The 4-2 New Orleans Saints trek north to the Windy City this Sunday to take on the 5-2 Chicago Bears. New Orleans is coming off a 27-24 home win over the Carolina Panthers, their third consecutive victory, while the Bears are looking to rebound from a 24-10 loss on the road to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Saints own the league's 7th ranked defense in total yardage, allowing 328 yards per game, but the 29 points per game against them ranks 24th. More concerning is the defense's inability to get stops on 3rd down or keep opponents out of the end zone in the red zone.
New Orleans is 29th in 3rd down defense, letting opposing offenses convert over 50% of their opportunities. They're worst in the league when an opposing offense gets inside their 20-yard line - allowing a touchdown on over 86% of the time.
The Saints have created only one turnover in the past four contests after gathering three takeaways in the season opener.
The Saints take on a Chicago offense that averages 19.7 points per outing and has scored 30 points only once. The Bears rank 29th in total yards, averaging 308 yards per game, and have turned the ball over 9 times in the last six contests.
Only two offenses are worse than their 35.1% 3rd down conversion rate, and their 47.6% red zone percentage ranks 29th in the NFL.
Here's a closer look at how the Saints’ defense matches up against the Bears offense.
THE PASSING GAME
New Orleans ranks 17th against the pass, allowing 238 yards per game and 66% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. However, the Saints have allowed a league-high 17 touchdown passes while intercepting quarterbacks three times, and only once since opening day.
Their entire secondary has struggled with blown assignments, poor angles, and back-breaking penalties every game. Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins are a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks capable of taking on the league's best wideouts.
Each defensive-backfield player has been inconsistent. The defense has questionable depth at the position and has been taken advantage of by opponents this season.
The New Orleans cornerbacks have been erratic, but the play at safety has been much worse. Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins have been abysmal, and their poor play has been a major defensive liability down the field.
Second-year safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has picked up his play over the last few games, reminiscent of the high level of play in his rookie year.
The Saints have sacked opposing passers 14 times this year and registered 34 QB hits. They’d have even more, but Justin Herbert of the Chargers and Carolina's Teddy Bridgewater escaped pressure several times over the last two games to create plays.
Eleven of those sacks have come from their defensive line, led by 4.5 from DE Trey Hendrickson. Pro Bowler Cam Jordan and third-year DE Marcus Davenport have combined for 2.5 sacks and 12 pressures, forming a formidable trio on the edge.
Defensive tackles David Onyemata and Sheldon Rankins have 3 sacks and 12 pressures, and combined with Shy Tuttle, Malcom Brown, and Malcolm Roach to give the Saints a fearsome interior rotation.
Linebackers Demario Davis (2 sacks, 5 pressures) and Alex Anzalone are every-down defenders who are effective blitzers and athletic in coverage. Depth is provided by veteran Craig Robertson and promising rookie Zack Baun.
The Saints have a disruptive front seven but must fortify their play in the secondary to eliminate big plays in the passing game.
Chicago's passing game ranks 25th in the league, averaging 224 yards per game. Coach Matt Nagy benched starter Mitchell Trubisky after three games in favor of veteran Nick Foles, who has completed 64% of his throws for an average of 228 yards per game with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Foles is an accurate passer with big-game experience that stays cool under pressure.
Chicago's best receiver is wideout Allen Robinson, who has caught 44 of 70 targets for 544 yards and two scores. Robinson is a physical receiver at 6’2” 220-Lbs with the athleticism to burn defenses down the field, but is most effective through intermediate zones.
Rookie 5th round pick WR Darnell Mooney has emerged as an effective option underneath and has 21 catches for 236 yards and a score. Another dangerous weapon for the Bears in the open field is third-year wideout Anthony Miller, who has 19 receptions for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Former Saint Ted Ginn Jr., Cordarrelle Patterson, and Javon Wims are game-breaking threats who have combined for 18 catches and 143 yards.
The Saints have had trouble defending tight ends this season and will be tested by former Saints TE Jimmy Graham, the Bears' second-leading receiver with 27 receptions for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Rookie 2nd round pick TE Cole Kmet got off to a slow start with one catch in the first five games but has 4 receptions for 65 yards in the last two contests. Running back David Montgomery is also a capable receiver out of the backfield and has pulled in 25 passes for 184 yards with a score.
The Bears have allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked 15 times this season, and poor pass protection has left Foles under constant duress. Defensive tackles have gotten good penetration on Chicago's interior. Most of the sacks have come from the outside where offensive tackles Bobby Massie and Charles Leno haven't been able to contain edge rushers to keep Foles upright.
THE RUNNING GAME
The Saints have the NFL's 4th-best run defense, allowing 89.7 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. New Orleans has not allowed a 100-Yd rusher in 49 consecutive games and has held four opponents below 100 rushing yards as a team this year, including a paltry 37 yards to the Panthers last week.
The Saints defensive tackles get outstanding penetration to short-circuit running plays in the backfield and also have the athletic ability to cut down a runner before they turn the corner outside. Dominance up front has allowed linebackers Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and the defensive backs an unencumbered run to ball carriers, often leading to stops for loss at the line of scrimmage. As a team, the Saints have 29 tackles for loss this season.
Chicago has not been able to complement Foles and their passing attack with any semblance of a running game, ranking dead last in the league and being held to less than 65 yards rushing in each of the last four games.
Losing Tarik Cohen to a season-ending injury has left the running attack solely to David Montgomery, who has 353 yards and a touchdown but averages 3.7/carry.
The Bears use Patterson (25 carries for 75 yards) and his open-field skills as a misdirection threat, but with little effectiveness so far. Chicago's offensive line has been manhandled at the point of attack and has not established balance for an offense that has the third-fewest rushing attempts in the league.
The Bears had little success offensively when hosting the Saints last October, generating only a field goal on offense and touchdown on a Patterson kickoff return until two meaningless touchdowns late in the 4th quarter of a 36-25 New Orleans victory.
The Saints held Chicago to 17 rushing yards and hit Trubisky seven times during that game, holding them to 125 total yards until two late drives once the outcome was decided. Cam Jordan had 2 sacks in last year’s matchup and has dominated Chicago RT Massie in the last two meetings between the teams.
The Saints will not only need to pressure Foles to keep him from getting in a rhythm, but must finish plays and get him to the ground. New Orleans needs to dominate the line of scrimmage to prevent Chicago's running game from establishing balance, but the bigger concern is in their secondary.
Robinson, who had 10 catches and a touchdown against the Saints last year, will be a challenge for corners Lattimore and Jenkins, who must also clamp down Miller and Mooney.
Look for a physical duel between Demario Davis, Malcolm Jenkins, and Jimmy Graham, who will be fired up to face the team he starred for to start his career. If allowed the time to pass, Foles will undoubtedly test the New Orleans secondary deep, which has been porous and a dangerous liability through every game this season.