Football

vs

Saints (5-1) at Bears (3-2)

TV: FOX 32, 3:25 PM (GAME OF THE WEEK™)

Radio: WBBM 780 AM/105.9 FM

Aaaaaaand we’re back. The Bears come out of the bye and welcome the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints into Soldier Field with a lot to prove.

The Saints arrive winners of four straight, games that can best be described as “winning ugly” – but wins nonetheless. New Orleans holds a slim lead in the NFC South on the back of this steak, but they’re no juggernaut. They rank middle of the pack in DVOA on offense and defense and really don’t do anything great, but they’ve done enough in most of their six games to eek out victories. Bridgewater is getting a lot of love for his play since Drew Brees went down, but it’s not exactly warranted. 41.2 QBR, 217 yards/game but seven TDs against two picks and only 10 sacks in a little under five full games. He’s protected the ball and moved the offense juuuuuust enough to get the job done, winning all four of his starts by one score.

Bridgewater looks like he’ll be without some of his better supporting cast on Sunday as Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook have both missed practice all week. The two rank second and third in targets, but team leader Michael Thomas will still suit up for what will be a tough matchup against Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. The Saints boast one of the most under-appreciated weapons in the league’s best punter Thomas Morstead, recent special teamer of the month of September and the honor for last week after having five punts downed inside the 15-yard line. The Saints keep winning the battle of field position, and without some key offensive weapons that will be important on Sunday.

The Bears should be ready for all this, having two full weeks to prepare and get themselves in order after the semi-shock loss in London to the Raiders. And it’s really time for Matt Nagy to show everyone what he’s got. The 2018 coach of the year spent all off-season saying this offense was all set to hit a new gear, ready to score at will and produce touchdowns while running a special defense out every week – a championship contender in every sense. The results thus far leave a lot to be desired, injuries or not. Mitchell Trubisky is back, albeit with a restrictive sling on his non-throwing shoulder, and he has as much if not more to prove than his play-caller.

Will we see the inventive offense that was promised? Don’t expect fireworks out the gate, though it’s fair to think that the offensive line should be improved after the merciful IR-ing of Kyle Long. In comes Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars to save the day, or at least save the running game some space at the line of scrimmage and, hell, maybe even getting to the second level now and then. There have been a great many plays that appeared dead before the ball made it to a running back or the QB had finished his drop back. The Bears had to know as soon as the game ended in London that the switch from Long would be made and it’s fair to expect some immediate results against an up and down Saints defensive front. The key will be executing on first and third down, and Nagy spoke to the former earlier this week. Making first down plays count, run or pass, to keep themselves out of third and long will dictate success. It’s really that simple.

Chicago’s defense and Chuck Pagano will be ecstatic to see Kamara sidelined, but Latavius Murray (remember him?) has been solid in his own right playing backup, averaging 4.3 yards/carry in his limited role. There’s plenty to be concerned about after letting Josh Jacobs run wild seemingly all over England, but containing the run game and making Bridgewater try to beat them through the air is likely to lead to success. The loss of Akiem Hicks definitely hurts, but this is where Pace can show his drafting/signings are worth it with the depth he’s created.

This is the Show Me game for Chicago and Nagy. Show me you’re that Coach of the Year, and not a Juron-esque fluke. Show me you can game plan for your young, struggling QB to be successful. Show me you can clean up the lapses on defense and stop an NFC leader on your home turf.

SHOW US WHAT YOU GOT!

Prediction: Bears 19, Saints 10

Football

Worst title I’ve ever given an article? Yeah, it’s up there but the season is still young, folks!

This week the Bears were gifted a game against a high-octane offense with a backup quarterback under center. Teddy Bridgewater is playing his 6th game this year, his 5th start running the Saints attack. The first question is, who is Teddy Bridgewater? Pick 32 of the 2014 NFL Draft, that’s who. The game managing QB who made his money handing off to Adrian Peterson and throwing to, uh, I’m not really sure. Is Mike Wallace a real person or just a collective fever dream we all went through together, like that one year where Brandon Lloyd was king?

Teddy Bridgewater was the 2014 Rookie of the Year as sponsored by Pepsi and voted on by fans, which is somehow different than the NFL AP vote which pegged Odell Beckham Jr as the best offensive rookie that year. The NFL AP made the better decision, but I still love and respect the concept of the fan vote, since this isn’t the NBA and Yao Ming can’t keep being selected to All Star games even though he didn’t play (Free Hong Kong, while we’re here). 2014 seems like such a different time, and Bridgewater’s path here has been so long and winding that it’s almost surreal to think about OBJ and Teddy coming into the league at the same time. Shit, Teddy was in the Pro Bowl the next season!

…and then you know the rest, I’m assuming. HOWEVER, my bandmate Katie reads these articles for some reason and she has no clue what I’m talking about most of the time, so this one’s for the Katies out there. Bridgewater suffered a non-contact knee injury in practice that was so bad the doctors thought his leg would have to be amputated. He dislocated his knee, tore his ACL, and had significant structural damage. The words that doctors used to describe it sound like metal band song titles:

“Grotesque”
“Mangled”
“Battle wound”
“Worst knee dislocation I’ve seen in sports”

I reached out to my buddy who is a Physical Therapist and asked him his take, and he responded by telling me that a knee dislocation like that can destroy your entire leg and compromise all four ligaments, and the fact that he has anything resembling stability in that knee to this day is beyond him. Shouts out to my homie Virak for the insider tip.

Teddy recovered from an injury that had people fearing he’d never walk again and has now started four games, three years and a handful of months removed from the kneepocalypse. It’s really hard to not root for this guy, but he is at best a replacement-level QB on a team loaded with weapons.

The numbers are nice (69% completion percentage, 7/2 TD/INT ratio), but he isn’t passing the eye test (trust me, I have a number of Saints players in fantasy leagues). Four of those seven scores were against a Tampa Bay defense that plays with the urgency of a pug who just walked a mile and a half. He’s been hot and cold. He was stellar against Tampa Bay and Seattle, and not good against Dallas and Jacksonville.

His stats will give Bears fans Shane Matthews/Kyle Orton flashbacks. His average completed pass travels 4.5 yards in the air. He throws what Football Outsiders defines as a “bad throw” 12% of the time, and he does NOT go deep. The Bears might have an advantage here, with Eddie Jackson lurking on some of those crossing routes underneath. Bridgewater still hasn’t mastered the Drew Brees classic “know exactly which option route Alvin Kamara is going to run and hitting him for a 12 yard gain six times a drive”, but he has weapons.

Teddy is a game manager with an outstanding backstory, but the Bears match up well here against him. If the pass rush can shake him or make him get rid of the ball quickly, I like their odds. Hopefully the defense doesn’t have to send too much extra pressure to get after the plucky Saints QB, because the big play potential is there if Kamara or Michael Thomas find themselves in man coverage with no safety help. Make no mistake, the Saints have some burners and they can turn a short toss into a big gain. Their screen game is tight, and Ted Ginn can stretch the field. If the line can get to Teddy, the Bears have a chance to slow this offense down dramatically.