The 12-4 New Orleans Saints play the fifth of six wild-card playoff games this weekend when they host the 8-8 Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon. New Orleans comes in as the NFC's 2nd seed and NFC South champions, while the Bears enter as the conference's 7th seed. These teams met in Chicago on November 1st, with the Saints pulling out a 26-23 overtime victory.
New Orleans has the NFL's 4th ranked defense, giving up 311 yards and 21 points per game. They have held six opponents below 20 points, are ranked 9th in 3rd down defense, and are in the league's top-5 in passing yardage, turnovers forced, and interceptions. The team was formidable across the board in 2020, but they've been stout against the run for the last three seasons.
The Saints were the league's 4th best rush defense this year, allowing only 94 yards per contest and 3.9/carry. New Orleans gave up the second fewest rushing touchdowns in the league (11) and held eleven of their opponents under 100 yards on the ground.
They’ll now face a Chicago offense that averaged 331 yards and 23.3 points per outing, ranking 26th in the league. The Bears scored less than 20 points six times and over 30 points five times. However, four of those were in the last five games of the year. Chicago switched back to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback in Week 12, and they have had their most consistent offensive output of the season since. A major reason for that is the success of their rushing attack.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Chicago's running game ranks just 25th in the league, averaging just 103 yards per contest. They've been held to less than 100 yards by seven different opponents. The Bears have fared much better on the ground in the nine games with Trubisky at quarterback than with Nick Foles behind center. Over the last six contests, Chicago's ground game averaged 144 yards per outing.
Second-year RB David Montgomery leads the team in rushing with 1,070 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s had six games with at least 80 yards rushing and three 100-Yd performances. The 5'10 222-Lb. Montgomery has terrific power and is tough to bring down on initial contact. A workhorse for the team's offense, he’s accounted for 65% of the offense’s rushing output.
Chicago often uses wideout Cordarrelle Patterson out of the backfield or on jet sweeps to get his explosive running ability in the open field. A Pro Bowl kick returner, Patterson has 232 rushing yards and a score this season, second on the team. Trubisky is the offense's third leading rusher with 195 yards and a touchdown. He has excellent athleticism that the team uses on designed quarterback runs.
Chicago's offensive line has been in a run-blocking groove over the last third of the year. They are a physical group that fares better firing straight ahead and opening creases for Montgomery than as pass blockers. Right tackle Bobby Massie has been out since Week 9 with a knee injury, but it’s unclear whether he’ll return to the starting lineup this Sunday.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE
New Orleans defensive tackle Malcom Brown returned to the lineup last week after missing three games with a shoulder injury. Brown is one of the league's best interior run defenders and leads a deep group of defensive tackles that dominate opposing offenses inside.
Brown, David Onyemata, and Sheldon Rankins get an excellent push into the backfield to short-circuit rushing plays and have the athleticism to get to the edge to cut a runner down on the corner. Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach provide terrific depth, giving the defense a deep rotation that allows them to stay fresh late in games.
Defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, Marcus Davenport, and Carl Granderson are very good run defenders along the outside. The entire New Orleans defensive line has dominated opponents at the point of attack for much of the year. That’s allowed their linebackers and defensive backs to swarm to the ball carrier, often free of blockers.
Safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who missed last Sunday because of COVID-19 protocols, and Malcolm Jenkins are terrific defenders who thrive near the line of scrimmage. The Saints defense has 81 tackles for loss this season, among the most in the league.
Linebacker Demario Davis leads the team in tackles for the third consecutive year with 119 stops, including 10 for loss. Davis is one of the NFL's best all-around defensive players and an elite run defender. He has rare vision and play diagnosis, while possessing the athleticism to make plays everywhere on the field.
The team suffered a loss when LB Kwon Alexander went down with a torn Achilles two weeks ago. The position is definitely thinner without Alexander, but Alex Anzalone is a proven linebacker with good athletic ability and play recognition.
Chicago had some success on the ground when these teams met in Week 8, with Montgomery picking up 89 yards on 21 carries. With Trubisky's limitations as a passer, the Bears need to control the ball on the ground for offensive success. They did exactly that down the stretch with one of the league's most productive rushing attacks over the last third of the year.
The Saints had some uncharacteristic issues against the run down the stretch, but seemed to fortify themselves with Malcom Brown back in the lineup. Shutting down Chicago's running game to put the fate of the Bear offense on Trubisky's passing ability would seem to give the Saints an enormous advantage in what some expect to be a physical, low-scoring game.