By Rikki Greenberg
The Bears: It’s safe to say that the Bears 29thranked pass defense will have their hands full with the superstar Saints offense. Captain Neck beard and the grizzly bears of the NFC North continue to improve on offense, despite worries over second-year kick returner and second year wide receiver Devin Hester’s lack of productivity. Last week, second season tight end Greg Olsen had his best performance (3 catches for 52 yards and a 17.3 yards per catch average) since the matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6 of the regular season. Hester also showed signs of life at wide receiver in the last game with a season high 80 yards receiving. Rookie running back Matt Forte (112 carries short of Walter Payton’s record setting 381 carries in 1984) can expect an easy day at the office against the Saints defense because of the difficulties they’ve at stopping the run.
The Saints:Â The only thing holding back New Orleans is the defense, which rates 21st in total defense, 20th against the run (1,457 yards allowed on the ground) and 28th against the pass (3,149 yards allowed in the air). However, the Saints are making strides, with middle linebacker Johnathon Vilma recording a team-high ten tackles, outside linebacker Scott Shanle recording seven solo tackles and cornerback Usama Young recording nine solo tackles against the Falcons last Sunday. Offensive production couldn’t be better and veteran Saints quarterback Drew Brees has never looked this good. Second-year running back Pierre Thomas is well on his way to having a breakout season with 94 touches for 461 yards and 4.9 yards per carry average in comparison to his moderate rookie year of 2007.
The Bears have toâ€¦be aware of the offensive targets. Since Brees (329-of-503 for 4,100 yards, 26 TD, 14 INT for the season) has only been sacked 10 times since Week 1, pressuring the quarterback isn’t going to do much in this situation. Brees has plenty of targets in Shockey, Colston, Henderson and Moore. However, he might not be as pass happy because of his decline in performance when away (76.7 passer rating in away games) compared to when at home (117.2). On the other hand, this does not give the Bears reason to slack in secondary coverage.Â Hopefully Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman learned from his costly mistake against the Vikings during Week 13 and will be amping up the coverage against Saints speedy wide receiver Marques Colston.
The Saints have toâ€¦mix it up running and passing. The Chicago Bears pass coverage doesn’t exactly put fear into the opponents’ eyes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Brees doesn’t hesitate to throw a lot despite 10 interceptions on the road. The Saints also have a decent running game (average of 95.7 rushing yards per game) with a superstar cast that reads much like the offensive playbill:Â 2-time Pro Bowl selection and former Ole Miss running back Deuce McAllister, 2006 second overall draft pick Reggie Bush (back from a knee injury suffered against the Panthers during Week 7 of the regular season) and juiced up second season running back Pierre (I-L-Lâ€¦..I-N-I!) Thomas. It’s all about options for the Saints.