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