This Sunday, the Bears (3-1) will look to right the proverbial ship against an impressive Saints (4-0) squad. Chicago struggled mightily to contain the Lions’ Reggie Bush last week in Detroit as he exploded for one touchdown and 173 total yards on 22 touches. The Bears must find a way to frustrate a similarly gifted, open field runner in the Saints’ Darren Sproles. The Saints boast even more playmakers on offense than the Lions, so it will be interesting to see how Mel Tucker schemes against not just Sproles, but All-World tight end Jimmy Graham and big-time receiver Marques Colston. The Bears disappointed in a “measuring stick” game last week, but they will have a chance to redeem themselves against arguably the most talented team in the NFC. Let’s go inside the numbers, supported by the great analytics from Pro Football Focus.
Head Coach Sean Payton’s return has seemingly revitalized a Saints team hell-bent on outsmarting, outplaying, and outscoring their opponents. The offense runs through quarterback Drew Brees, who acts as a virtual extension of Payton on the field. Brees owns a (94.34) Pro Football Focus QB Rating, good for fifth in the league. He has been downright surgical at times, as seen by his 75.6% adjusted accuracy rating, which takes into account spiked and thrown away passes and dropped balls. In Brees’ case, it certainly helps to throw to a 6’5” WR like Colston. When he targets Colston, Brees owns a 102.4 passer rating. By comparison, Jay Cutler has just an 88.3 passer rating when throwing to Brandon Marshall. The disparity between each team’s situational passing can be attributed to Marshall’s consistent drawing of double and triple teams. Colston, on the other hand, benefits from Jimmy Graham’s presence. Herein lies the problem for the Bears. The presence of two dynamic pass catchers forces the Bears to “pick their poison” on certain plays.
Further complicating matters, safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, responsible for coverage assistance, have graded out as the second-worst safety combination in the NFL, according to PFF. The Bears’ duo averages a (-6.2) grade while the worst team, Jacksonville, averages a (-8.65) grade. Last week, Wright looked brutal in his attempt to bring down Reggie Bush in the open field. Sproles will pose an even larger threat to break a big one since his 5’6” frame allows little room for tackle error. It should come as no surprise if the Bears game plan against the Saints looks similar to how it did against the Lions. Limit the huge plays and allow the high voltage Saints to move the ball between either 20 yard line, but lock it up in the red zone. Brees, however, has a more complete arsenal of red zone threats than Lions’ QB Matt Stafford. Graham, the 6’6” former basketball player, will draw double coverage no doubt. The Bears’ James Anderson has thrived in coverage, posting a (4.6) coverage grade, best among all 4-3 outside linebackers. New Orleans has virtually no running game to speak of (20th ranked at -2.5), but they utilize draws and screens effectively to free Sproles and former Illini back Pierre Thomas.