Incredibly, the New Orleans Saints will play their first outdoor game of the 2020 season when they travel north to face the Chicago Bears this Sunday afternoon. The Saints come in with a 4-2 record and the league's 11th ranked offense, averaging 385 yards and 30 points per game. New Orleans has the sixth most 1st downs in the league and the NFL's top 3rd down offense, converting 55% of their opportunities. The Saints have averaged 407 yards/game in the last five contests and have turned the ball over just five times this season.
They'll take on a Chicago team that comes in with a 5-2 mark forged on the strength of one of the league's best defenses. The Bears give up 342 yards of offense per game, 10th in the NFL, and opponents average just 20 points against them. Chicago's red-zone defense is the best in the league, allowing the opposition to score a touchdown on just 42% of their trips inside the 20. Their 3rd down defense is second in the NFL, giving up a 1st down on only 31.7% of third-down chances. The Bears have held four opponents under 20 points this season and have forced 9 turnovers.
Here's how the New Orleans offense stacks up against the Chicago defense in a showdown of strength vs. strength.
THE PASSING GAME
The Saints own the league's 9th ranked passing attack, averaging 266 yards per outing. Quarterback Drew Brees leads the NFL with a 72.6% completion percentage and has averaged 292 yards passing in the last five contests while throwing 11 touchdown passes and just 3 interceptions on the year.
After interior offensive line issues with pass protection early on, the Saints have protected Brees better in recent weeks inside. Offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead are an elite pair that has silenced most of the league's best pass rushers and will face another fierce pass rush on Sunday. However, Armstead is questionable with an elbow injury, and Ramczyk has had a bit of a down year so far compared to his lofty All-Pro standards.
The Saints have been efficient through the air despite injuries throughout their receiving corps. Pro Bowl TE Jared Cook missed one game and was slowed in another with a groin injury. All-Pro WR Michael Thomas has not suited up since the opening game.
First with an ankle injury, and now a strained hamstring that caused him to miss last Sunday and leaves him questionable for this game, though he did return to practice on Thursday. They placed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last Friday, leaving his status for this game doubtful.
With the receiving corps depleted, undrafted rookie WR Marquez Callaway has stepped up into a bigger role. Callaway, who is also questionable this week with an ankle injury, has caught 12 of 16 targets over the last two games, including 8 catches for 75 yards in last week's win over Carolina.
All-Pro kick returner Deonte Harris has also played a bigger part of the offense, pulling in 4 receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers. Third-year wideout Tre'Quan Smith is the elder statesman of the Saints receiving corps without Thomas or Sanders, and is finally showing signs of consistency. He has caught 20 of 25 targets for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Jared Cook should be a key weapon down the middle against a Chicago defense that’s been vulnerable against the position. Cook leads the Saints on average per reception (14.1) and has 14 catches for 198 yards and 3 scores. Running back Alvin Kamara leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and is Brees' favorite target. Kamara has caught 46 of his 53 targets for 460 yards and 3 touchdowns. He will be utilized as a runner, a receiver out of the backfield, and even a valuable weapon lined up wide.
The Bears rank 8th against the pass, and the six touchdown passes they've allowed are the lowest in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 58.7% of their throws against Chicago, who has not allowed a quarterback to throw for over 250 yards since the season opener and only one 300-Yd passer in their last 20 games. The Bears have given up just one 100-Yd receiver this season and have intercepted opposing passers three times.
Chicago has a shutdown cornerback in Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller, who has 19 career interceptions and one this year. Rookie 2nd round pick Jaylon Johnson has been targeted often but responded extremely well, leading the team with 10 pass breakups. Buster Skrine is a talented slot corner that gives the Bears a capable coverage trio against any receiving corps. Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson has scored six career defensive touchdowns and had two more called back by penalty this season.
He is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league on that side of the ball, but is questionable for this game with a knee injury. Free safety Tashaun Gipson, who leads the team with two interceptions, has an underrated range and outstanding play recognition, while veteran S Deon Bush provides depth at the position.
The Bears have 16 sacks, and 40 QB hits so far, led by 5.5 takedowns and 16 pressures from All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack., one of the NFL's most feared defenders. Mack can destroy an offense single-handedly but is supported by one of best defensive fronts in the league.
Former Saint defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is a powerful rusher with an explosive first step with 3.5 sacks and 16 pressures. Both Hicks and Mack command double-team blocking, but the Bears can still bring heavy pressure with Robert Quinn, Barkevious Mingo, Roy Robertson-Harris on the edge or former Saints John Jenkins and Mario Edwards Jr. inside.
THE RUNNING GAME
The Saints running game ranks 14th in the league, averaging 119 yards per game. Alvin Kamara leads the team with 364 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. Providing a powerful 1-2 punch is veteran RB Latavius Murray, who has 265 yards and two scores.
Both backs are effective between the tackles with a lethal burst in the open field. The New Orleans offensive line controls the point of attack and creates cutback lanes for Kamara and Murray while also athletic enough to get downfield to spring them for bigger gains.
The Bears own the league's 15th ranked rush defense, allowing an average of 120 yards per game on the ground. Chicago has been uncharacteristically vulnerable against the run at times, allowing three teams to rush for over 135 yards and holding just one team below the century mark.
The Bears are at their best when their defensive line gets push into opposing backfields while defeating double teams. That allows active inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, their leading tacklers, an open run to the ball carrier.
Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, and Tre'Quan Smith all missed last October's game against the Bears with injuries. The Saints still rolled up 424 yards in that game on their way to a 36-25 victory. Armstead and Ramczyk stifled Mack, holding him to just 1 quarterback pressure.
Latavius Murray also picked up 119 rushing yards and two scores on the ground in the game. He also caught five passes, as QB Teddy Bridgewater found eight different receivers for 281 passing yards.
The Saints will need to get that same domination upfront to be effective on offense in this one, especially if again without Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Brees has shown trust in Callaway and Harris, but they must give him the time for his young wideouts and Jared Cook to find open areas in the Chicago secondary. New Orleans must remain patient with their running game.
Look for Kamara and Murray to be heavy parts of the game plan. Not just as runners, but also on-screen passes, where they’ll have an athletic advantage over Bear linebackers, Smith and Trevathan. If the New Orleans backs can be potent, this will force the Bears to adjust by using their safeties, slow their intimidating pass rush, and open up strikes down the field for Brees.