so darn good. But if Mack is out, it goes from elite to pretty good.
The Bears efficiency in the pass rush and coverage has produced stingy team defense with numbers like the sixth-best EPA allowed per pass play (-0.016) and fourth-best successful play allowed rate (36.4%) — via PFF.
The Saints offense will have to be clicking on all cylinders to move the ball consistently Sunday.
How do you think the Saints passing attack will fare against Chicago? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.