The Bears have been reeling the past few weeks but had a chance to prove that they were legitimate postseason contenders when they hosted the Saints at Soldier Field. Unfortunately, they never really looked like pulling this one out of the fire, and though the sore got close late on, that flatters the Bears who couldn’t do much beyond a couple of impressive deep passes to Alshon Jeffery.
For the Saints, it was business as usual, with Drew Brees hooking up with Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles when needed to move the chains, and the defense continuing it’s fine form this season under new DC Rob Ryan.
But let’s take a look beyond the final score to some of the standouts.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Jordan Keeps Up the Pace
If there’s proof of what being a square peg jammed into a round hole can do to a player it’s Cameron Jordan. Removed from his poor fit as a 4-3 DE he has been a revelation in Ryan’s 3-4 schemes and is matching JJ Watt pressure for pressure this season. He didn’t get any sacks in this game, but notched a pair of hits on Cutler and three more hurries. Such is his confidence level within the new scheme that he actually made some of this happen from the 4-3 DE spot that he found so troublesome before. Jordan’s pressure, and that of Junior Galette (+1.6 pass rush), is critical for the Saints who aren’t generating much else up front and have been relying on bringing blitzers from the secondary to make up the shortfall.
Bad Day for Greer
Any time a receiver tops ‘two-bills’ you know there’s a corner somewhere on the opposing side that’s popping up with a bad grade and some ugly stats. In this game that player was Jabari Greer, but his troubles weren’t contained to Jeffery. He did give up 87 yards on four catches (and targets) to Jeffery, but he also allowed a catch to four other receivers and, all told, surrendered 128 yards and a touchdown from nine targets. Greer isn’t the most physical corner in the world and he was completely out muscled at times by both Jeffery and Marshall.
Best TE in Football
With Rob Gronkowski still struggling back from injury the crown as the league’s best TE is firmly resting on the head of Jimmy Graham. OK, so he still can’t block, but the Saints know this and don’t ask him to do much of it, instead taking advantage of the matchup nightmare he poses teams. Graham was targeted 10 times in the game and caught all 10, for 135 yards. He beat six different Bears defenders in coverage for those receptions as they cycled through their defense to try and find anybody that could match up with him. None could, and when Brees was looking for a key pick-up to keep the offense on the field he tended to go straight to Graham. You can’t blame him — throwing Graham’s way gave him a 118.8 passer rating on the day.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
The Experience of Lance Briggs
Lance Briggs was integral to most of what went on when the Bears were on defense in this game. He led the team in tackles, and stops, but also missed two tackles and had a couple of serious negative plays too. He used his experience and smarts multiple times to quickly read the Saints’ run plays and knife through the line to kill them in the backfield, but he countered this with some plays that would be inexcusable from an inexperienced rookie. He was suckered on a play-action fake to allow Graham to run completely free in behind him, and he was the player that was drawn into the neutral zone on a key fourth down late in the game that may well have been the difference between the two sides — and certainly put the Bears in a deeper hole.
Rookies on the Right Side
In our weekly check-up on the Chicago rookies at guard and tackle, Kyle Long had a pretty good day while Jordan Mills struggled a little more. Mills, to be fair to him, was going up against a much stiffer opponent — either Jordan or Galette for the most part — while Long had the easier task of the New Orleans interior or finding linebackers at the second level. Long was perfect in pass protection, while Mills surrendered a hit and three hurries as both players contributed positively in the run game. Long now jumps back above 0.0 and into the green for the season after an ugly game the week before, while Mills continues to drop into the red with an -11.4 grade for his season so far.
The Saints were clearly focusing all of their attention on Brandon Marshall, making sure he wouldn’t beat them, and that meant the logical target for Jay Cutler became Alshon Jeffery. It’s a like-for-like replacement within the offense as Jeffery really is a clone of Marshall in many ways. While Marshall was limited to just five targets in the game, Jeffery had 13, and caught 10 of those for 218 yards and a touchdown. He also chipped in with some impressive work blocking, springing Marshall down the right sideline on a bubble screen by blocking LCB Keenan Lewis to the ground down field and preventing him from making a play.
– Drew Brees went after the Bears’ linebackers, targeting each five or more times while Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings saw just six targets combined.
– Pierre Thomas is one of the league’s best backs on screen passes. He ended this game catching all 9 of his targets in the pass game for 55 yards (75 after the catch) and two TDs.
– The Saints’ defense missed four tackles. The Bears D missed eight. This is not how it is supposed to go.
PFF Game Ball
There were a pair of impressive receiving efforts in this game, so I’m splitting the game ball between Bears WR Alshon Jeffery and Saints TE Jimmy Graham.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam