Believe it or not, but Sunday’s matchup between Chicago and New Orleans features two of the hotter teams in the NFL right now. The Bears (3-4) have won two in a row after last week’s 17-3 victory over Carolina at home in which the defense suffocated the Panthers, holding them to just a field goal.
Eddie Jackson did all the scoring, as the rookie safety produced touchdowns on a 75-yard fumble return and 76-yard interception return. Otherwise, Chicago’s offense managed a total of 153 yards, five first downs and just one field goal in nine drives.
Meantime, the Saints (4-2) ran their winning streak to four in a row, beating Green Bay 26-17 in the Packers’ first game without Aaron Rodgers. New Orleans visit to Lambeau Field started poorly, with interceptions on their first two trips into Green Bay territory, and the Saints trailed 14-7 at halftime. But the second half was a different story, as Drew Brees and the offense scored on four straight possessions and then picked off Packers quarterback Brett Hundley to seal the deal.
Chicago holds a slim 15-14 in head-to-head meetings with New Orleans but the Saints have won the past three matchups.
Chicago at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Bears +9
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Bears’ ground attack contribute enough to keep the pressure off Mitchell Trubisky?
Success in running the ball is the key to winning the game for the Bears. In their three victories, they have averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 173.7 rushing yards per game. In defeat, they have averaged 3.9 yards per carry and only 90.8 yards per game. It is no coincidence that the only two 100-yard rushing games for the Bears this season, both by Jordan Howard, came in wins.
Trubisky, a rookie, will start his fourth NFL game in the Big Easy. Frankly, John Fox and his staff want Trubisky to avoid losing games much more than they want him to try to win them himself. That specifically means grinding out yardage on the ground and avoiding turnovers.
That philosophy explains the Bears’ play-calling when Trubisky has been under center. Against Carolina, Trubisky threw only seven passes during the entire game, completing four of them. The previous week, in a win at Baltimore, he had just 16 pass attempts, half of which were successful. In his first appearance of the regular season in Week 5, he had his highest totals of his brief career in pass attempts (25), completions (12) and yards (128). Those came in a Bears loss.
2. Will the the Saints continue to maintain balance on offense?
For the Saints to win, they need to have considerable success running the ball to achieve balance in their attack. In the first two games of the season, both losses, they ran the ball just nineteen times per game for 70.5 yards on average with no touchdowns. During the four-game winning streak, they have run the ball 32 times for 147.3 yards per game on average, scoring five rushing touchdowns.
A huge number of passing attempts and yards do not bode well for New Orleans. In their losses, Drew Brees averaged 41 passing attempts for 316 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. In the following four games, his average passing attempts and yards dropped to 34.5 and 246, respectively, but his average number of touchdowns rose to exactly two per game.
Chicago is capable of keeping the Saints’ running game under wraps. Only one opponent has piled up more than 150 rushing yards in seven games against the Bears. They have held three teams under 100 rushing yards.
3. Can the Bears make this a low-scoring affair?
Chicago’s offense cannot hope to win a shootout in New Orleans. The target number for the Monsters of the Midway is 19. When the defense has held opponents under 20 points, they have won all three times. They are 0-4 when the other team's offenses has scored at least 20 points.
The Bears need to play keep-away with the ball. Ideally, they want to score on their first possession, keep the Saints' offense out of the end zone for the game and dominate time of possession. The longer they can remain ahead, even if by single digits, they can pressure Sean Payton into his habit of junking the running game when trailing. The Saints have struggled when their offense becomes one-dimensional.
There's no doubt that the Bears’ defense single-handedly won the game against Carolina. It is unlikely that their defense can replicate last week’s two touchdowns. It is impossible to believe they can limit Drew Brees and company to just a field goal as the Bears did to Carolina.
Although the Bears currently reside in the basement of the NFC North, their season is far from finished. They are only two games out of first place. They need to extend their two-game winning streak by picking up another conference win. With a victory, they would remain within striking distance as two divisional games follow the trip to New Orleans.
With four straight wins and everyone else in the NFC losing during the past two weeks, the Saints slipped into the lead in the NFC South. Besides staying ahead of its divisional rivals, New Orleans has an eye on the rest of the NFC. The Saints trail the Eagles by one game and the Vikings and Rams by a half game in the race for the top seed in the playoffs. They need a win to keep pace.
Prediction: Saints 27, Bears 13
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.