For the Saints, the key to containing the Chicago Bears may lie in stopping two products of Louisiana football: Lake Charles native and former Tulane running back Matt Forte — plus University of Louisiana Lafayette cornerback – Charles “Peanut” Tillman. These two players have translated their small-school success into star production in the pros.
The Bears run game is synonymous with Matt Forte, who has produced runs of 50 yards or more in each of the last two games – and tallied 480 yards from the line of scrimmage so far this season.
“He’s a great runner. I’ve been watching him since the days before I was in the league,” Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “I’ve always watched that guy. He’s a great player, a great running back. I like how fluid he is. We definitely want to do our best to shut down the running game.”
The Saints run defense is one of the Black and Gold’s weakest areas – so beware. Forte is also a dual threat for the Bears: he’s stepping up his role in the passing game as well.
“He looks as good as he’s ever been in his career,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s one of those guys – they can hand it off to him and he can make plays in the running game. He can also kill you in he running game. When they check it down to him, he’s great in the open field. He makes things happen for them. He’s someone you better know where he’s at every play.”
This game, ball security is at a higher premium that ever. Today’s outcome may very well come down to turnovers.
The Bears are the best at taking the ball away – having forced 14 fumbles so far this season. The Bears coaching staff teaches takeaways as an art – and incorporates them into their game plan. Turnover ratio is the stat New Orleans’ offensive tackle Zach Strief is eyeballing:
“You go back, I think that holds up over every year of professional football I’ve ever played,” Strief said. “It is by far the biggest individual stat in any game. You open up the newspaper and you look at the turnover ratio, and if there’s a plus by one team, you’re good taking that that team won.”
Consider this: the Saints are tied with the Bears in turnover ratio at +5.
The man who shoulders the load for the Bears when it comes to stripping, punching and freeing balls: cornerback Charles Tillman.
“They’re pretty amazing at getting the ball out,” Strief said. “Obviously Charles Tillman is a guy you hear a lot about. He tied an NFL record last year with 10 forced fumbles, and the next 12 guys on that list were defensive ends that are getting to the quarterback and stripping a guy who’s not looking at them.”
This week, the Saints offense and defense have both carefully studied how the Bears force turnovers. It’s been a point of emphasis in film sessions. The Black and Gold’s offense will be on high alert to recognize and recover balls. The defense meanwhile knows it needs to do its share of forcing fumbles this week more than ever – to get the ball back in quarterback Drew Brees’ hands and even out the turnover ratio.