The FOX NFL Game of the Week features the New Orleans Saints traveling to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears. As both hold realistic aspirations of claiming the conference crown, let’s get the lowdown on each team’s subplots heading into this matchup:
The linebacker crew has garnered the acclaim in the past, yet the heart and soul of the Chicago defense has been the dexterity of its front line. Unfortunately for Bears backers, this unit has underwhelmed through the first quarter of the season, with the team’s six sacks ranking third-worst in the NFL. Pro Bowler Henry Melton suffered an ACL tear and will miss the rest of the year. Corey Wootton has made strides in his fourth professional campaign, but still lacks the consistency that his position demands.
And then there is the venerable Julius Peppers. The former All-Pro has been a shell of himself, recording a meager five tackles and one sack this fall. A nagging chest ailment hasn’t helped matters, but the reality is, with Peppers turning 34 this January, Father Time is starting to show why he remains undefeated. If Chicago hopes to right this wayward ship, a Peppers revival is a necessity.
Matchup Watch: Jimmy Graham versus Bears back seven
How good is Graham? He just captured the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, the first time a tight end has been bestowed this honor since the prize was instituted. THAT good.
Graham has been the bull’s-eye of 43 pass attempts, equating to 27 catches for 458 yards and a league-best six touchdowns. Production like that can’t be halted, but Chicago’s secondary and linebacker corps can minimize the damage. The Bears have defended tight ends relatively well, holding adversaries to 9.5 yards per catch (fourth-lowest in the league) with only one touchdown. Though still cloaked in talent, the Saints lack the dependable deep-threats of the past, making Chicago’s endeavors against Graham all the more imperative.
Is Marc Trestman REALLY influencing the Chicago offense?
Concededly, I was skeptical of Trestman’s “quarterback guru” cognomen, mostly due to his past students: Jimmy Clausen, Brandon Weeden, Tim Tebow, Jason Campbell. And these are the choice names of his clientele. Kind of like calling Paul Walker’s acting coach a maharishi of thespian arts.
However, Trestman is having a positive effect on the Bears offensive strategy. Chicago is averaging 31.8 points per game (third-best in the NFL), miles ahead of last season’s 23.4 mark. Jay Cutler and the passing attack are posting 240.8 net yards per contest. While that may pale in comparison with the figures submitted by New Orleans, Denver and the like, it’s a noticeable rally from 2012’s 187.4 yards per game. The terrain numbers have dropped a tad, yet the Bears have been more efficient with their attempts, rising from 4.2 yards per carry to 4.5. More importantly, Trestman has amplified Matt Forte’s touches in the receiving arena (23 catches through four games versus 44 grabs in 15 contests a year ago) while not overusing him on runs.
As for Trestman’s impact on Cutler, the mercurial field general is hitting a career-high 64.2 percent of his intended targets and is on pace for his most passing yards since 2008. Cutler does have six picks on the season, although three derived from Week 4’s loss to Detroit, where an early deficit forced Chicago to the air early and often. Cutler will never reach that upper stratum of NFL quarterbacks, but he’s more than capable of guiding the Bears to the Meadowlands this winter.
Alshon Jeffery is this close to becoming a breakout star
The second-year man from South Carolina earns rave reviews during practice, with teammates maintaining Jeffery has the aptitude to be better than receiving cohort Brandon Marshall. Until last week, this sentiment had not correlated to Sundays, as Jeffery boasted a pedestrian 37 catches for 471 yards and three scores in his career. Luckily for Chicago, Jeffery began to put this skill on display versus the Lions, snagging five receptions for 107 yards and a trip to pay dirt. With Marshall dealing with an ankle injury, envision Jeffery to see an elevated rate of pigskins in his direction against the Saints. What he does with these opportunities may dictate the fruition of the Bears.
The Bears win if…
Cutler is able to keep the mistakes to a minimum, Chicago’s feast-or-fame defense indulges itself, Bill Swerski’s Superfans kidnap Drew Brees…
I think the Saints own the better overall roster, and that early dividends from the New Orleans defense are not an aberration. Nevertheless, the Bears have plenty of explosive weapons to counter the Saints’ high-octane ways, and wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago emerges victorious.