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NFL Wild Card Preview: Saints look to duplicate rushing success against Bears run defense

Alvin Kamara is eligible to return Sunday, so expect to see a lot of him against the Bears defense

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints rushing offense is in a very weird situation for Sunday.

Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray should be returning from the COVID-19 reserve list, Ty Montgomery is coming off of a huge week as the Saints starting running back, and Taysom Hill is still Taysom Hill. All of that gives them a plethora of options for ways to run the ball against a Chicago Bears defense that has been good — but not great — against the run this season.

It’s unquestionably a tricky spot for Sean Payton to be in, however, don’t expect to see less of Kamara than normal. In their Week 8 matchup, Kamara had 12 carries for 67 yards, whereas Hill rushed the ball five times for 35 yards. Murray, meanwhile, was quiet, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. He had eight carries for just 17 yards in the first showdown between these teams.

The Saints should have the advantage up front. Their offensive line is coming off of a dominant performance in which it sprung Montgomery for 105 yards. Most teams would have to air it out if its entire running back room got sick. The Saints just had to turn to the next man up. That’s invaluable for a team like this. Expect to see a lot of effort to get Andrus Peat blocking in space, as that’s where he thrives.

The Bears, to their credit, have some really good players at the second level. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan have been Iron Man defensive players all year, and both had over 100 tackles — with Smith notching a staggering 139 on the season. Akiem Hicks undoubtedly also has a bone to pick with the Saints, while running anywhere near Khalil Mack is always a risk.

Outside of Peat, of course, the Saints also have the likes of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk bookending the line. The Bears gave up 113.4 yards per game this season, good for 15th in the league, so the opportunities will be there. However, over the past three games the Bears have given up just 104.3 yards per game.

The Saints will have chances to move the ball, but they’ll need to find balance. Brees threw it 41 times the last time these two teams played, and he went for 280. Meaning that the gameplan there was to stretch the field with the pass in lieu of running it. With how the Saints are running it the past few weeks, expect to see a different gameplan, at least early. The Saints are 3-2 when Brees throws the ball over 35 times. They’re 6-1 when he goes under, with the one loss coming to the Chiefs.

With that in mind, 35 is the magic number in this game. Expect to see a lot of Hill and Murray early, while Kamara starts out heavy in the passing game before getting more carries late. That’s been Payton’s M.O. this season, and it’s worked for the Saints so far.

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