A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Continue getting pressure up the middle
No matter how many times it’s said, it can’t be said enough: pressure up the middle is key to any successful defense, but especially to Lovie Smith’s. Last week against the Falcons the Bears smothered Matt Ryan and held Atlanta’s offense to just two field goals. Julius Peppers, of course, was a beast and near impossible to stop, but it was the play of Henry Melton that put the Bears over the top. Getting his first start at the three-technique tackle, Melton recorded two sacks and an impressive seven quarterback hits. Seeing pressure from both Melton and Peppers — my favorite play was probably when the two converged on and drilled Ryan simultaneously, knocking the quarterback’s helmet halfway up his head — was a thing of beauty. Maybe the best factor of the Bears’ defensive line is the depth and rotation. It ensures that the starters maintain stamina throughout the game and will help them take advantage of the offensive line in the fourth quarter. If the Bears can consistently penetrate into the backfield against the Saints, it’ll be a long day for Drew Brees.
2. Prevent the big play
The Saints offense is one of the most explosive units in the league thanks to Drew Brees’ accuracy, a host of talented wide receivers, and head coach Sean Payton’s downfield offensive system. The Saints consistently look to get the ball down the field in a hurry, and what’s worse is that Brees makes it look so effortless. The best way to combat an offense like that is to do exactly what the Bears defense is designed to do, play the deep zone and keep all the plays in front of them. If the Bears can make the Saints work for their points, it’ll increase their opportunities for takeaways and keep the score low and manageable.
3. Operate a balanced offensive game plan
The Bears had good offensive balance last week as Mike Martz dialed up 27 run plays between Matt Forte, Kahlil Bell and Dane Sanzenbacher versus 32 pass attempts from Jay Cutler. A lot of those runs came later in the game when the Bears had the win in hand, but Martz still sprinkled in enough runs throughout the game to keep Atlanta’s defense honest. The Saints defense is not without its problems. Besides being torn up for nearly 400 yards by the Packers offense last Thursday night, the most lasting memory of this defense was how they got destroyed by the Seahawks in last year’s NFC wild card matchup. The Bears never trailed against the Falcons and if they can get out ahead of the Saints and play with a lead, Martz will have more flexibility with his play calling.
4. Play a full 60 minutes
When the Saints offense gets clicking, it’s scary how good they can be. They can score in an instant and from anywhere on the field. The Bears can’t afford to take a foot off the accelerator against the Saints like they did for the last quarter and a half against the Falcons. No lead is ever safe against New Orleans, as we witnessed in the Packers game. The Saints were down 15 to the Packers with just over two minutes to play. They scored a touchdown before the two-minute warning, forced a three-and-out by the Packers and then made one last-ditch effort at tying the game, which ended when they couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line as time expired. Needless to say, unless the Bears somehow surprise us and take a three-touchdown lead, I won’t feel comfortable until the final buzzer.