The Saints are off to an excellent start this season, managing through losing their future Hall of Fame signal caller with a perfect record in his absence. That really speaks volumes about this franchise and should worry Bears fans as the Saints come into town with an excellent 5-1 mark. To gain some additional information and hopefully learn how to beat this squad, I reached out to Chris Dunnells of the Canal Street Chronicles. Chris was good enough to help us out in the past and was gracious enough to help me out in my travels to the Superdome last year with excellent advice. Thanks to Chris, we know a little more about how Matt Nagy should attack this team and what to expect out of the Teddy Bridgewater offense.
Windy City Gridiron: Drew Brees hurt his thumb on a pass against the Rams, hitting it on the outstretched arm of Aaron Donald. He had surgery almost immediately and is said to be on schedule with his recovery. What’s his timetable to return and do you anticipate any issues for the future Hall of Famer when he gets back?
Canal Street Chronicles: I’d say his return likely hinges on the outcome of this game. If the Saints lose, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brees start the following week at home against the Arizona Cardinals considering the Carolina Panthers are nipping at the Saints’ heels in the division. Drew would then have an extra week to rest and recoup as the Saints have a Bye week between the Cardinals and their divisional matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. If the Saints can somehow win another game with Teddy Bridgewater, I think Brees gets held out for the Cardinals game and doesn’t make his return until that Week 9 game against the Falcons.
WCG: The backup QB, Teddy Bridgewater, has managed to guide the Saints to three straight wins as Brees heals up. The former Viking has had one great game statistically against the Bucs and appears to have helped grind out the other two wins. What’s Bridgewater bring to the table and does this allow the Saints to take their time with Brees’ recovery?
CSC: Bridgewater can be hot and cold amongst the Who Dat Nation, but I’m firmly in the Pro-Teddy camp. That being said, the Saints success during Brees’s absence is more about Sean Payton and the New Orleans coaching staff than it is necessarily on what Teddy is bringing to the table.
Payton is a master of creating a game plan specifically tailored to beat a given opponent. For the Seahawks, Teddy was told to dink and dunk his way down the field by going after nickel corners/slot defenders. With the Jaguars, the plan was to play conservative and protect the ball at all costs with the understanding that the defense was going to limit Gardner Minshew. But with the Buccaneers, the plan was to attack with passes down the field and attack one of the worst cornerback groups in the NFL.
Teddy has done a fine job generally of executing the plan, but it’s really been more of Sean Payton’s masterclass at getting his group of guys ready to beat a different NFL team each week despite not having his hall of fame quarterback. Teddy’s ability to execute that plan each week, though, is what has afforded the Saints the ability to take a wait-and-see approach with when to get Brees ready to be re-inserted into the lineup.
WCG: I would assume most NFL fans know about Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, the excellent RB and WR on this offense. Is there another playmaker on this offense Bears fans should be worried about or does the offense mainly flow through those two? How do you think the Saints will attack this Bears defense?
CSC: Short answer to “is there another playmaker” question: no.
This offense will primarily live and die with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, especially with Drew is still out. Drew is able to change the play at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of individual matchups and provide pinpoint ball placement which can seemingly elevate the play of less-than-elite players around him. Teddy’s not quite there yet.
How do I think the Saints will attack the Bears defense? I think this will be a game similar to the Jaguars game where it’s an ugly, messy war in the trenches. Payton will likely lean on Latavius Murray in the run game and short, quick reads to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, hoping both are able to get yards after the catch to move the ball down the field.
WCG: On the other side of the ball, the Saints defense has stepped up to play at a high level in the last few weeks. On our podcast, Bears Over Beers, we talked about the problem that Cam Jordan will be for the Bears offensive line. What are the strengths of this defense and is there any hope that a struggling offense can get it going against this group?
CSC: Honestly, this is becoming an excellent defense against your typical NFL opponent. The Saints have become excellent against the run, as they’ve gone 32 straight games without allowing a 100 yard rusher. They can generate consistent pressure while rushing only four and Marshon Lattimore looks to be back to his lock-down ways, essentially eliminating a team’s #1 wide receiver (Amari Cooper: 5 catches for 48 yards, but none on Lattimore; Mike Evans: 0 catches; DJ Chark: 3 catches for 43 yards, but none on Lattimore).
There are three ways to beat this Saints defense: 1) elite slot play from a wide receiver. Play Allen Robinson in the slot and hope that Lattimore doesn’t travel with him. The Saints have struggled against slot receivers all year and their primary slot corner, PJ Williams, has now been suspended for two games. 2) Take advantage of our slower outside linebackers by lining up Tarik Cohen out of the backfield and let him run past AJ Klein and Kiko Alonso. And 3) run with Mitchell Trubisky. I imagine the Saints will play some sort of gap-contain rush like they did last week against Gardner Minshew to try to limit Trubisky’s chances to gain yards with his legs, but the Saints have struggled most this season against mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson (457 yards and 4 TDs) and Deshaun Watson (308 total yards and 4 TDs).
WCG: The Saints have experienced heartache the last two postseasons, losing in the “Minneapolis Miracle” and the no-call pass interference game. Given that championship windows in the NFL aren’t open for very long, does it feel like this year might be the last chance for this iteration of Saints teams? Are you at all regretful that coaches can now challenge pass interference, thereby slowing the games down even more or was it a necessary correction after that blown call?
CSC: The Saints have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and are proving what they can do without Drew Brees at the helm. With players like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore and others under contract for a bit longer, I think that window isn’t closing just yet.
Am I regretful that coaches can challenge pass interference? No. For one, it allowed the Saints locker room to get some necessary closure from the blown call. While the NFL refused to publicly own up to the mistake, fundamentally altering the rule book was as close to closure as the team could get. I think if the rule change was implemented correctly, it could definitely be a benefit to the game. Because the number of challenges coaches are allowed per game hasn’t changed, I don’t believe it is or would slow the game down at all. That being said, it doesn’t appear NFL officials care too much about the rule change at all, because in my limited exposure to games across the NFL, they appear hesitant (to say the least) to overrule the call on the field.
But there is one thing I’m honestly regretting…. It’s absolutely inevitable that the Saints, at some point in the near future, are the beneficiary of a no-call only to have the call challenged under the new rule and overturned, making a material impact on the outcome of the game. It’s going to happen. 100%. And Saints fans, deservedly so, will be the victim of constant harassing afterwards.
Thank you to Chris and Canal Street Chronicles!