3TFO: Saints @ Bears, Week 5
Week 5 has a number of intriguing matchups. One of them takes place at Soldier Field, where the Bears (3-1) host the red-hot Saints (4-0). A win for the Saints and they maintain an early lead in the home field advantage race (and a stranglehold on their division), a win for the Bears and they could be in sole possession of first place in the NFC north by the end of the day.
One of the keys to the Bears’ start is the distribution of playmakers. Chicago’s offense is spreading the ball around to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte. As a result, Jay Cutler is no longer just zeroing in on Marshall every play. The defense is continuing to create turnovers and Devin Hester an Eric Weems have made big plays for the special teams unit. On the flip-side, they are struggling to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and after a solid start the offensive line has been shaky the past few weeks.
The Saints are coming off a Monday night thrashing of the Dolphins. Their passing offense is in peak form. They are struggling to run the ball, but so far it hasn’t been a problem with the way Drew Brees is spreading the ball around, with Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, and Darren Sproles each catching over 21 passes. The revived defense has been the real key for the Saints. The dominance of Cameron Jordan, improvement of Junior Galette, and addition of rookies Kenny Vacarro and John Jenkins have made the switch to the 3-4 much smoother. They have been above average against the run and are just outside our Top 5 team ratings with a +13.4 pass rushing grade.
There are matchup nightmares all over the field for this game. Graham could be in our “three to focus on” every week, and the same goes for Matt Forte (I gave them the week off this week). Here are a few other matchups to look out for.
Who’s Going to Stop Darren Sproles?
Darren Sproles is listed as a running back, but his impact is felt all over the field. Whether it’s coming out of the backfield or lined up on the outside. Sproles has a +7.9 PFF receiving grade on the season, which beats every wide receiver in the league not named Antonio Brown. His 23 catches for 277 yards puts him on pace for over 90 receptions and 1,100 yards. Having big-play receivers like Graham and Colston only continues to free up Sproles as the Saints force defenses to pick their poison.
The Bears’ linebackers will have their hands full trying to match up with Sproles. Lance Briggs is a crafty veteran but doesn’t have the speed he once had. DJ Williams has been an average linebacker in coverage. The standout so far this season has been James Anderson. His +4.6 coverage grade is third out of every linebacker in the league, trailing only Kiko Alonso and Derrick Johnson. However, even though Anderson has been solid, don’t expect him to be solely responsible for Sproles. Look for the Bears to concede catches to Sproles while attempting to limit his yards after the catch. Good Luck.
Bears O-line vs. Saints Pass Rush
The Bears are in the process of settling in their rebuilt offensive line. Kyle Long and Jordan Mills are rookies starting on the right side. Both started the season strong but have struggled in subsequent games. Long and Mills have combined for a -9.5 overall grade. Factor in Jermon Bushrod’s -5.3 grade and you see why the Bears rank 27th in our Pass Blocking Efficiency matric. Long struggled with Ndomukong Suh last week and things don’t get any easier with Cameron Jordan coming to town.
Cameron Jordan has been dominant, as he trails only JJ Watt in our 3-4 DE rankings. He is second to Watt with a +15.5 overall grade and is +8.7 as a rusher. Junior Galette is our fourth-ranked OLB and has a +7.3 pass rush grade to go with his four sacks and 10 hurries. As a bonus, the Saints are also getting a little push up the middle from the giant John Jenkins. He has graded positively and has six hurries himself. This battle up front will be another huge factor in this game.
Bears WRs vs. Saints Secondary
Brandon Marshall continues to be a Top 10 WR. He has 27 receptions for 348 yards and two TDs. He has a +5.2 receiving grade through four games. Alshon Jeffery has graded positively in his past two games and is already approaching his rookie production from last year. Cutler has shown more confidence in Jeffery and the Bears seem to be acclimating him to a larger role in the offense. These two also represent big physical targets, with Marshall at 6-foot-4 and 230-pounds, and Jeffrey at 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds. The Bears’ offense struggled last year when facing top defenses. Marshall and Jeffrey need to make plays and prove that this is a top notch offense, even when the level of competition rises.
Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer have been the Saints most effective corners. Throws into their coverage have yielded just 208 yards on 34 attempts with one TD and two picks. They have much more help from the safety position this year as well. Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper graded out as the two worst starting safeties in football last year, as each player had an overall PFF grade worse than -19. However, Jenkins has shown improvement so far this year as he’s ranked toward the middle of the pack and he even has a positive pass coverage grade. Vaccaro has stepped in at safety and given the defense a physical presence on the back end. He is going through some growing pains, but shows the potential to justify his high draft status. The Bears are going to need big plays down the field to keep their offense from stagnating. This matchup should show us if the Saints’ secondary is for real.
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