In Enemy Territory: Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints

In Enemy Territory: Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints
Saints' TE Jimmy Graham

The Chicago Bears host the New Orleans Saints as they look to bounce back from a tough loss last week against the Lions. Here’s an in-depth look at key matchups, Saints’ personnel, and my score prediction for the game:

On offense

The New Orleans Saints’ newly installed 3-4 defense is led by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. So far this season, Ryan has turned around a unit that was a weakness last season. It’s not too much of a shock, as I always thought the personnel on that side of the ball to be better equipped for a 3-4.

The strength on that defense is in its front seven. And so, we start with a couple key matchups on the line of scrimmage to keep an eye on Sunday:

Jermon Bushrod vs. Cameron Jordan

Young players usually don’t have a big impact until their third season in the league; this year we are seeing that in Cameron Jordan. He is developing into one the better 3-4 DEs in the league. So far he’s on pace for a big statistical year, as through four weeks of the season, he has accumulated four sacks.

For Bushrod, this will be another tough matchup, and for someone who got a pretty big contract in the off-season, so far he hasn’t lived up to it. Bushrod will have an opportunity to redeem himself against one of the league’s best this Sunday.

Jordan Mills vs. Junior Galette

After years of being a situational pass rusher when the Saints ran a 4-3 defense, Galette is in his ideal position at LOLB. It’s a position where his skill-set fits best, as Galette is a big athletic LB with an explosive first step off the edge to get to the QB.

Mills has been a force along with fellow rookie Kyle Long in the run game but has struggle this season in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Mills grades out as the team’s worst pass protector with a -8.3 grade. Head coach Marc Trestman is going to need Mills to improve more in this area. He has shown flashes but needs to play with more consistency.

Akiem Hicks has also developed into a very solid 3-4 DE. He’s does a great job doing the dirty work for that front seven; occupying multiple blockers which in turn allows guys like David Hawthorne and Chad Loften free pursuit to the football.

The secondary has also been much improved; they are fifth in the league in passing yards allowed and according to PPF rank 11th in pass coverage efficiency. Kenny Vaccaro has had some rookie moments so far this season, but the former longhorn is showing fans why he was billed the top safety by most draft experts.

Malcolm Jenkins is still a steady veteran, and he’s having a solid season. A key matchup, however, will be on the outside at WR and CB …

Brandon Marshall vs. Keenan Lewis

Lewis, next to Jenkins, is the team’s best secondary player. He’s Ryan’s No. 1 guy as far as giving out an assignment to stop the opposing offense’s best receiving threat.

Marshall has had two games in a row where the opposing secondary has shut him down or simply contained him. If there’s game where the Bears will need Marshall to beast it’s this Sunday, where they will need to put up some points in order to walk out of soldier field with a W.

On defense

The Bears’ defense should have an us-against-the-world mentality going into this game as most fans and media think the Saints’ offense is going to march up and down the field on them. The defense was beyond horrible last week against the Lions and mainly with fundamental things like tackling.

They weren’t gap disciplined against Reggie Bush, and in the end he made them pay. Darren Sproles is not the same caliber back as Bush, but what I said last week about Bush also applies to Sproles. Sproles is a big play back, and if the line is getting pushed around, there is no gap discipline and the LBs are lazy tacklers, Sproles can turn a simple hand off or dump off pass into big yards.

Sproles is only half of the problem the Bears’ defense will have to deal with. Drew Brees is one of the greatest QBs to ever put on a pair of cleats. He does a great job going through his progression, delivering the ball with great accuracy and not putting his offense and team in bad situations with turnovers and unnecessary sacks.

However, Brees — like every other QB — is not invincible, and the best way to disrupt the future hall of famer is pressuring him, specifically up the middle. Here’s a key matchup to watch in the trenches:

Stephen Paea vs. Jahri Evans

The loss of Henry Melton has forced the Bears to take their best NT on the team in Paea and play him at three technique. Although Paea is best at NT, he has shown improvement as a pass rusher this season, as he’s second on the team in QB hurries with seven according to PFF.

Paea draws a tough assignment with RG Jahri Evans, who is arguably one of the better OGs in the league. Paea, along with Nate Collins, having a solid afternoon could prove to be the difference in how this game turns out.

Brees will be without slot WR Lance Moore, but he still has plenty of weapons. Marques Colston is the assignment Charles Tillman will draw. Slot WR Kenny Stills is developing into a solid weapon for them down the field (Bears could use one of those). The key matchup, however, is not with one of the WRs …

James Anderson vs. Jimmy Graham

I believe the Bears will throw a few different looks at Graham, but I expect Anderson to get a bulk of the work load against the athletic TE. Anderson has been one of the team’s best defenders over the past four weeks, but this is a pretty tough matchup for any LB.

If Anderson can come away from the matchup containing Graham, it will instill more confidence in defensive coordinator Mel Tucker that Anderson can matchup with just about any TE in the league.

The Saints have struggled to run the football, and that could be an advantage for the Bears’ defense. If they can stop the run with the just the front four, that gives them more defenders in the back seven to stop the pass. No Mark Ingram in this game can be costly for the Saints’ offense, which will have to rely on Pierre Thomas and Sproles to handle the work load. The Bears have to make the Saints one-dimensional in this game.

Score Prediction: Bears 34, Saints 24

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