I run the SBN blog And The Valley Shook, this network's LSU blog. I happen to be a bigger Saints fan than Tigers fan myself, and have enjoyed reading your commentary this week. Figured I'd add a couple thoughts here as one of two - as far as I know - Saints fans on the network (the other being college blogger Sunday Morning QB).
Consider me as absolutely flabbergasted as you guys are that the whole world seems to expect us to win. It's crazy and it worries the hell out of me. I have no idea where this is coming from fundamentally; rather it just seems like everyone wants us to win as the Cinderella story. To wit: all 8 ESPN human experts have picked us while only their measly Accuscore computer went with the Bears. Meanwhile, at least true market forces are on your side - obviously Vegas still has you as the couple point favorite.
I can almost guarantee you guys that if you get man coverage with any of your receivers on Freddie Thomas, it's imperative for Rex to notice that and test him deep. It wasn't just Stallworth who burned Thomas this year, it's been a trend that includes (if I recall correctly who was on the coverage) Antonio Bryant, Joey Galloway, Chad Johnson, and Plaxico Burress, among others. Could've included Roddy White too but thankfully that day the Falcons receivers couldn't catch a cold swimming naked in the Arctic. The Eagles didn't expose anything new there; as a Saints fan we just pray to God the inevitable Bears big play happens early this week. One of the hallmarks of this team has been an inexplicable ability to bounce back after yielding those big plays and answer with a TD drive or two ourselves - note the two straight TD drives we ripped off after Westbrook's 60 yard TD scamper early in the 3rd quarter last week. Because these plays have typically happened early (well, at least not in the 4th quarter), we haven't been taken out of the normal game plan and have been able to stick with a mix of run/pass as Coach Payton sees fit.
It's also clear that the world expects Rex to revert to "Bad Rex" this week. I have no idea why, maybe just better odds of that happening due to the fact that A) He performed acceptably well last week so a bad performance is more likely; and B) He's a young guy facing intense scrutiny while ostensibly carrying the team on his shoulders to the Super Bowl...or something. B seems to me to be complete nonsense, seeing as even in most of Rex's really bad games the rest of the Bears picked up enough slack to pull out the win anyway (Arizona being far and away the primary example there). So EVEN in the event Rex pulls one of his imploding acts, the question comes down to whether your defense can do the same as it has in the past.
And for some reason, because of the past few weeks and noise around injuries and certain defensive lineman types with massive artillery closets at home, the expectation is that the Saints #1 offense will have no problem shredding you guys. This, too, worries the hell outta me. While our Panthers game to end the season was irrelevant, the Redskins game in Week 15 most certainly was not. Moral of that story is: our offense isn't invincible. It was our only real flub down the stretch, but it was a big one. If you pressure Brees and take away the dump-off option to Bush in the flat, this ought to enormously improve your odds of shutting us down. You clearly have the personnel to handle that part of the job; whether your front seven can simultaneously withstand a likely heavy diet of Deuce McAllister, though, I have no idea. But Deuce didn't just come out of nowhere last week; he's been running strong all year long, as well as he ever has. This would be the part I'd be most worried about if I were a Bears fan. I just don't know the Bears well enough to say whether or not you guys will be stout on that front. Given the likely weather conditions, and the fact that we aren't a cold weather team, I'd imagine that we'll be more likely to ride Deuce's back than go downfield...but maybe that's why I just sit at home and write and don't get paid to do this stuff in real life!
In his WR comparison, WCG mentioned that Devery Henderson's stats seem to be a Brees-inspired phenomenon, and I'd humbly disagree. Devery's deep speed is exceptional; the only problem is his hands. He's dropped a few balls downfield if footsteps are anywhere within 10 yards of him. We need Joe Horn back. He's not the world class receiver he was a couple years ago but he's reliable as hell and aside from Colston is about the only guy we can count on to hang on to the ball on those crucial 3rd and 8s. Given the Bears' speed, I don't know how much we can count on Reggie Bush to be able to catch the ball 3 yards down and run for the first down from there.
Back to our defense: I don't know how Thomas Jones is to the outside (and I'm assuming Benson is more of a between the tackles guy but again, I haven't watched much Bears football this year), but if he's got outside speed you guys should be able to run the ball really well against us. Exhibit A of this is Willie Parker's performance against us in November. He's faster than anyone on our defense, and ripped off two 70 yard runs pretty close to one another by hitting the outside. If the Bears have any capability in this area, I'd fully expect them to exploit it.
My hope is that our pass rush - led by a truly exceptional end you probably haven't heard a whole lot about, Will Smith - will be able to bring it enough that we can rattle Rex early and cause the dreaded early turnover that's seemed to doom him thus far this year. I feel like we absolutely need to hop out to an early lead and take away the run option, forcing Rex to win it. If he accomplishes that, you damn well deserve to go to the Super Bowl.
Anyway, shaping up to be a great game. As I mentioned I'm worried about all the props we're getting. I think it's absurd that conventional wisdom is such that you guys are basically able to enter this game feeling like the underdog, with tons of media-delivered bulletin board material. We haven't played any cold weather games and I'm just hoping that snow gets pushed off another day. Else I get the feeling it's going to be a big day for your Bears.
Good luck to you guys, and GEAUX SAINTS!