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Bears need to get offensive to have a chance against Saints

MinnesotVikings v Chicago Bears

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:21AM



‘Don’t hook with a hooker’’ is a sensible boxing axiom. But in the NFL today, going toe-to-toe with the best is something any contender will have to confront.

The Ravens didn’t beat the Broncos with defense in the playoffs last season. Joe Flacco slugged it out with Peyton Manning and came out on top.

That might be the challenge the Bears face against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field. Maybe the Bears’ defense, with a little help from a possibly soggy Soldier Field turf, can regain its magic touch after a subpar effort last Sunday against the Lions and slow down the Saints’ offense. Maybe the Bears’ defensive line, shaky even at full strength, can regain its form without three-technique Henry Melton and with defensive tackle Stephen Paea recovering from a bum toe. If we’ve learned anything from the Bears’ defense through the years, it’s that anything is possible with Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers.

But it’s more likely the onus will be on Jay Cutler and the Bears’ work-in-progress offense to recover from its own disappointing performance against the Lions and win a shootout. That’s not an easy thing to do against Brees. The Saints have won an NFL-best 15 games in which they have allowed 27 or more points since Brees joined them in 2006.

The Bears have won eight such games during that span, but five of those were aided by defensive and special-teams touchdowns. Brees has engineered most of the Saints’ shootout victories on his own: 42 touchdown passes and 67 offensive touchdowns in those 15 victories.

But are the Bears even ready for that? The offensive ‘‘evolution’’ under coach Marc Trestman has been steady, but it took a step backward when Cutler threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack last week.

‘‘We’re going to do whatever we can to score as many points as we can in this game,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘If it happens, I guess we’ll find out [if it’s enough].’’

Don’t expect too much too soon, Cutler seemed to be implying when he was asked what it will take for him to be as consistent in Trestman’s offense as Brees is in Saints coach Sean Payton’s.

‘‘Time,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘Being with Marc and being with these guys for a while and just feeling comfortable in what we’re doing. We’re heading in that direction, [but] we’re four games into this, and [Brees is] five, six or how many years he is with Sean.’’

At least Cutler didn’t dismiss the notion he someday could be as productive as Brees. He often bristles at comparisons to more accomplished quarterbacks, but he almost embraced it this time.

Now it’s time to accelerate the process. After four weeks, the Bears rank 13th in the NFL in total offense. They’ve been 23rd or lower in 12 of the last 13 seasons.

‘‘Thirteenth isn’t good enough; it’s not where we want to be,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said. ‘‘We’re an ascending team, and we [want] to make a bigger impact.’’

That’s the idea of the Trestman era — to take the Bears into the 21st century of the NFL. The sooner this reality hits this organization, the better: Sometimes the best offense is a good offense.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash

Key Players

Jay Cutler usually responds well after a bad game. After his 10 lowest-rated games, he has had ratings of 97.6 or better in the next game seven times. Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro has been effective in a Troy Polamalu-type role in Rob Ryan’s defense. He has been a big key in the Saints improving from 32nd in total defense in 2012 to sixth this season.

Key Players

At 5-6, Saints RB Darren Sproles is just as slippery as Reggie Bush, and coach Sean Payton is more inventive in using him. He’s most dangerous in the passing game. Bears DT Nate Collins will have to make a bigger impact this week than he did last week as a replacement for injured Henry Melton.

IN THE AIR

After his four turnovers last week, Jay Cutler knows he has to protect the ball against a Saints defense that ranks fifth in the NFL in passing defense (192.3 ypg) and leads the NFL in INTs per pass attempt. The Dolphins were averaging eight yards per play against the Saints on Monday and were down only 14-10 when Ryan Tannehill, who already had lost a fumble, threw an INT late in the first half. It was all downhill from there, with all four Saints sacks coming after they parlayed that turnover into a 21-10 lead. Second-year WR Alshon Jeffery is coming off his first 100-yard game (5-107 vs. the Lions).

IN THE AIR

Drew Brees, who has a 90.5 career rating on the road, is 0-3 with seven TDs and five INTs against the Bears at Soldier Field as a member of the Saints. The Bears will be challenged to stop him on a crisp fall day with the Saints’ offense in high gear (420 ypg) and the Bears still finding themselves under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (384 ypg). Brees has his usual array of weapons — from TE Jimmy Graham (27-458, six TDs) to WR Marques Colston (21-298, one TD) to RB Darren Sproles (23-277, one TD). If the pass rush doesn’t improve, the Bears have to try to cover everything.

ON THE GROUND

Against a Saints defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL in rushing defense (112 ypg) and last in yards per carry (5.5), the Bears figure to use the run to set up the pass in an effort to control the ball and keep Drew Brees off the field. Matt Forte is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (320) and is averaging 5.4 ypc in his last three games (50-270, two TDs). The last time the Saints were in a tight game where the opponent didn’t have to abandon the run, Buccaneers RB Doug Martin rushed for 144 yards on 29 carries in Week 2.

ON THE GROUND

The Saints can hurt you on the ground if you let them. Darren Sproles (22-93, one TD) scored the Saints’ only rushing TD by a running back this season through a huge inside hole when the Dolphins were spread out to protect as many of Drew Brees’ passing targets as possible. Pierre Thomas (29-101) is a threat, as well, and rookie Khiry Robinson (16-75)can’t be ignored. The Bears, a top-10 rushing defense the last three seasons, are 15th so far (106 ypg). They missed DT Henry Melton in their first game since he suffered a season-ending knee injury when the Lions gained 159 rushing yards last week.

The X-factor

The Saints are 34-24 on the road since acquiring Drew Brees in 2006 (24-20 outdoors), but they’re 6-9 in their last 15 outdoor games, including six consecutive losses to playoff teams. In their only road game this season, they struggled to beat the still-winless Buccaneers 16-14 in Week 2 on Garrett Harley’s 27-yard FG as time expired. Brees, who has a 117.8 rating in 3 home games this season (70.8 percent completions, 9 TDs, 2 INTs), had a 67.5 rating against the Buccaneers (56.5 percent, 1 TD, 2 INTs). Brees is 0-4 vs. the Bears at Soldier Field — 0-3 with the Saints — but hasn’t faced them in Chicago since 2008.

Special teams

The Bears usually can count on special teams to give them an edge in games like this, but it’s hit-and-miss at best this season. Devin Hester had a big game on kickoff returns against the Vikings but hasn’t been the consistent threat he has been before. Punter Adam Podlesh is on notice after averaging 40.5 gross yards and 28.8 net last week. But the bigger issue is the lack of roster depth that made the Bears’ coverage units superb. The Bears already have allowed a 105-yard kickoff return and a 57-yard punt return this season. The Saints’ Darren Sproles has five kick-return TDs, though none since 2011.



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