Sunday at 3:40 CT, the Bears will play a playoff game in New Orleans. This is the second in a three-part preview of that contest.
Last year, it was Mitch Trubisky’s performance against the New Orleans Saints that soured many – including me – on his prospects as the future quarterback of the Chicago Bears. Now he meets them again, this time in the postseason, this time with his career potentially on the line. Will the results look any different?
- Objective one for Dennis Allen’s defense is going to be limiting David Montgomery. If the Saints can keep the Bears in second/third-and-long, they’ll force Trubisky to throw the ball down the field. But their rush defense – while ranked near the top of the sport – has been a bit scattershot this season.
- Against Philly and Jalen Hurts, they got thrashed. Miles Sanders went for 115 (8.2 per carry) and Hurts added 106 (5.9 per). The threat of a running quarterback kept them off-balance.*
- When they had no fear of the opposing QB, against San Francisco in mid-November, they limited Kyle Shanahan’s rushing attack to 49 yards and tailback Jerick McKinnon to 1.8 yards per carry. This approach will more accurately mirror how they approach Sunday.
- *While understanding the fear of sounding like a broken record, Trubisky’s legs can be an offensive game-changer Sunday. The Bears don’t need to call designed runs for him but they need him to recognize when the yards/first downs are available. Every five-yard chunk matters. Every first down matters. And getting that first down is a better option than a risky throw into traffic every single time. Trubisky’s legs are an x-factor.
- Saints don’t have “stars” on their defensive line but they’ve got one of the more solid rotations in the league. Trey Hendrickson has been great all season but lately Carl Granderson has looked like a budding pass-rush star. They move these guys around. They change their pressures constantly. They are a lot for an offensive line to handle.
- Saints vs. Panthers was an interesting game, despite what the score (33-7) tells you. The Panthers were moving the ball before Teddy Bridgewater left with an injury. But the game was decided because Bridgewater and Phillip Walker (his replacement) threw five picks. Most of them just awful throws. Yes, the Saints have a larcenous, talented secondary. But if the Bears want to keep this game close, they can’t give Sean Payton and Drew Brees extra possessions. Sometimes in a game like this, punts can be your friend.
- Three things the Bears should do:
- Throw on first down. Even if the Bears choose to continue their horizontal passing attack, those plays tend to be successful at five yards a clip. Getting to 2nd-and-5 opens the playbook and should soften things up for the run game.
- Get Montgomery active in the passing game early. It seems to take garbage time for the Bears to get Montgomery outside the backfield and open in space. Get him in the slot. Throw him a couple slants. Force isolated defenders to bring him down.
- Empty the bag of tricks. The Bears have to treat this like their Super Bowl because it’s likely their last game of the season. There’s no reason to leave any songs in the trunk. The pressure is firmly on the opponent. Getting a lead, catching them off-guard early, will only increase that pressure
- Darnell Mooney’s availability is essential. The Bears simply don’t have another player on their roster that can stretch the field deep and he’s proved elusive on the quick screen. If the Saints don’t believe the Bears can get over the top, their safeties will live in the box; supporting against the run and attacking the flat. (If Mooney can run, the Bears should get him onto the field, even if he’s only a decoy.)
This is a mismatch, based on what the Bears showed last week against the Green Bay Packers. To beat this Saints defense, the Bears need their quarterback to deliver on third down. They need him to deliver in the red zone. They need him to avoid critical turnovers. They need him to get crucial first downs with his legs.
They need Mitch Trubisky to not be Mitch Trubisky.