Inside the hash marks: Bears-Saints preview

Bears 2013 training camp3
The Chicago Bears (3-1) are looking to bounce back from last week’s mistake-prone loss to Detroit when they host the high-flying New Orleans Saints (4-0) Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

Through four games, the Bears are a study in contrasts. They rank third in the NFL in points scored (31.8) and tops in takeaways (14), yet the usually reliable defense stands near the bottom in points allowed (26th, at 28.5 points per game given up).

Sunday’s game looks like the type of affair where the team with the ball last may end up on the winner’s side. Chicago will have to defend against the quick, strike, precision-throwing of Saints QB Drew Brees. Brees is uncanny with pressure in his face, possessing just enough mobility and veteran savvy to buy an extra moment. TE Jimmy Graham has been All-World thus far, catching six touchdown passes through four games. Expect the Bears to bracket their coverage, with defenders both in front and behind Graham to prevent long-gainers.  If the Bears gamble too much though, WR Marques Colston could exploit the Bears  secondary deep.

Clearly, this is a game where the Bears pass rush needs to come alive. The defensive front has been a disappointment to date, with little pressure generated by DE’s Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, or Shea McClellin. The Bears may be forced to blitz, leading to possible big plays with Brees experience and playmaking ability.

On the other side of the ball, Chicago poses some issues for a New Orleans defense which appears cosmetically improved. The Saints rank sixth in overall defense, but have faced offensively challenged Tampa Bay and Arizona through their first four contests. Ball control should prove to be an important factor, so look for Jay Cutler and the Bears to focus on getting RB Matt Forte heavily involved. Forte’s versatility, both as a runner and weapon out of the backfifeld,  has been key thus far. If the Bears can get him in open space, he should be an effective weapon and open up downfield throwing lanes for Cutler to exploit.

The Bears are also looking to rebound in special teams. Punter Adam Podlesh was on notice after a shaky outing against Detroit. The Bears brought in six punters to audition, but will hope that Podlesh will bounce back with a strong effort. Coverage has been a concern as well, with the Bears allowing two long returns ( a 105 yard touchdown by Minnesota’s Cordarelle Patterson and a key 58-yard punt return by Detroit’s Michael Spurlock ) through four games. The Saints dimenutive, but explosive Darren Sproles will pose a challenge.

Sunday’s game marks the first of two for the Bears this week. They’ll follow up by entertaining the New York Giants on Thursday evening. With a 2-0 home record already, a pair of wins would put the Bears in a strong position nearing the end of October.

Bears Tracks: The Bears lead the overall series with New Orleans, 15-12. The home team has won five of the last six meetings….Bears S Anthony Walters, a key special teams performer, will miss the contest due to a hamstring injury….The Saints won the previous meeting, a 30-13 victory over the Bears at the New Orleans Superdome in September of 2011.




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