“Monsters” await Saints in Chicago

Buccaneers Saints Football
Sheldon Rankins and the Saints defense are looking for a season-changing performance against the lowly Bears' offense. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

 

New Orleans Saints (4-2) vs. Chicago Bears (5-2)
Sunday, Nov. 1, 3:25 p.m.
TV: FOX WVUE FOX 8
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM

 

Saints looking for statement game against Bears

How real are the 5-2 Chicago Bears?

That’s the question the Saints will answer when they take on the “Monsters of the Midway” Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

Bears football is based strong defense, and, with players like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, they could give the Saints fits. But, as is usually the case in Chicago, the offense has a lot of question marks – most notably under center.

There’s an old adage in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. Chicago has gone between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky this season with various degrees of success.

The Bears had a surprising 20-19 win over the 5-2 Buccaneers in Week 5, but their other four wins have come against teams .500 or worse – the Lions (3-3), Giants (1-6), Falcons (1-6), and Panthers (3-4). They’ve lost to the 4-2 Colts and are coming off of a 24-10 loss to the Rams (5-2), in which the offense was only able to account for a field goal.

New Orleans (4-2) has won three consecutive games and is coming off a 27-24 victory that saw the Saints offense succeed without their two top wide receivers, Michael Thomas (hamstring) and Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19). As has been the case this season, the players responded with their “next man up mentality.”

The unit looked like they didn’t miss a beat, collecting 415 total yards (277 passing, 138 rushing), converting 12 of 14 third down attempts, and holding the ball for 34:31.

Quarterback Drew Brees completed 29 of 36 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another. Undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway, Alvin Kamara, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, and Jared Cook combined for 27 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Kamara and Latavius Murray ran for 130 yards on 25 attempts, a 5.2 yard per carry average.

The Saints run defense matched the offense’s performance, holding the Panthers to just 37 yards on 14 carries. Unfortunately (once again), mental lapses, blown coverage, and penalties kept Carolina in the game.

With a three-point lead and the Panthers driving late in the fourth quarter, Saints DE Marcus Davenport sacked Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater for an eight-yard loss on third down. On 4th and 19, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule sent kicker Joey Slye out for what would have been an NFL record 65-yard field goal, but the try fell just short of sending the game to overtime.

Chicago enters the game against New Orleans with questions about head coach Matt Nagy’s play calling, the talent on its offensive line, and its ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air. That has to have the Saints, especially the defense, ready to make a statement in a Sunday afternoon game that will be widely televised across the country.

The Saints are a half-game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for first place in the NFC South, a win will over Chicago will help New Orleans keep up in the division race and give them a head-to-head win over a common opponent in the NFC playoff race.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage
When the Saints have the ball

The Saints are averaging 30.0 points, seventh best in the NFL and 11th in the league with 384.5 yards per game, 265.7 through the air (9th) and 118.8 on the ground (14th).

The Bears are giving up an average of 20.0 points (seventh in the league) and 342.0 yards per game (1oth in the NFL). They are 16th against the run (119.1) and eighth in passing defense (222.1).

When the Bears have the ball

Chicago ranks 29th in total offense with 308.0 yards per game, 223.9 in the air (25th) and 84.1 on the ground (32nd), and 27th in scoring average (19.7).

The Saints D is giving up 29.0 points per game (24th in the NFL). They rank seventh in the league in total defense (328.3 ypg), fourth in rushing defense (89.7) and 17th in passing (238.7).

 

Goal to Geaux

Saints game planning for a win against Chicago comes down to keeping the offense on the field. They’ll focus on establishing the ground game, converting thirds downs, and managing the clock to wear out their defense.

The Saints’ defense will look to make the Bears’ quarterback beat them by stopping the run and applying a lot of pressure on passing downs. With Chicago’s lack of production, the stage is set for the D to turn in a season-changing performance.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 7

  1. Congratulations to Drew Brees, who became the first player in NFL history to complete 7,000 passes.
  2. Kudos to Alvin Kamara, who joined Roger Craig and Christian McCaffrey as the only players with at least 2,500 rushing and 2,500 receiving yards in their first four seasons in NFL history.
  3. The Saints’ Scouting Department under GM Mickey Loomis and head Coach Sean Payton has been amazing at discovering hidden gems. Their latest example may be undrafted rookie receiver Marquez Callaway, who had eight catches for a team-leading 75 yards last Sunday.

Quotes of the Week

“Each week it is finding a different way to win. I can’t say enough about the guys’ resolve and resiliency to be able to do that. These last two games especially have come down to the wire and the last drive to find ways to win the game.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the challenges the team has overcome this season

“As far as it goes stopping the run, we’re just kind of clicking on all cylinders right now. So we’ve just got to kind of get everything else corrected and fix little things here and there. And once we get those things clicking on all cylinders as well, our defense will be exactly what we expect it to be.” – Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins on improving the defense’s performance

“You guys don’t have anything for me?” – Saints punter Thomas Morstead at the post-game press conference after not having to make one kick against the Panthers.

 

Inside the NFC South

Presnap

Atlanta Falcons (1-6) 25 at Carolina Panthers (3-4) 17 – Thursday Night
Atlanta had strong showings from its offense and defense to beat Carolina on Thursday night, 25-17. Falcons QB passed for 281 yards and a TD run, WR Julio Jones had seven catches for 137 yards, and Todd Gurley led a rushing attack that gained 131 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Their defense had two huge fourth and one stops and held Atlanta to 20% on third down. Atlanta has won two out of their last three games since naming Raheem Morris interim head coach. Carolina has lost three in a row.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) at New York Giants (1-6) – Monday Night
The Bucs are rolling while the Giants are tripping over themselves. Tampa has defeated the Packers, 38-10, and Raiders, 45-20, in the last two weeks. Big Blue beat Washington by won in Week 6 but let the Eagles make a fourth quarter comeback to steal a 22-21 win last Sunday. Sports books have the Bucs favored by 11 for a reason.

 

NFC Playoff Picture

Below are the current NFC standings into Week 8. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.

Seed

 

Record Watch

The race is on! Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, 43, threw four TD passes in Sunday’s 45-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, moving him ahead of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 41, as the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing touchdowns – by one. Brees is still the NFL’s yardage king, though. He leads Brady by 2,553 in career yardage.

Record

 

The Extra Point: Distractions and Deadlines

It’s been seven weeks since New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in the Week 1 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Without the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the offense struggled to get going. There was hope that he would return in Week 5, but during practice he fought with teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson and reportedly jawed with coaches when they tried to counsel him. He was held out of the game that week, and the thought was he would return after the Week 6 bye. In practice last week, he strained his hamstring causing him to miss Week 7. He’s practiced this week, so hopefully he’ll be in the lineup for the Saints’ Week 8 match up with the 5-2 Chicago Bears this Sunday.
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been whispers that Thomas, his representatives, and/or the Saints have explored trade opportunities before the NFL trade deadline this coming Tuesday. That’s led to some speculation that Thomas isn’t happy in NOLA, his injury isn’t legitimate, and he’s trying to work a potential deal.

I think the talk is just that, talk.

The Saints expect to play in the postseason and realize there is no point is rushing him back and risking further injury that will keep him sidelined any longer.

It’s a shame Thomas’ status is becoming a distraction from complete focus on football.

Thomas knows that this team needs him if it is going to go to the Super Bowl.

If he is out this week, the Saints will be without their top two receivers for the second consecutive game, as Emmanuel Sanders is sidelined with COVID-19.

New Orleans has proven they are good enough to get wins even when they aren’t at full strength. They can probably beat the Bears without Thomas and Sanders, but they face the Buccaneers in Tampa next week in a game with major playoff implications that could go a long way in determining the NFC South and impacting the playoff race.

It would be nice if Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees could use this week’s game to shake off and rust and get up to speed before going on the road next week.

If the Saints want to play postseason football, it’s imperative that distractions are limited and the focus remains on football. Winning will silence the whispers. But it has to be a team effort. The biggest statements the Saints can make are on the scoreboard and stat sheet. Win and put up solid numbers, and the good times will end talk of conflict.

 

 

 

Categories: Pre-Snap Read