The New Orleans Saints will try and right their recent playoff woes when they face the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card round on Sunday afternoon. The Bears made the playoffs after a strong finish to the season as well as receiving some help from other teams.
Most Saints fans are well aware of the implications heading into the game, and as such we want to dive into the key matchups in which New Orleans must win in order to come out the victor this game. For this exercise we will assume that both Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara will make their returns on Sunday. Thomas is eligible to be activated off of the injured reserve (IR) and Kamara must test negative three times in a row before Sunday in order to be activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Marshon Lattimore versus Allen Robinson
A lot of this game will come down to how well the Saints defense can stop the Bears offense. It begins with forcing Mitchell Trubisky to make plays, which in turn means that he will have to rely on Allen Robinson to do so. Marshon Lattimore will likely shadow Robinson all afternoon, and despite criticism for not showing up against big time wideouts not named Mike Evans, Lattimore has performed well in a “prove it” year.
Robinson will likely benefit from Trubisky throwing to him on Sunday vice Foles as season earlier this season, but that is a strong assumption that Trubisky will even show up to dance. Lattimore has vastly improved since the Week 7 matchup with Chicago, and has been a huge factor in why this Saints secondary has improved so much in the second half of the season. However, Robinson’s first and second half of the season splits are not much different. You get what you get with Robinson: feast or famine. If Lattimore can help ensure the later, then New Orleans likely wins.
Akiem Hicks versus Saints right guards
When the Saints took on the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, Nick Easton did not look great in pass protection. He allowed direct pressures to quarterback Drew Brees on multiple occasions. The lineman did miss multiple weeks with a concussion, but it was odd to see 2020 first-round pick Cesar Ruiz only receive seven snaps on offense in favor of Easton.
Saints head coach Sean Payton is likely spending some time and deliberating on which player will take the lion’s share of the snaps at the position. With Akiem Hicks, who is well known by New Orleans, attacking the position and ultimately Brees, this matchup will be ever important. If the Saints can stop Hicks, or at least slow him down, then the offense will be able to operate as intended. If neither Easton nor Ruiz can get the job done, not only will it be a long day, but Brees could ultimately have his health put in jeopardy. Whoever’s number is called by Payton has to step up.
Michael Thomas versus Kyle Fuller
Saints All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain during the Week 1 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He returned for Weeks 9-14 but was subsequently put on the IR. He is eligible to return for the Bears game, and by all accounts he should make his return. The New Orleans receiving corps has performed well with Emmanuel Sanders acting as WR1 and Marquez Callaway really coming into himself. However, you cannot replace Thomas.
As such, Chicago will likely put Kyle Fuller on Thomas’s trail on Sunday. Fuller only has one interception on the season but is still listed atop the depth chart for the Bears at the cornerback position. His Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade sits right around average for his position. Thomas will have the opportunity to exploit the Bears defense on Sunday. If he can take advantage of this matchup after missing the last three weeks then there is little reason why New Orleans should not walk away with the victory, and into the subsequent Divisional Round appearance.
What do you think are the matchups the Saints must win on Sunday? 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, follow us on Instagram at @SaintsCSC and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KadeKistner. Also, please subscribe to the Bleav in Saints podcast hosted by Delvin Breaux, Maddy Hudak and Kade Kistner.