Saints at Bears Special Edition, s’il vous plaît
How the Bears COULD win. Will they? Well, apparently, they’re as infallible as the Pope!
Let’s get to it.
1. Under pressure. Not just a catchy David Bowe tune, but an imperative. The Bears cannot allow Brees to sit pretty in the pocket. Ponder undisturbed in the pocket almost beat the Bears. Brees in a clean pocket will certainly defeat the Bears. And not just beat, but embarrass.
Give Drew Brees a clean pocket and he’ll pick you apart every time. After a slightly slow start to the season, Brees has completed 59-of-85 passes (69.4%) for 755 yards (8.9 YPA) and a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last two games, rushing for an eighth touchdown RotoWorld Match-Ups
The Bears actually did a better job of pressuring the Lions than the previous opponents. I could pull all these PFF stats and numbers, but if you watched the game, it was obvious that DE Julius Peppers reverted to form. Was it the fast track? Was it that he finally overcame his ’illness’? Was it that Peppers likes ending Stafford’s season? Don’t know, but Peppers looked like the Pepp of old, and not like an old Pepp. He needs to continue to improve because no one else seems to be able consistently penetrate (that‘s what she said?). They’re 30th in sacks (6) and 29th in Pro Football Focus’ team pass-rush metrics. In other words, their pass rush is almost Jag-ish.
DT Corey Irvin, DT Stephen Paea, DE Corey Wooten, DE Shea McCllellin simply must improve. There’s no other way to put it. Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker is trying everything. They’re moving Paea to 3-tech, they’re moving Wooten inside. They’re switching the 3-tech and nose. They’re standing McClellin up. They’re signing guys off the street and playing them immediately (DT Landen Cohen). They’re blitzing linebackers, corners and safeties. They’re trying everything, but why? Well, it’s because the aforementioned defensive line can’t beat the guys in front of them one-on-one, forcing Tucker to become exotic. The Bears have paid for these experiments since their defense is now allowing 8.3 yards per pass attempt, fourth worst, and two yards more than last season.
The Bears now rank 20th in total defense, behind such powerhouses such as the Raiders, Colts, and yes, The Saints (who rank 6th).
The opponents haven’t exactly compiled garbage time stats either, as all games were relatively close, so those yards and touchdowns were not against 2nd teamers playing prevent.
Peyton Manning is mesmerizing many fans, but did you know that Brees only trails Peyton by 36 yards (1470 vs. 1436)? Brees has passed for 400 more yards than Cutler thus far, and if the Bears defensive line cannot touch Brees, the disparity will only widen.
No, no, mon ami. The Bears must harass Brees with its traditional front four package, or else this could get ugly.
2. Contain Jimmy Graham. The Bears must disrupt with their front four because they will have to play a lot of Cover-2 (which shall soon re-earn the Cover-Who moniker), so that Graham does not tea bag Major Wright or Chris Conte individually.
Big Ben with time in the pocket was able to move the safeties with his eyes, then throw it deep to the other wideout. Well, Brees is even more lethal than Ben doing this and has more dangerous weapons. Graham can get chunks of 20 yards really fast, and is on pace to gain an insane 1,800 yards and 24 Tds this season. That’s ridiculous for a WR, yet alone a TE. Graham has racked up three consecutive 100+ games. The Bears have allowed the second most reception to tight ends (28). Do the math.
As ludicrous as this might sound, Megatron might actually be an easier assignment than Graham. The Bears have two PB CBs who have beaucoup experience with Johnson. On the other side of that spectrum, The Bears have two struggling safeties with little experience against Graham. Wright and Conte better practice their vertical and timing skills this week, or else they’ll be watching Graham dunk over the goal post at Solider Field.
3. Don’t get Bush-whacked, again. The Bears all but contained Calvin Johnson last week, holding him to (44 yards and 1TD), but the trade off was Reggie Bush piling up 173 all purpose yards, as it was clear that the Lion’s game plan was to attack the Bears’ D underneath and capitalize on their shaky tackling. It worked.
The Saints followed somewhat of a similar blue print against the Dolphins on MNF. The Dolphins wanted to take Graham out, but that left Darren Sproles to counter-attack all those underneath spaces. Sproles showed that he is still plenty shifty. He rushed for only 28 yards/1TD, but received for 114/1TD, often making defenders look silly, much like Reggie Bush.
The Bear’s linebackers must be more dominant all around: pre-snap recognition (especially for screens), playing in space, pass defense, better positioning, shedding blocks, taking proper angles, pursuit, and TACKLING. When safeties must tackle half backs, it usually means a linebacker screwed up.
Which brings me to a small but important point. I’m not sure Shea McClellin should play in this game outside of obvious passing downs (and even then the Saints could go screen and wipe him out). If the Bears are moving Wooten or Pepp inside on early downs, with Shea on the outside, Brees is smart enough to audible to a run. They will attack Shea who can’t set a hard edge, and pulling offensive linemen will gobble up the second level, leaving the safeties to shed 6’7 260 Graham in order to take down a pin-balling Sproles. If this happens, expect a Bush deja-vu all over again since our safeties excel at coverage more than run support (remember that Conte was a converted CB, and Wright had/has a habit of lunging).
4. Leftovers are sometimes deadly.
As scary as this might sound, the Saint’s other weapons can also cause damage. Marques Colston is a big (6’4 225) physical reliable WR who typically gains about 70 yards a game, but can go off and catch multiple TDs at any time. He’s sort of like an older Alshon Jefferey. He tends to get single coverage because of the attention paid to Graham. I expect Charles Tillman (if healthy) to cover him mostly one-on-one, and it will be a good battle that Peanut must win.
That leaves WR Kenny Stills and the returning Robert Meacham as the vertical threats, though they haven’t scorched any defense on a consistent basis, they can catch the long ball if Brees is afforded time to move the safeties with his eyes, or pump fake.
1. Breaking Bad. Cutler mechanics must reset. We got ‘bad Jay’ against the Lions, and it’s unfortunate bad Jay still lurks in the shadows like (insert meth-head joke here). Cutler wasn’t exactly making bad decisions against the Lions; it just seemed like he was off. Cutler was simply missing wide open targets, like when he grossly overthrew Jeffery over the middle that ended up being intercepted.
Not only did Cutler misfire, but he also looked reluctant to check down or throw it away, unlike in the previous games. And to top of the coupe de un-grace, Cutler reverted to that back-peddling b.s., throwing jump-passes and cradling the football on his hip, which lead to Suh’s strip sack.
More alarmingly, Cutler held on to the ball longer as if Mike Martz was still calling in plays, a trend which lead to many pressures, sacks, hits, and turnovers in the past. Maybe Cutler held on to the ball longer because the Lions took away his shorter options with extra men in coverage, and dared him to throw it downfield. Either way, the results were painful.
“Bad Jay” reappeared after three weeks of good behavior (i.e., sound play) under new coach Marc Trestman. Flustered by the Detroit Lions’ heavy pressure, Cutler forced the ball downfield too often. Almost half (45 percent) of his passes traveled more than 10 yards downfield, up from 29 percent over the first three games, and his average pass traveled 12.3 yards downfield — up from 7.0 yards in Weeks 1-3. Cutler accounted for four turnovers and converted only one third down via passing. The Lions surely played a role in that performance, but Cutler seemed to forget the safety nets built into this offense.” ESPNgo
According to Marc Trestman and Cutler, these fundamentals are “correctable,” but one is left to wonder if some duress minus short options = bad Jay.
Suffice it to say, Cutler must go back to ‘good Jay’ because the Saints are not messing around on D.
2. Cutler must be patient. Let’s dispel two misconceptions about the Saint’s D.
One, their D is not impotent like last year. As already mentioned, they rank 6th overall.
Two, they indeed excel at pass rushing (they have 12 sacks thus far, 12th in the NFL), but they rarely rush more than four out of their 3-4 base (Albeit, maybe this is the game where Rob Ryan unleashes the hounds to try to rattle Cutler). This seems counter-intuitive when one thinks of a Ryan defense, but it’s true. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the pass-rush is not exotic.
“Ryan’s roots are in a 3-4 base, but the Saints have endured a litany of injuries early on, forcing him to get creative with how he gets his best 11 defenders on the field. Seven starters have missed games this season, three of which – linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler, and cornerback Patrick Robinson – have been lost for the season.
So far, Ryan’s most successful combination has been a nickel package in a 4-2-5 alignment with three safeties on the field. But Ryan’s hybrid scheme has also shown a 2-4-5 and a 3-3-5 mixed in with traditional 4-3 and 3-4 looks.” CBSlocal
They frequently hide who the four rushers are, so the Bears’ Oline will have to show awareness. The Oline picked up stunts against the Steelers, but against the the Lions, they looked shakier, so the jury is still out on whether they can do so reliably.
All this means that Cutler will have to show patience and accuracy hitting the underneath routes and occasional bombs into 7 pass defenders. The Lions used a similar scheme, rarely blitzing while dropping 7 into coverage. The Packers used the same strategy last year, which lead to “Same Ole Cutler.” The book against Cutler might now be to avoid blitzing him. When defenses blitz, Cutler seems to get off on it. It doesn’t take that much accuracy to chuck it up to 6’4 WRs single-covered. But squeezing it into tight zones or deep down field on a bracketed receiver? Apparently, defenses believe that Cutler is his own worst enemy when it comes to that; they’re banking that Cutler will grow restless, lose sound mechanics, and carelessly start chucking.
Again, if the Cutler from the first 3 games shows up, this won’t be an issue. But if the Cutler of Christmas Past appears, or if the astral spirit of Brett Favre re-possesses Culter, the Saints will feast off turnovers just like the Lions.
3. Convert on 3rd downs. The Bears were appalling on third down conversions against the Lions (1-of-13), and that cannot repeat versus the Saints.
The best strategy to stop the Saint’s O is to keep them off the field, and the best way to keep them off the field is for the Bears’ offense to stay on by converting 3rd downs.
Against teams like the Steelers or Vikings, a team can afford to not convert on some 3rd downs, but against the likes of the Lions and Saints, those failed conversions are almost always turned into points, which then allows their defenses to attack, which then leads to sacks, int, turnovers, and it’s down the rabbit’s hole from there…
4. Stick to the run. Obviously, this assumes the Bears’ D can actually keep the Saints honest. Matt Forte is running really well, showing more burst than usual while averaging 4.6 rush per tote. Forte looks a lot like his rookie year, gliding down the field. A healthy dose of Forte early can settle down the line, slow the Saint’s pass rush and re-instill some confidence while eating up clock and keeping Brees and his mole on the bench. If the Saints have one huge weakness, it lies in their rush defense that ranks 22nd.
Some screens wouldn’t hurt either, but this coaching staff seems pretty consistent in that area, unlike Mike Tice.
Still, I would like for the screen game to become a little more effective, and not just a means to slow down the pass rush.
Special Teams: First time I actually have to bring this phase up this year, but they played dreadfully against the Lions. So much so that the Bears actually brought in some punters for tryouts. P Adam Podlesh is on notice, though it’s not just him. The punt coverages are also under-performing. HB Michael Ford was activated over WR Joe Anderson last week, and that move did not pay off as it was Ford who missed the tackle as the gunner which allowed the Lions a big punt return. But Ford was not alone, as previously there have been many whiffs and bad angle by the coverage team, including a bad miss by Anthony Walters and a boneheaded running into the punter penalty which nearly cost the game.
The Bears need to get all this sorted out and fast because the last thing the Bears want to see is Brees on a short field or spotted 14 points.
This is it. Last year I cared very little about teams like the Panthers. I stated from the start that unless the Bears beat “elite” teams like the 9ers, Texans, Seahawks and Packers (they lost to all), their record is fool’s gold. Emery agreed, and Lovie Smith is now out of a job because of it.
This year I circled the Bengals, Lions, Saints and obviously Packers. They’re 1-1 in my elite season within a season schedule so far.
The Bears lost against a motivated division foe at their house. OK, I don’t like it, but I can accept it. However, if the Bears lose to another ‘elite’ team at home, little has changed from the previous regime besides the offense and defense swapping ranks. It will be just another year of scrapping, losing in the playoffs (if they make it), then drafting in the 20s next year. Rinse, watch, repeat. It’s like a watching “Lost Highway” on a loop.
To me, this is a must win. I know readers hate that phrase, but if the Bears can’t beat legit teams at home, then they’re nothing more than wild card fodder (if that). Nothing more than a trivia footnote for another Super Bowl team. They must find a way to win this game, by hook or by crook.
They must prove that as a team they have evolved beyond the Lovie Meh mentality. They must show me a special je ne sais quoi, reveal that they truly possess a new Élan vital which can defeat the tyranny of elite teams.
I’m optimistic they bounce back, while the Saints fall into another overused phrase “trap game”.
Off with their heads!
Bears 37, Saints 34.