Whether you like it or not, the Chicago Bears are set to play in a playoff game on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Oddsmakers and analysts aren’t giving the Bears much of a chance to win, but we’ve seen bigger upsets in the history of the NFL and this season has been full of crazy things.
As unlikely as it would be for Club Dub to open during the postseason, there are a few experts that feel the Bears match-up well enough with the Saints to have a chance. Mitch Trubisky and the running game will need to be firing on all cylinders, and the defense will need to revert back to how they were playing early in the season, but they have a chance.
Don’t forget, while the Bears narrowly lost to a beat up Saints team back in November, the Bears were shorthanded that week as well. Their offensive line was missing starters Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, they lost their starting right tackle a few plays into the game, but David Montgomery still managed 89 rushing yards while Nick Foles passed for 272.
Chicago’s current five along the o-line has settled in nicely these last few weeks and that should give them a puncher’s chance, but this game will likely come down to Trubisky making a few plays.
I only have two keys this week.
Mitch has to push the ball downfield and he has to win form the pocket a few times.
Dinking and dunking in the passing game only works if you play mistake free football and if the running game is consistently kicking butt. The Saints have a very good run defense, so while I think Montgomery will have some success, I also think the Saints will play things tight until Mitch proves he can beat them.
Trubisky needs to occasionally wait a half second more to let something develop downfield. If the pass protection gives him the time then maybe he gets lucky and hits a couple long-gainers to keep the Saints honest.
I think the outside zone/bootleg offense the Bears have had some success with the last month is a nice base to help the QB out on occasion, but it’s simply not something that can be sustained on an every down basis. We saw the Packers — and to some extent the Jaguars 2 weeks ago — play disciplined football on the backside which can throw off the timing on those play action boots.
The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen recently wrote an article about the system the Bears have started to incorporate when Matt Nagy handed play calling responsibility over to Bill Lazor.
“The Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay modern outside zone system is the most quarterback-friendly system in the NFL. Play action off of the outside zone can be indistinguishable from an actual run for defenses and it makes reads for quarterbacks much simpler than in a standard dropback passing game.”
This started clicking for the Bears when they faced the Lions, Texans, and Vikings, during which they were racking up 169.3 rushing yards per game. The backside defenders weren’t ready for the QB to boot back towards them, and Mitch got some easy completions in those games.
“It has helped quarterbacks with limited skill sets like Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo look like top-10 quarterbacks for stretches. Baker Mayfield is in the midst of a resurgence after head coach Kevin Stefanski brought it to Cleveland. Even Mitchell Trubisky recently enjoyed a strong five-game stretch when the Bears began including elements of it in their offense.”
Even with the Jags and Packers game planning with this offense in mind, Trubisky still managed a decent 517 yards passing in the two games while completing 74% of his passes.
“However, when defenses shut down the run and defend play action soundly, some of these quarterbacks can quickly revert to pumpkins.”
Expecting Montgomery and the running game to be consistently good all game isn’t realistic, so the Bears will need to have some wrinkles in the offense to get Trubisky some deep shot opportunities.
But let’s see what some of our other staffers think are the keys to the Bears getting the win.
Will Robinson II:
Offense - Stop letting Matt Nagy call plays. While Bill Lazor was the primary play caller, the offense made sense. With Matt Nagy “having more influence” the past two games, it makes sense less and less. Shove your ego aside, and do what’s best for the team. Let someone who can consistently make good situational play calls take the reigns. If you don’t, then it’s one and done for the Bears, yet again.
Defense - You gotta get some pressure. Yes, they got in Rodgers’ face on occasion last Sunday, but just being in the area isn’t going to be enough against these veteran QBs. Get your hands on Drew Brees. Force him into early throws. Rodgers is still all there physically. Brees isn’t. If he’s forced to make a throw more than 10 yards down field, it’s gonna float on him. So lock up the underneath routes, and put him on the ground often. Also, Know your damn assignments, and know what everyone else’s is too. I know they had some backups in the game, but we saw a number of plays Sunday where Bears defenders passed off a receiver and no one picked them up. That’s unacceptable. The Saints don’t have anyone like MVS, who DESTROYED the Bears out of the slot Sunday, but don’t sleep on Jared Cook. He’s going to be another matchup problem for Trevathan and Shelley, so don’t leave them on an island if you don’t have to. Sanders splits his time between outside and the slot as well, and while he’s not the player he once was, he’s no slouch. If Jaylon Johnson is able to return, this helps matters tremendously. I feel like Shelly can more or less hold his own vs a 33 year old Sanders inside (at least more so than he did against Valdes-Scantling), but Vildor on the outside? I’m much less confident. If Kamara is back, well, do what you can.
Special Teams - Cairo Santos just put up the best single season Field Goal Percentage in Bears history. So we’re good there. Just maintain your assignments in coverage, and maybe think about putting Anthony Miller back to return punts again, because Carter has been pretty underwhelming to be honest.
Editor’s Note: Nagy calling plays has yet to be confirmed by any of the beat writers or the national media, but his influence on things these last couple weeks seems likely.
It’s health, right?
If Roquan Smith, Darnell Mooney, and Jaylon Johnson play, the Bears have a chance for the upset. The Saints are no juggernaut and present a lot of vulnerability. If any of them miss, any of them, the Bears will likely be slimed LIVE on Nickelodeon.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter:
Offense - Keep up with the ball control. Use slow, methodical drives to keep Drew Brees and the Saints off the field as much as possible. Make the clock work against Sean Payton and dare him to get cute in the last minute. They’ll face a defense that’s exceptional against the run, but susceptible to play-action over the middle.
Defense - I’ll say this again, show up. I don’t care if the players already sense an end is near for Chuck Pagano, go out there and play winning football in the playoffs. It’s a whole new season, and it’d be real nice if Eddie Jackson can return to form.
Special Teams - Continue the good work. Chris Tabor and his unit have earned themselves some redemption over the past month.
STAY DISCIPLINED. Bench and deactivate Javon Wims, if needed. Do not fall into the temptation of fighting Chauncey-Gardner, he’s always been a chirping parrot who squawks smack-talk since his days as a Florida Gator (resident Gators fan here.)
On offense: keep the ball out of MT10’s hands, and limit his ability to make mistakes.
On defense: be aggressive, even if it means taking control away from Pagano
On special teams: get some amazing returns and generate turnovers. Any win is going to require a whole-team effort.
The Saints actually ended the season 2-2 in their final 4 games, but one of those was with Drew Brees sidelined and gadget-player Taysom Hill starting at quarterback against the Eagles. Let’s look more closely at how the Chiefs defeated the Saints in week 15. Now obviously, starting multiple future Hall of Famers on offense surely helped the Chiefs win that game, and that’s something the Bears can’t mimic. What the Bears can do, rather, is look at the time of possession for that game. Chiefs: 41:14, Saints: 18:46. When the other team doesn’t have the ball, they can’t score. The Chiefs converted 9-18 3rd downs and that’s something the Bears will need to match and possibly exceed. Stay out of those 4th downs they kept seeing in the Packers game.
On defense, you’ll have to play with a lead to have a chance at Drew Brees throwing interceptions, or even incompletions (70.5% completion percentage, folks). You cannot let them take a two-score lead in the first half. Get off the field early and hope your offense can take care of business. The best way to do this is by cutting off the underneath throws. The Saints will likely try to work for YAC plays, with Kamara involved early and often in the passing game. Without Roquan Smith, the Bears safeties are going to have to play the best games of their careers in dropping down to guard the short stuff.
Offense: The Saints are a hard team to run against, so establishing a short passing game is the key because 1) it will work(ish) and 2) Mitch can get the ball on target as long as that target is 7 yards or less away from him. Mostly. Ball control is key.
Defense: If Alvin Kamara is playing, key on him. Make Drew Brees beat you deep. Actually tackle.
Special teams: Keep doing that voodoo that you do so well.
Ken was so fired up this week that he gave us a second set of keys after thinking on it a bit!
The Saints are the best Defense the Bears have faced in a very long time, the playoffs version may even be the best D they have played all year.
So, keeping that in mind...
OFFENSE: Mitchell Trubisky will either actually hit a deep throw or two or Chicago will lose. They may lose even if he does by some miracle hit a pass that’s more than 10 yards deep, but Chicago MUST expand up the areas of the field that New Orleans must cover, or it will be lights out.
DEFENSE: Honestly, at this point? I’ve entirely lost faith in them when they are healthy, let alone when they are not. Pressure the quarterback, and expose his lack of arm strength. If Kamara is in the game, and Roquan isn’t? Ummm... (insert sound of crickets here).
The Bears can win this game if they play their best, if the Saints defense drops all three of the pick-sixes or red zone-picks Mitchell will throw their way, and if the defense can actually play like the Chicago Bears defense.
What are your keys to the Bears pulling off the upset?