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Week 7 Game preview: Bears-Saints

After a bye week, the Bears have to test if they’ve made improvements against a surging Saints team

NFL: OCT 13 Saints at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Bears’ schedule gets very tough in the next few weeks, even if a few of those teams are currently reeling.

It all starts off this Sunday with the Saints, who are not struggling, even without their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

The Saints come in winning four straight, including three as underdogs. The Saints aren’t just treading water, but they are following a similar blueprint to the Chicago Bears with a tough defense and a just-enough offense. Although their offense has been better.

We’ll have to see if the Bears found some better offense during the bye week, but until then, let’s break down the opponent.

New Orleans Saints

SB Nation site: Canal Street Chronicles

Game day/time/TV: Sunday, 3:25 p.m., FOX

Record: 5-1, first in the NFC South

Last week: 13-6 win over Jacksonville

Bears All-Time record against: 15-15, including postseason (13-15 regular season, 2-0 postseason)

Last meeting: Week 8, 2017, the 4-2 Saints met the 2-4 Bears in New Orleans.

The Saints held Drew Brees without a passing touchdown but they had two rushing touchdowns from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Tre McBride (remember him?) led the Bears with 92 receiving yards and Jordan Howard had 102 rushing yards. Tarik Cohen scored a touchdown.

Zach Miller also caught a touchdown, but for some reason it wasn’t reflected in the final score or in the box score. Not sure why. Weird.

Bears lost 20-12.

Historical match up: The last time the Bears won against the Saints was week 15 of 2008.

It took overtime, as Drew Brees erased a 21-7 deficit with touchdown passes to Marquess Colston and Pierre Thomas, whom also torched the Bears that day for 146 yards from scrimmage and two total touchdowns.

Kyle Orton shook off two second-half interceptions to lead a 13-play, 60-yard drive in the final 3:05 for Robbie Gould to kick a 29-yard field goal to send it to overtime.

In OT, the Bears won the toss and Orton again led a six-play, 52-yard drive and Gould ended the game with a 35-yard field goal, set up by a pass interference call on Devin Hester for 38 yards.

Injury report: The Saints listed five players on their injury report Wednesday:

Did not participate: QB Drew Brees (thumb), RB Alvin Kamara (knee/ankle), WR Tre’Quan Smith (ankle) and TE Jared Cook (ankle)

Limited: DE Trey Hendrickson (neck)

Offense: The Saints come into the game ranked 22nd on offense in yards and 18th in points.

They rank 15th in passing yards and 19th in rushing yards.

Their offense hasn’t quite been the same since Drew Brees (72.9 pct. cmp./408 yds./2 TD/2 INT) went down, but Teddy Bridgewater (69.4/1,089/7/2) has been playing fine.

It’s not hard for a quarterback to maintain status quo when he’s surrounded by so many weapons. The Saints boast the league leader in receptions in Michael Thomas (53 rec./632 yds./3 TD), deep threat Ted Ginn (33/206/1) and TE Jared Cook (15/168/2). Dual threat RB Alvin Kamara (33/276/1) is also a great receiving option in addition to leading the way as a rusher (86 att./373 yds./1 TD) as well.

Latavius Murray (32/138/1) spells Kamara and modern ‘slash’ player QB/RB/KR Taysom Hill (10/60/0) also makes some plays on the ground.

The Saints remain efficient on offense, ranking 11th in third down conversions at 42.9 percent but struggle in red zone scoring, where they rank 27th at 44.4 percent.

They’re still a pass-heavy team but they aren’t scoring in huge numbers. They had 31 points against the Bucs, who aren’t great defensively, but other than that they scored 19 against the Seahawks (the other two scores came off a fumble return and a punt return), 12 against the Cowboys and 13 against the Jaguars last week.

Defense: The Saints enter week seven with the 10th ranked defense in terms of yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.

Their passing defense ranks 11th and their rushing defense ranks 14th.

Their defensive line is tough, fronted by Cameron Jordan (5 sacks/4 TFL/10 QB hits), Marcus Davenport (3/2/12/1 FF) and Trey Hendrickson (3/2/3/1).

LB Demario Davis (41 tkls/3 TFL/1 QB hit), S Vonn Bell (2 PD/1 FF/3 FR) are making plays on the back end of the defense and CB Marshon Lattimore (1 INT/8 PD/31 tkls) and S Marcus Williams (2 INT/5 PD) are patrolling the backfield.

Key match ups: The Saints DL vs. the Bears OL. The Saints defense is tied for the fifth most sacks in the league, with 18 and are third in QB pressure percentage. The Bears have struggled in pass protection and this is going to be a big test to see if their OL shuffling over the bye week helped or if they can scheme some help.

When the Bears are on defense, it’s going to be about slowing down Michael Thomas. He’s one of the best receivers in the league but the main target for the Saints’ passing game. Kyle Fuller will likely shadow him and he needs to be on his best game.

Without Akiem Hicks, we’ve seen the Bears run defense suffer, particularly last time out in London, so slowing down Alvin Kamara is going to be a key for the Bears on Sunday.

What to watch for: The Bears haven’t been pretty but if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, Sunday is going to be a big test.

Have there been any improvements on the offense?

How is Mitch going to look in his return from his injury?

The Saints are easily the toughest team the Bears have played since the Packers back in week one.

Key stats: The Saints rank third in QB pressure percentage at 33.6 percent. The Bears are first at 34.1 percent.

40.9 - Teddy Bridgewater’s QBR, ranking 22nd, still nine places ahead of Mitch Trubisky

In traditional metrics, Bridgewater ranks 10th in QB rating with a 98.4

Michael Thomas accounts for 36.3 percent of the Saints’ receptions and 41.4 percent of their receiving yards and a third of their touchdown receptions.

Thomas has also scored 14 percent of the Saints entire points this season.

This series has been about streaks lately: Bears have lost four straight to the Saints, before that the Bears won four straight, before that the Saints won three straight.

What do the Bears need to do to win Sunday?