A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the New Orleans Saints.
1. Tackle. Tackle. Tackle.
Reggie Bush has improved as a runner this season; I will give the man his dues. Throughout the early part of his career, he could not run between the tackles and he did much better running away from defenders than through them. He’s always been a much better receiver out of the backfield than a runner, though. However, with that said, the Bears made him look a lot better than he really is this past Sunday because they executed poor fundamentals. They didn’t chop down and keep Bush in front of them, they tried too many arm tackles, they didn’t wrap up. In short, they couldn’t tackle, which is one of the most fundamental skills in football. The Bears will face a similar running back this week in Darren Sproles, the guy who replaced Bush in New Orleans. Sproles, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, and the Bears’ Matt Forte are in a three-way tie for most receptions among running backs this season (23). The Saints love to dump the ball off to Sproles. The Bears have to keep him in front of them and they have to wrap up and bring him down. Same goes with any player who has the ball in his hands.
2. Keep Saints to third and long.
The Saints offense is averaging the fourth-most yards per game in the league with 419.5 (the Bears, by comparison, are averaging 352.2). The Saints also have the second-best time of possession mark with 34:17. And they are ranked seventh in the league in points per game with 27. What this all means is that once quarterback Drew Brees gets the ball in his hands, he doesn’t let go of it until he leads his offense on a prolonged, clock-eating drive that ends with points. This puts the defense on its heels and the opposing offense in a hole. This can’t happen this week. The Bears can’t give up big chunks of yardage on first and second downs because it’ll make it much easier for a good quarterback like Brees to convert on third down. The Bears defense has to get off the field and not allow too many third-down conversions or time-consuming drives.
3. Extra help on Jimmy Graham.
Graham — perhaps the NFL’s best tight end, or at least its best receiving tight end — is a matchup nightmare for most teams. A former college basketball player, he has great hands and leaping ability to pull down most passes that Brees lofts to him and he’s athletic enough to pick up yards after the catch. First thing the Bears need to do is give Graham and Brees different looks to try to get Brees to throw elsewhere. The second thing they need to do is that when Graham does catch the ball, they have to drop him immediately and not let him pick up yards after catch in open space.
4. Take care of the football.
Critics will say the Bears’ 40-32 loss to the Lions last week wasn’t as close as the score indicated, but last I checked, an NFL game is 60 minutes long, not three quarters. It’s the Lions fault if they went in to prevent defense late in the game. With that said, one or two of Jay Cutler’s four turnovers could have swung the momentum of the game. Midway through the second quarter, after a Matthew Stafford touchdown run, the Lions were up by just 6 points, 16-10. The game was still very much in grasp. Cutler then took a shot down the field to Brandon Marshall — which was a good decision because Marshall had his defender beat — but Cutler badly under threw him. That pass was intercepted and returned to the 2-yard-line. The next play, the Lions scored a touchdown and took a 23-10 lead. From there, it got out of hand. One less turnover and the game could have been different. The Bears have to take care of the football because a good team like the Saints can take advantage of those turnovers even more than a mediocre team like the Lions did last week.