The Bears backed into the postseason thanks to the Arizona Cardinals losing to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17. Matt Nagy’s team is 8-8 and facing the daunting task of overcoming the 12-4 Saints on the road.
New Orleans is loaded on offense with Alvin Kamara the player who makes everything tick. The dual-threat running back is the man the Bears must stop, even at the expense of Drew Brees and his receivers.
Brees is expected to retire after this season, but one of the greatest quarterbacks ever will want to walk off into the sunset with a second Lombardi Trophy under his arm. He’ll be mindful of how a fearsome Bears pass rush led by Khalil Mack could scupper his plans.
Mack and his fellow quarterback hunters are an appropriate place to start this look at how the Bears can produce a shock at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Relentless pressure on the pocket
The way to beat Brees has always been to keep relentless pressure on the pocket. That pressure has to come up the gut.
Brees struggled in this round last season when the Minnesota Vikings moved defensive ends Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly inside. Their pressure through the B (guard-tackle) and A (center-guard) gaps denied 6’0″ Brees a clean view over the line of scrimmage.
The Bears don’t move Mack inside often, but he and fellow edge-rusher Robert Quinn should cause havoc on stunts and twists. Quinn has seen his prime years come and go, but the veteran is still a game-wrecker when at his best.
Brees can also expect to see a lot of a former teammate, in the form of hulking tackle Akiem Hicks. He’s one of the most disruptive interior D-linemen in the NFL. Hicks will be motivated to put one over on his ex-employers could decide this game.
Kamara’s status is still a major talking point after a recent positive test for Covid-19. Yet it seems increasingly likely the league’s best back will be ready to go Sunday.
Saints’ HC Sean Payton also is miked up so he can guide Alvin Kamara through his plays and prep him as if he were actually practicing. Saints still are hopeful that Kamara will be able to play Sunday vs. Bears. https://t.co/RLDk6HFFL4
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 7, 2021
See y’all Sunday ❤️
— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) January 8, 2021
Having Kamara on the field will require specific adjustments from Chicago defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. He’ll need to put a spy on 41, depending on where Kamara lines up.
Whenever Kamara is behind Brees the Bears have to think run. Linebacker Danny Trevathan will have him firmly in his sights. It would help to have Roquan Smith, but the inside ‘backer is likely to miss out after injuring his elbow versus the Green Bay Packers.
If Kamara lines up in an offset alignment, Chicago must play pass. Strong safety Eddie Jackson needs to stick to Kamara like glue in these situations. He must play physical coverage and deny Kamara a free release or any uncontested catches.
A lot of Montgomery
Trubisky won’t like it, but Nagy has to turn this game over to running back David Montgomery. He’s a bruiser between the tackles who gets stronger as a game goes on.
Montgomery can wear down the New Orleans defense and reduce the number of snaps for Kamara and Brees. Letting Montogmery tote the rock was the Bears’ best means of success during the business end of the regular season.
He topped 100 yards on the ground three times in Chicago’s final six games. His best effort came against the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 15, when Montgomery amassed 146 yards on 32 carries.
Trubisky won’t fancy handing off 30-plus times again. He’s already called on the Bears to be more expansive on offense:
I think we definitely need to open it up a little bit. As far as staying aggressive, I like going for it on fourth down. That’s just a mindset, but I think, more importantly, we’ve got to score more touchdowns in the red zone.
It’s a tricky decision for Nagy because Trubisky has shown in recent weeks he can make the big play when needed:
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 3, 2021
Even so, going long hasn’t been the formula for winning with Trubisky under center. He’s won playing it close to the vest since he lost the starting job to Nick Foles then got it back again.
Nagy has wisely protected Trubisky with a scheme based on safe, intermediate throws and yards after the catch. These numbers from before the defeat to the Packers sum up the change:
The Bears have schemed up Mitchell Trubisky's success since he took back the starting QB role in Week 12 by getting the ball out faster, closer to the LOS and to open targets per @NextGenStats pic.twitter.com/m4kGOeoBq8
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 29, 2020
Staying short will be a smart policy against a Saints pass defense not giving much away this season. Opposing quarterbacks completed 59.8 percent of their passes against the Saints, with only the Pittsburgh Steelers making things tougher on signal-callers around the league.
Controlling the clock and collapsing the pocket are the only ways Da Bears will upset Brees, Kamara, and the Saints.