The Bears played a hell of a game on Sunday against the Falcons, between Brian Urlacher seemingly finding the fountain of youth for a day (or just being himself), the Fearsome Foursome pitching a tent in the Falcons' backfield, and the offense clicking on most cylinders.
As much as it pains me to do so, however, we really do have to put the Atlanta game to rest and start focusing on the next game on the schedule, a road tilt on a fast track against the New Orleans Saints. Follow me past the jump and let's take a look...
How'd They Do Last Year: Finished 11-5, 2nd in the NFC South; suffered defeat at the hands of the below-.500 Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs 41-36.
So Far This Year: When last we saw the Saints, they were losing to the Packers on the opening Thursday night game 42-34. They currently sit tied for first in the NFC South at 0-1.
When Last We Met: To get the last time these two faced eachother, you have to go to Week 15 of the 2008 season, when the Bears beat Brees' Boys in overtime, 27-24, to push the perpetually-.500 Saints back to, well, .500. Seriously, every other week the Saints were at .500. Don't believe me?
The Saints' brand of offense features a Pro Bowl quarterback in Drew Brees and what feels like a forty-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle around him. If you're a receiver or a running back, and you play for the Saints, odds are you see the field. Five running backs last season got at least 36 carries - Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Ladell Betts, Julius Jones and Chris Ivory. Three wide receivers caught at least forty passes - Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem. Jeremy Shockey caught 41 as a tight end and Devery Henderson had another 34 catches.
Now flash forward to this season. Shockey, Carolina. Ivory, IR. Bush, Miami. Betts? Jones? Gone. Enter first round pick Mark Ingram and free agent acquisition Darren Sproles to completely revamp the running back corps. The receiver corps is largely intact, which is the important part, as the Saints love to throw the ball. Throw it deep, throw it short, throw it long to the running back - you name it, they'll probably throw it.
The offensive line is also largely intact from last season with one major addition - Olin Kreutz. More on that later.
This'll be fun... Gregg Williams coordinates the New Orleans defense, which means... an aggressive blitzing scheme. It's a defense that collected 33 sacks last season with 14 players picking up at least one. Will Smith - no, not the guy that starred in Men In Black - had five and a half, while Sedrick Ellis had six. LB Jonathan Vilma had four, and safety Roman Harper had another 3. If you're a defensive player, and you play for the Saints, odds are you will eventually be going after the quarterback.
That being said, the Saints aren't a very opportunistic bunch - they had all of nine interceptions last season, though they did deflect 70 passes and force 25 fumbles - and they don't really have that one guy that you have to fear. Vilma may be their D's best player, as he's a solid linebacker who makes tackles and can shed a few blocks to reach the quarterback.
If the Bears do this...
Last season the Saints allowed 4.3 yards per carry on the ground and 200 rushing yards twice, to Baltimore and Atlanta. Against Green Bay, they allowed a pair of quick touchdowns through the air and a third air strike before the horn signaled the end of the first quarter. Now, I'm not saying our passing game is on the Packers' level, but I do feel comfortable in saying our run game and screen game is better, which would be good to base the offensive game plan on. And Cutler, when given time, has shown significant improvement. Will he get that time against Williams' blitzing 3-4? If he does, the New Orleans secondary isn't particularly frightening.
If the Saints do this...
The problem is that the Saints have an offense that passed for the third most yards and the second most TDs in the NFL last season. Granted, their running game isn't much to fear, which is why overall they were sixth and eleventh in those categories, respectively. And they'll be without their leading receiver last season, Marques Colston, who is out with a broken collarbone. But Devery Henderson paced them last week with a 6 catch, 100 yard performance. Robert Meacham and young tight end Jimmy Graham also caught a TD each. Darren Sproles ran back a punt for a touchdown and caught seven passes for 75 yards. Most of that was of course while trailing, and New Orleans would love nothing better than to score early, quick, and often.
On the plus side, Olin looked pretty bad last Thursday, and Brees was sacked three times by the Green Bay defense, meaning Henry Melton could play a fairly large role in this one. Brees is a very good quarterback, but he threw 22 interceptions, or, more than Jay last year.
The Bears' defensive line has the potential to really disrupt the New Orleans offense in the Bears favor, and should be able to tee off on Brees if they can get any penetration. And we'll also get to see the Bears on turf instead of the hated Soldier Field grass.