Saints vs. Bears: Takeaways from the Saints' 26-18 Victory over Chicago
The Saints uncharacteristically remained committed to run (despite the lackluster results), while implementing their normally explosive pass game. Drew Brees was an efficient 29-of-35 for 288 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The defense was in bend-but-don't-break mode as they gave up 358 yards through the air (10 receptions for 218 yards to receiver Alshon Jeffery). The Bears took a page out of the Saints playbook as they only ran 14 designed run plays.
Wins are hard to come by in the NFL. Getting one—on the road—against a good team makes it even more special.
The Saints have another tough test on the road against the 4-1 New England Patriots next week—one I'm sure they can ace as well.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
Run Defense Up to Par
Coming into the game, I thought the team who ran the ball more efficiently would win. Although the Bears had a better average per rush (5.2 opposed to 2.4 for the Saints), they only managed to run the ball 14 times.
It was the commitment to the run that helped the Saints dispose of the pesky Bears.
Uncharacteristically, the Saints ran the ball 28 times, while throwing it 35! This is the exact kind of game that I've been pining for since I started covering the Saints.
This type of balance makes the Saints one of the most prominent threats to win the NFC—on the way to a Super Bowl berth. Providing the defense another aspect of offense to worry about can only be a positive thing.
When you force the defense to cover all areas of the field, you slow down the pass rush, while giving your offensive line an opportunity to wear down the defensive line.
When you have seven threats in the pass game, running the ball creates one-on-one opportunities at much easier clip, all while limiting turnover opportunities.
This was the most impressive game by the offense from a schematic standpoint.
I'm beginning to feel sorry for opposing defenses. Figuring out how to stop Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has to be harder than figuring out the Pythagorean Theorem!
After becoming the first tight end to win player of the month since 1986, Graham picked up right where he left off. His 10-catch, 135-yard performance has become standard for him at this point in time. He can be lined up wide, in the slot and even in the backfield. He's simply too big, too fast and too tenacious.
Graham is, undoubtedly, the best at his position, he's slowly becoming the best period...
Getting After Bushrod?
The loss of left tackle Jermon Bushrod (via free agency to Chicago) has haunted the Saints so far this season. Drew Brees has been sacked an incredible 14 times behind an extremely shaky line. Coming into this game, I expected the Saints to really get after their former teammate.
Well, I'm still waiting...
Outside linebacker Junior Galette provided pressure early on against the behemoth, but was pretty much on a milk carton the rest of the game. The Bears offensive line as a whole looked leaky for much of the first half, but looked extremely stout in the second.
The Saints were still able to generate three sacks (all on blitzes), running the season total to 15. Having the scheme pick up the production, when you can't get to the QB organically, is just another cog for this machine that is the Saints.
Opposing QBs now have to worry about blitzes in the form of overload pressure. Now that's scary!
Kromer vs. Payton
Former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is now the Bears offensive coordinator. As the early-season architect of last season's 7-9 debacle, Kromer was, undoubtedly, looking to prove the authenticity of his perceived coaching prowess.
His Bears offense, for the most part, did not disappoint. Despite being pressured most of the first half, QB Jay Cutler was able to go 24-of-33 for 358 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. In addition, the Bears were just six yards shy of 100 yards rushing (factoring in Cutler's 4-for-27-yards performance).
Kromer, along with head coach Marc Trestman, has improved the Bears offense significantly.
The Bears have shown they can be multiple on their attack, and even adjust at the half—as witnessed by the diminished pressure by the Saints after intermission.
Coach Sean Payton continues to build future (and current) head coaches. That's the mark of a successful franchise.
Greer and Lewis vs. Jeffery and Marshall
One of the most intriguing storylines preceding this tilt was the matchups between Saints corners Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer and the Chicago tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. All four of these players have been having good seasons, and all looked to play a pivotal role.
Chicago likes to move its receivers around in an attempt to exploit matchups. They also have a propensity for feeding the hot hand at receiver.
They ended up doing both.
Jeffery looked like the budding star who was predicted in the game preview. His 10-catch, 218-yard performance, capped off by a late touchdown, signified his arrival. He caught passes on just about everyone in the Saints secondary and generally kept the Bears alive.
Marshall finished with four catches for 30 yards (on five targets) with a touchdown, but was pretty much a non-factor in the grand scheme of things. The Saints obviously geared their game plan toward Marshall as they bracketed him a significant amount of times.
It may be time to let Lewis shadow the opposing team's hot hand.
Truly a Difference Between Being at Home and Away?
The Saints, for some odd reason, are widely regarded as being a team that's home-field dependent. They are also characterized as an indoor team. Beating the Bears on the road will go a long way in dispelling those crazy notions.
The Saints have won road games at alarming clip for the duration of the Brees-Payton era. This season, the Saints have shown they can win all types of games, as both units (offense and defense) have picked up the slack when one is underperforming.
When you play on the road, packing your run game and defense is a must. The Saints did that—for the most part—against Chicago.
Looking forward to next week’s game at New England, a repeat performance will certainly be in order, and the Saints pose a lot of the same qualities as the Bears—and then some.
The Saints may very well be on their way to another magical season...