The New Orleans Saints (4-2), riding a three-game win streak, travel to Soldier Field to battle the Chicago Bears (5-2) on Sunday afternoon. These two teams met last season at Soldier Field but with two different starting QBs to take the field this weekend.
The Teddy Bridgewater led Saints defeated Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears 36-25 in Week 7 last season. With slightly different personnel and circumstances than a season ago, there are three X-factors for the Saints for their 2020 matchup with the Bears.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: WR MARQUEZ CALLAWAY
Callaway stepped up in a big way for the Saints in Week 7, hauling in 8 receptions for 75 yards while the team was without their top 2 WRs in Michael Thomas (hamstring) and Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19 List). With both the fore-mentioned wideout's status in question for Week 8, the Saints could rely heavily on Callaway for the second consecutive week.
While Sean Payton is known for his success in finding diamonds in the rough, particularly in UDFAs, rarely does one shine as bright as Callaway did in his first two weeks as a prominent part of the game-plan. Over the past two games, the former Tennessee Volunteers WR has hauled in 12 receptions for 109 yards but has yet to find the end zone.
The most encouraging aspect of Callaway's game thus far is the trust Drew Brees has in the rookie. Half of Callaway's receptions on Sunday went for first downs, and Brees continued to look to No. 12 in key situations throughout the game.
Regardless of if Sanders and, or, Thomas plays in Week 8, there is already confidence between Brees and Callaway. So look for him to be a big piece of the offense again in Week 8.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: FS MARCUS WILLIAMS
It has been a tough year for the Saints secondary, and tough might be an understatement. Though the Saints rank in the top-10 in yards against, they still led the league in penalty yards (508) and continue to have breakdowns in coverage that result in big-play touchdowns.
On top of the poor play, statistically, the Saints defense has not forced a turnover since Week 2 against the Raiders. While all the blame does not fall on one singular player, there is a point in which players have to step up, and Week 8 is just that for Marcus Williams.
Saints News Network's Bob Rose touched on Williams' play in an article this week titled, "Saints have a Major Safety Issue." He describes Williams as a huge liability in 2020. He [Williams] “continues to take poor tackling angles, allowing opposing ball carriers bigger gains,” wrote Rose.
However, analysts are not the only people to call for a change to the defense's play. Sean Payton appeared to call out the secondary on Monday's conference call when he was asked about the continued busted coverage.
"That's the $6 million question right now. And we have to get it figured out. It wasn't as big of a challenge a year ago. And yet, it's something that, that's creeped up right now. And coming off of training camp, I wouldn't have thought that would be such an issue, but it is right now and we're addressing it."
The Saints secondary needs to get things back on track and fast. It all starts with eliminating mental lapses and creating turnovers - this is where Williams is needed. The team leader in INTs a year ago, Williams has always seemed to come up with the big-play during his young NFL career. It is a contract year for no. 43, and if he wants to remain in the Black and Gold, his play needs to take a 180-degree turn starting against the Bears.
WILD CARD X-FACTOR: DE MARCUS DAVENPORT
New Orleans recorded just one sack in Week 7, but it became the biggest play of the game. Marcus Davenport's sack of Teddy Bridgewater on third down forced the hand of Matt Rhule, who trotted out his kicker Joey Slye for a 65-yard FG attempt that landed a few yards short of the crossbar. It was Davenport's first sack of the season, after missing four weeks because of injury.
Davenport's absence early in the season opened up the door for DE Trey Hendrickson, who leads the Saints with 4.5 sacks, to take over the starting RE spot. Although the Saints defense has been subpar this season, the defensive line has continued to be a bright spot against the run. However, the pass rush needs a jolt, and Davenport can provide the spark they desire.
The former first-round pick can provide a pass rush from virtually anywhere across the defensive line with his large frame and athleticism. His big-play ability was on display in Sunday's game-changing play when he lined up inside and worked past RB Mike Davis en route to Teddy Bridgewater. His size and versatility will provide the Saints with another pass-rush option across from Cameron Jordan, which will open up winnable matchups for Davenport and Jordan.
As he continues to work his way back from injury, Davenport needs to showcase his pass-rushing ability and his sense of stopping the run. Against one of the league's worst offenses in Week 8, Davenport has a chance to show both and get some much-needed game reps.
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