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Matchup Nightmares for Bears Against the Saints

Whether it's one-on-one battles or the quarterback-coach dynamic, the Bears are up against it when they play the New Orleans Saints in Sunday's wild-card game

The biggest matchup disadvantage the Bears face Sunday in the playoffs against New Orleans might not be a single player-on-player situation.

The coaching situation is one where they have a coach in Matt Nagy, who benched Mitchell Trubisky but brought him back, going against one of the league's greatest all-time quarterback-coach pairings.

While Drew Brees has been rumored to have lost something on his deep ball with age, nothing is wrong with his head and he still seems to operate on the same wave length with coach Sean Payton.

"You have a head coach that's been working with a quarterback for a long time," Nagy said. "You have a quarterback that's been working with these guys, these skill players for a pretty long time. And so you see schematically the challenge that they present with the different things that they do, whether it's tempo or whether it's the personnel switches, getting the ball out, taking shots, being able to do different things there. That's a big challenge.

"And what they try to do is keep you on your heels and dictate the tempo and dictate what's going to happen each and every play."

It's possibly the greatest dynamic the Bears face in this game, but they also have plenty to worry about in the one-on-one battles. Here are the five matchups to be concerned with for the Bears.

Bears RT Germain Ifedi vs. Saints LDE Cameron Jordan

Jordan has definitely had better seasons sack-wise. In fact, the six-time Pro Bowl player has matched the lowest total he had since his rookie year with 7 1/2 sacks. However, Jordan always attracts extra attention and when that happens the Saints have an excellent alternative off the other edge in Trey Hendrickson. Jordan has a tough assignment in this game because of the bootleg action the Bears have used extensively with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but his quickness and athletic ability remain high at age 31. He did not have a sack facing Ifedi in last year's Seattle-New Orleans game. Ifedi is not at his best protecting the edge when blocking players who can combine speed with athleticism like Jordan can. He has allowed just two sacks despite playing five games at tackle, when he was originally signed to be a guard. Pro Football Focus gives him a midling grade of 63.7 as a pass blocker this year.

Bears LT Charles Leno Jr. vs. Saints RDE Trey Hendrickson

Most of the bootleg action run by the Bears has been to the right, as is the case with most right-handed quarterbacks. However, they have tested the left side with this at times and its success depends greatly on Mitchell Trubisky's ability to square his shoulders to the target line while on the run and Leno's ability to sell the inside run with his blocking. Hendrickson is having his best year as a pass rusher with 13 1/2 sacks, but in the process he often sells out to get the pass rush accomplished and is not effective as a run stopper. Zone-read runs by quarterbacks can be effective against him. Pro Football Focus gives him a strong 78.0 grade as a pass rusher, but he is a low 54.8 stopping the run and has made only 13 total tackles besides his sacks. Leno Jr. is a better pass blocker than run blocker normally and it's usually the edge rushers with great speed who have given him the fits. Hendrickson is more of an agile, second-effort rusher with good strength than a speed rusher. But since the Bears have gone to their new offensive line, Leno's run-blocking grades from PFF have risen to a 74.5, which is higher than his pass blocking.

Bears CB Duke Shelley vs. Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders

The Bears remember how dangerous Sanders can be when he scorched Buster Skrine for 11 receptions and 98 yards while with Denver last year in Week 2. Now the 11-year veteran receiver gets the chance to use his skills to get open out of the slot against a defensive back with only a handful of NFL snaps and should enjoy a huge edge in this matchup. Sanders missed three games earlier with COVID-19 and wasn't in the first Bears game. He had nine catches last week to show he's back to his old form. Shelley has been an adequate open-field tackler but struggled to keep up with slot receivers both against Green Bay and Minnesota.

Bears RCB Jaylon Johnson vs. Saints WR Michael Thomas

Johnson's projected return from a shoulder injury comes against one of the most productive receivers of the last decade. Thomas is coming off an ankle injury and has been slowed by injuries all year so there is no real health edge for anyone in this matchup. Thomas isn't necessarily the type of receiver to challenge a defensive back deep, but is a route runner without peer and highly athletic. He has the quickness to break short passes. Johnson will need to be physical and the question is whether he can do this because of the injury.

Bears ILB Josh Woods vs. Saints RB Alvin Kamara

This is a projected matchup because Kamara has been away for a week due to COVID-19 and it's possible he could return, although it hasn't been confirmed. Woods is making his first NFL start and it's in a playoff game. Trying to replace Roquan Smith will be no easy matter for Woods. He's not the physical tackler Smith is and will need to be sure in the open field because Kamara is as good a receiver out of the backfield as there is in the NFL. Woods is a former defensive back converted to linebacker, so he'll need to answer questions about his ability to stop the run in addition to covering Kamara in the flat and on screen passes. Smith is extremely adept at sniffing out screens and tackling backs for a loss. Can Woods do it? No one knows. He hasn't played enough. The screen could really be in play for the Saints in this game.

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