This is a pivotal game for the rebuilding Chicago Bears. As they head into their bye week they have a chance to get to 4-4 and ride a three-game winning streak, including two road victories, into their rest period.
The difference between 4-4 and 3-5 might be just two games, but to a team trying to find signs of progress it is potentially much bigger than that.
The New Orleans Saints are trying to establish themselves as a true contender in the NFC and the leader of the pack in the NFC South. They come in riding a four-game win streak of their own.
Could this be the week the Bears get back to .500 since 2014?
Let’s meet the opponent.
New Orleans Saints
SB Nation site: Canal Street Chronicles
Record: 4-2 (1st in NFC South)
Last Week: 26-17 win over Green Bay at Lambeau
Bears All-Time Record Against: 15-14
Historical Match-Ups: The Bears and Saints have met twice in the postseason, winning both times.
They won 16-6 in 1991, with New Orleans QBs Steve Walsh and John Fourcade throwing three picks to Chicago’s Mark Carrier, Shaun Gayle and John Mangum. Miek Tomczak threw a TD and Neal Anderson threw a 22-yard pass and rushed for 102 yards.
In 2007, the Bears of course clinched the NFC title with a resounding 39-14 win over Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Soldier Field was rocking that day and the snow began falling as Bernard Berrian caught a 33-yard TD pass from Rex Grossman.
The tide turned in that game after Reggie Bush caught an 88-yard TD and seemed to turn around and taunt Bears LB Brian Urlacher on his way to the endzone. After that play the Bears scored 23 unanswered points.
Last Meeting: A 31-15 loss for the Bears in Week 15 of 2014. The Marc Trestman regime was circling the drain and the Bears fell in a 24-0 hole before scoring two garbage time touchdowns. This game was three days after Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer admitted to being the source of NFL insider criticism of QB Jay Cutler.
Injury Report: The Saints had four notable players miss practice Wednesday:
- WR Michael Thomas did not participate due to a knee injury
- LT Terron Armstead did not participate due to a shoulder injury
- G Larry Warford did not participate due to an abdomen injury
- WR Willie Snead fully participated as he works back from a hamstring injury
Offense: The Saints, known for their offense under head coach Sean Payton, are no different this year with the fourth ranked offense in both points scored and yards gained.
The passing offense is third in the league in yards while the rushing offense ranks 10th.
Drew Brees isn’t showing signs of aging as he has the ninth most passing yards and the seventh best passer rating in the league.
The passing game is led by Thomas (35 rec./403 yds./2 TD), RBs Alvin Kamara (29/209/1) and Mark Ingram (24/166/0) and Ted Ginn (22/253/2). TE Colby Fleener (13/151/2) and WR Brandon Coleman (12/191/3) are redzone targets.
On the ground they’re led by Ingram (89 att./389 yds./3 TDs) and Kamara (34/215/1).
Defense: The Saints defense isn’t as bad as it has been in recent years but is still middle-of-the-pack statistically, ranking 23rd in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed.
Against the pass the Saints rank 21st in terms of yards allowed and 15th in terms of passing TDs allowed. They rank 20th in rushing yards allowed and 14th in rushing TDs allowed.
The Saints have done well at taking the ball away, especially in their secondary, which has five interceptions. Safety Kenny Vaccaro has three, followed by CBs Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams, safety Marcus Williams and DE Cameron Jordan with one each.
Vaccaro also has a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown as well. Jordan leads the team with five sacks, as well as adding a forced fumble.
Alex Okafor has three sacks and three forced fumbles while Hau’oli Kikaha has two sacks.
Key Match Ups: Drew Brees vs. the Bears secondary.
The Bears defense has been resurgent against a couple of QBs that are having rough seasons in Cam Newton and Joe Flacco, but how will the secondary handle Brees?
Brees is still playing at a high level, with a 69.1 completion percentage and 11 TDs to just 4 INTs, but all four have come over the last two games. Can Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller continue their great play?
Up front, pass rushers Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks should get some chances against a beleaguered Saints offensive line. Hicks will surely have revenge on his mind as he faces his former team.
On offense, while there should be some more opportunities for passing plays, the Bears will still rely on their run game to get their offense going. It’s their bread and butter and with Jordan Howard, why wouldn’t they run it?
However, opposing QBs have an 84.2 rating against the Saints, with eight interceptions, nine TDs and having been sacked 17 times. There will be plays for Mitch Trubisky but he has to continue to take care of the ball.
What to Watch For: Hicks vs. his former team is going to be fun to watch. Hicks is playing at an All-Pro level and he is going to be out for revenge against the team that traded him a couple years back.
Elsewhere, the Bears should have a chance to actually pass the ball, which they did not do last week.
The schedule has been tough for the Bears and the Saints won’t be easy but they should offer a good match up.
Key Stats: The Saints are allowing 4.9 yards per carry to opposing RBs.
Akiem Hicks had 9.5 sacks in his first four seasons between New Orleans and New England. He has 13 in less an 1.5 seasons in Chicago.
The Saints have five turnovers in the last two games but their defense has forced six. The Bears have six in their last two games as well.
Can the Bears win their third in a row?