These aren't the Saints of last year, or even recent years. While their offense has been terrific since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived, they've struggled defensively. That isn't the case this year as they're the sixth best team in yards allowed and fifth best scoring defense. Meanwhile, their offense is still scoring 27 points per game.
For more information on the Saints and their matchup against the Bears, I contacted New Orleans' Featured Columnist Murf Baldwin.
According to his B/R profile, a quick Google search of “Uptown Murf” will reveal some very thorough X's and O's-based writing. He also said he gained a ton of notoriety as a contributor to www.NFLsFuture.com, as well as SB Nation sites CanalSteeetChronicles, BigBlueView, and Baltimore Beatdown.
Here's what Baldwin thinks about the matchup between the Bears and the Saints.
What is something you’re concerned about with the Saints facing the Bears?
There are a few areas of concern. The Saints are a little soft in the trenches, mostly on offense. Guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans have been playing at an inferior level despite their status as two of the very best at their respective positions. Evans' play in particular is quite puzzling. He's a four-time all-pro, but is playing more like all-poo! Right tackle Zach Strief is average as it gets. Center Brian de la Puente is a good player but is playing below his normal standards as well. Left tackle Charles Brown is going to struggle against Julius Peppers—as most tackles do. I just have very little confidence in the offensive line as a whole. Brees has sacked 12 times already.
The Saints also struggle to run the ball as well as stop the run. Coach Sean Payton's lack of commitment to the run might have something to do with the run game. They have the talent to do it but rarely rush the ball twice in a row. The quality of runs are very insipid as well. You can get a beat on what will happen by the personnel that's in the game.
As far as stopping the run, it seems to be on runs out of passing formations. The Saints are sack masters under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan—and seem to concentrate on that the most. They play a lot of Wide 9—among many alignments—and can be gashed when in it. When the alignment is 3-4-based, or normal 4-3, they are fine in that arena.
Their line has struggled some and I would expect Peppers to get the best of Brown. However, the Bears haven't been getting to the quarterback. They have just six sacks this season, more than just two other teams. While Henry Melton wasn't playing well, the Bears don't seem to have anyone to replace him.
The 12 sacks are high for New Orleans but I have a hard time believing that pace will continue.
As far as their run defense, the Bears will be their best test of the season. Tampa Bay's Doug Martin ran for 144 yards against New Orleans, but they didn't have much of a passing game to offset him. Atlanta's Steven Jackson is a good player, but the Falcons only gave him 11 carries. New Orleans will likely see a lot more of Matt Forte.
What is one area you think the Saints can exploit in the matchup?
The Saints won't be stopped by any team in the pass game. Simply too many weapons. Brees normally targets around seven players, all of whom are viable threats. Tight end Jimmy Graham is the very best in the league. The screen game is tops in the league, and is used mostly as a substitute for the run game With one of the best interior linemen in league missing—in Henry Melton—I also believe the Saints may finally find some success in the interior gaps. Former Saint Reggie Bush most certainly did.
It's interesting that you mentioned Bush because his replacement is my biggest fear for the Bears.
Jimmy Graham is going to get his catches and make big plays, he always does. The Bears can try to neutralize him by keeping safeties over the top, but if they do that, it will open up Darren Sproles for draw plays, screens and dump offs. It's the kind of thing Bush and the Lions killed the Bears with. Bush might be a tad faster than Sproles, but Sproles is quicker and harder to bring down.
The Bears have to be hoping playing on grass will slow him down, but they're going to have to tackle and pursue better if they're going to have a chance at stopping the Saints.
Who do you think wins and why?
The duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall should have success on the Saints' corners. I believe the revamped Bears line will get its best test from the Saints' pass rush. These are two great teams who very well could meet in the NFC Championship game, but I believe the Saints will be too much for the Bears as they will force Cutler into a couple of mistakes, something that is a no-no when playing against Drew Brees and co.
Saints 27, Bears 21
I'd love to talk about how the Bears' home field advantage will play a big role. Historically, Drew Brees has struggled in less-than-ideal conditions, so if it's windy or rainy, that could stop him as much as anything. New Orleans is also coming to Chicago off of a short week, but they have a veteran team who has played quite a few games on Monday night.
I'm just not a believer in the Bears' defense. Yes, their offense has its share of problems, but that should be expected in their first few weeks with a new scheme. They're learning and I think they'll be better this week than they were last week. Defensively, however, I think they're missing former coordinator Rod Marinelli and leader Brian Urlacher. Their best three players are all over 32 years old and the younger players aren't stepping up.
I'm not confident the Bears can stop the Saints or that their offense can keep up in a shootout. I'll say the Saints win 35-24.
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