Three Keys for Bears to Earn a Statement Victory Over Saints
Three weeks ago the Bears faced a difficult situation with their quarterback injured, Akiem Hicks out with a knee injury and Roquan Smith sidelined amid mystery.
When they came through by humbling the Minnesota Vikings 16-6, coach Matt Nagy thought it represented a milestone win of sorts.
"I can't tell you how many people have said to me over the past couple days about how much that win we just had with what we went through how much that meant to them personally, because I know what it meant to me personally," Nagy said a few days after the win. "Those are the ones when you say next year, 'Do you remember that game?'
"Yeah, I remember that game. That pulled us together. That made us solid for a lot of reasons."
It's funny how in the NFL what looks solid one week looks like mush the next.
The Bears needed only a crushing, unexpected loss in London to Oakland and a week to stew in self doubt in order to reach what looks like another critical test.
In their sixth game last year, they hosted the defending AFC champion Patriots in a real test of Nagy's coaching skills.
In this season's sixth game, it's an opponent most feel should have been opposing the Patriots in last season's Super Bowl.
Even the situation is similar. Last year the Bears were 3-2 when the Patriots came to Soldier Field and many wondered if they were legitimate contenders or just flashing potential early. The same doubt exist now.
Although the Bears lost 38-31, the Patriots needed a pair of special teams touchdowns and to stop a Hail Mary completion 1 yard short.
The big difference between last year and this year is no room exists for a moral victory like that one.
Last year the pressure was still off even at 3-3 after the New England loss because no one really called the Bears favorites for anything. Sure they were improved when Khalil Mack walked in the door at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest, but few expected a division title. Then they won nine of their last 10.
This time, after losing to Oakland and with Green Bay threatening to pull away from the rest of the division, the Bears can't afford to lose. Neither the Vikings nor Packers had any kind of momentum going at this time last year. This year, the entire NFC North is striding forward and the Bears can't afford to be left behind.
Especially in the NFC, where there is a glut of teams with winning records who could potentially contend for wild-card spots, the competition is fierce.
Here are three keys the Bears need to get into the winner's circle against New Orleans by recording another of those memorable victories Nagy talked about after the Minnesota game.
Follow the Minnesota plan
On offense, the Bears need to do what they did with the Vikings and play possession football. The Saints may be without Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara, but they still have explosive players like Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. They can turn short gains into big plays. New Orleans likes to play three safeties and it invites teams to run the ball against them, even if two of their safeties can almost play like linebackers.
Keeping the ball out of the hands of the Saints will frustrate them and help pressure their offense into committing mistakes when they do have the ball. The Bears had a 34 1/2-25 1/2 time-of-possession edge in that game. They'll have to run, but also be able to work the short passing game with tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen to keep the chains moving.
OLBs in pass coverage
People question the wisdom of doing this when you've got Khalil Mack and, to some extent, Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker. Dropping them occasionally into pass coverage on early downs can take away some of the screen game New Orleans loves to run. Whether Kamara plays or not, the Bears can expect screens to backs, to tight ends and to wide receivers. They love getting it out away from the interior quickly to let play makers gain yardage. This puts a lot of pressure on the two inside linebackers in the Bears scheme. Helping them with the occasional drop by someone outside could not only disrupt the screens, but might even lead to a cheap interception.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is said to be 6-foot-2, but looks shorter on the field and isn't the classic pocket passer who stands in and heaves it downfield in the face of pressure. He'd rather move around a bit, step up behind the Saints' guards and center to throw, or slide and throw just as Drew Brees does. If the Bears can get that inside push in their pass rush from the defensive ends or nose Eddie Goldman, they'll force Bridgewater to move sideways more than he wants and that's putting him right in the danger zone for Mack and Floyd.
The line: Saints +4 at Bears
The call: Saints 13, Bears 9
This week's games:
Cardinals +3 at Giants
Giants 31, Cardinals 30
Rams -3 at Falcons
Rams 27, Falcons 16
Texans +1 at Colts
Texans 24, Colts 20
Raiders +6 1/2 at Packers
Packers 31, Raiders 17
Dolphins +17 at Bills
Bills 27, Dolphins 6
Jaguars -4 at Bengals
Bengals 27, Jaguars 20
49ers -9 1/2 at Redskins
Redskins 20, 49ers 14
Vikings +2 at Lions
Vikings 23, Lions 20
Chargers +2 1/2 at Titans
Chargers 24, Titans 20
Ravens +3 at Seahawks
Seahawks 28, Ravens 24
Eagles +2 1/2 at Cowboys
Cowboys 20, Eagles 17
Patriots -10 at Jets
Patriots 33, Jets 13