Gus Kattengell’s Saints Report — Bears Game
The New Orleans Saints are feeling pretty good right now. A year ago the team had yet to win a single game and entering Sunday’s game the Black and Gold are one of two teams in the NFC still unbeaten. A quarter of the season is in the books and we have learned quite a bit about the 2013 Saints.
Head coach Sean Payton is indeed worth every penny and is the engine that drives this football team. Quarterback Drew Brees is still very good. Tight end Jimmy Graham is just as good, so good that his first month’s work earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors this week. We also pleasantly learned that thankfully the Saints defense will not make a run at becoming the NFL’s worst defense for a second straight season and through four games are the eight ranked defensive team in the league.
Sunday in Chicago however, we may learn just how good this team really is, as in can this team make a run at the franchise’s second championship. The (3-1) Bears are easily the (4-0) Saints biggest challenge to date. Chicago has been a house of horrors for Payton as he is 0-3 in the Windy City as head coach of the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees is 0-4 against the Bears. In fact, the last Saints win in Chicago came in 2000 when Jeff Blake was the quarterback of the team. Brees in his games in Chicago has just a 55.7 completion percentage and has six interceptions to go with his seven touchdowns.
The Saints while impressive have very big question marks in the lack of a running game and the play of the offensive line. Brees has been sacked 12 times already through four games and is getting hit way too many times in games. Sunday’s game sets up like a perfect storm for the Saints first loss of the season. A game in a city that has seen them lose their three last trips, a physical turnover causing defense (tops in the NFL in take-aways), and a 60% chance of rain on a field that was already re-sodded this week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Head coach Sean Payton presented one very clear message to his team and media this week. Turnovers are the key the game on Sunday. Sure, every coach every week says that his team must win the turnover battle, but against the Bears it means the difference in winning of losing. January 21, 2007 in the NFC Championship game the Saints turned the ball over 4 times and lost 39-14. Later that same year on December 30 the Saints turned the ball over three times and lost 33-25. December 11, 2008 the Saints turned it over twice and lost in overtime 27-24. Nine turnovers combined in the three loses. The lone win against Chicago in the Peyton era came in 2011 in the Superdome a 30-13 victory where the Saints turned it over just once.
Chicago this season has already forced 12 fumbles in just four games. Payton says they specialize in stripping the football before, during and as the play is ending. Essentially Saints offensive players will not be safe until the play is blown dead by a referee’s whistle.
Also important to me will be two key areas. First, how the Saints defense contains Bears running back Matt Forte. The former Tulane product IS the Bears offense as he can run the ball and is an essential component to the Bears passing attack. Forte is slimmer and faster this season and has 320 yards on the ground and 160 through the air. It’s essential the Saints contain Forte as tackling will be a key. You won’t be able to keep the ball away from him but limiting the yards after he touches the ball is key. Rookie Saints safety could be used as a sort of shadow. Kenny Vaccaro has shown he is one of the team’s best tacklers and one of the most physical defenders and easily among the most athletic. I’m defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, I tell Vaccaro don’t worry about anything other what Forte is doing. Secondly, the Saints offensive line has got to play better and open up a few holes for the Saints running backs. Sure Brees and the Saints have proven this year they can win playing one-dimensional football. Playing a pass happy style on a bad field that possibly could be affected by rain against a team that thrives in taking the ball away is asking a lot. It’s simple. If the Saints can rush for 100 yards Sunday they will win the game.
HOW IT WILL GO
Everything in the world is telling me the Saints will suffer their first loss of the season. The sloppy-slick Soldier Field surface on a Sunny day likely will be wet, torn up and could create some sort of wacky slip and fumble. The flare passes in the flat or screen plays that have hurt the Saints defense is a staple of the Bears offense and Matt Forte could be the Saints killer. Let’s not forget the Bears have “inside intelligence” as I call it. Aaron Kromer was the Saints interim head coach to start the season and as an assistant was the Saints offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Chicago in the offseason signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod as well. The Bears defense undoubtedly has been schooled on the many hand gestures, protection calls, audibles, terminology, formations, and personnel groupings. Brees this week told reporters it seems like a bigger deal than it is and that they can handle it. Changing calls and language you’ve been using for weeks if not months on a short week can be done I’m sure, but it only takes on misunderstanding, one miscommunication on a protection call or play and disaster could strike.
However there is one ray of hope for me. The last time they played in 2011, the last season the Saints had Sean Payton on the sideline, the Saints sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times. Cutler has played well this season completing 64.2 percent of his passes, that said he also has been intercepted six times and fumbled twice. Cutler tends to hold onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks and the Bears offensive line has been a problem for a couple of seasons. The Saints defensive line has been a strong point this year and defensive end Cam Jordan has four sacks this season. Outside Linebacker Junior Galette has three sacks. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks who has two sacks. Those three players each posses physical abilities that could make an impact play.
So what am I picking? I’m struggling because I can’t get past just how bad the Saints have played in Chicago. Maybe that’s just it. If the Saints like me can just overcome where they are playing and play the kind of football they are capable of, then just maybe they could pull out a win? Chicago this season beat (2-2) Cincinatti 24-21, (1-3) Minnesota 31-30, (0-4) Pittsburgh 40-23 and lost at (3-1) Detroit 40-32 in a game Reggie Bush rushed 139 yards in! Chicago maybe has faced one quarterback that has been playing well? Certainly none of the caliber of Drew Brees and look, that Bears defense has given up some points.
The dreaded Chicago curse ends. Saints 27 – Bears 17. Payton has stressed all week about turnovers and players have stressed about how bad they have played there in the past. I believe they get the job done.