What to watch in Week 5: Saints

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:

Click here for a preview of the Chicago Bears.



Darren Sproles: revitalized or one-week wonder?

God bless him, but Pierre Thomas has looked slower than Monday morning. And remember how Mark Ingram was supposed to make the Saints offense an unstoppable force when drafted in 2011? Yeah, about that…

The air is the preferred method of attack for most NFL offenses, with New Orleans in the forefront of this modus operandi (its 338.3 passing yards per game is second-highest in the league). Nevertheless, a threatening backfield is imperative to long-term success, which is where Sproles comes in. After an underwhelming start to the season, the diminutive back hauled in seven catches for 114 yards, added 28 yards off four carries on the ground and found the end zone twice versus a solid Miami defense Monday night.

Sproles doesn’t necessarily have to be a monster on the terrain, just stealthy enough as a check-down target to keep the opposition honest. Drew Brees is magnificent at spreading the pigskin around, yet Sproles is the safety valve that facilitates this distribution. If Sproles can use Week 4’s display as a platform for the rest of the season, the Saints will be a tough out.

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 crew 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.

Take note, America. The Saints defense is legit

Perennially the Achilles’ heel for this franchise (evidenced in last year’s admission of 28.4 points per game, second-worst in the NFL), the New Orleans resistance has been one of the surprises in the first quarter of the season, giving up a meager 13.8 points per contest (third-best in the NFC). This turnaround has been sparked by the unit’s combativeness against the pass. The Saints are one of six teams conceding 200 yards or less through the skies, and its 65.1 QB rating is the third-lowest in the league. Given most of the integral parts of the defense are returning players, credit the improved fortunes to new coordinator Rob Ryan. Hey, speaking of Ryan…

Over/under on shots of Rob Ryan being fired up: 11.5

OVER! I wish we could book Ryan to be a motivational speaker for our office. Guarantee my words-per-minute rate would skyrocket. Also, if this doesn’t lead to Ryan’s ultimate destiny as the head coach of the Raiders, then we’ve failed as a society.

The Saints will win if…

The Saints offense continues its high-flying ways, Jay Cutler delivers a Mr. Hyde performance, Chicago’s unable to shore up a weakened defensive line…in truth, the ball is in New Orleans’ court. Obviously you have to factor in the hackneyed, “Any given Sunday…” spiel, but the Saints should, ahem, “Brees” through this bad boy.