Behind Enemy Lines, Wild-Card Round: 5 questions for Saints vs. Bears

John Sigler
·4 min read

The New Orleans Saints have a huge rematch with the Chicago Bears in the Wild-Card Round, which we’ve previewed by going Behind Enemy Lines with Alyssa Barbieri over at Bears Wire.

While New Orleans handled their trip to Chicago earlier in the regular season, things are different now. Let’s dig in with five questions, asked and answered:

The Bears will be starting Mitchell Trubisky this time after Nick Foles took the Saints to overtime in their Week 8 meeting. How has Trubisky grown as a QB since the Saints faced him last?

AB: I think that Trubisky getting benched has been one of the best things for him. He’s been more assertive in preparation with his coaches and making himself heard. And all it took was Matt Nagy nearly losing his job to listen. Trubisky has benefited from an offense that has been tailored to meet his strengths – rolling him outside the pocket, getting the ground game going, utilizing play-action with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays. There’s no doubt that Trubisky has improved since being benched back in Week 3. But with that in mind, there are still shades of “Good Mitch, Bad Mitch” that can hurt this team. If Trubisky can protect the football and avoid the one boneheaded mistake that seems to happen in each game, the Bears might have a shot at pulling off the upset.

Chicago’s defense held New Orleans to its second-lowest scoring output this year (in games with Drew Brees at QB, anyway). Can they have similar success in the rematch?

AB: In a short answer – no. That Week 8 match-up feels like it happened last season, where the Bears defense was a dominant force holding teams to under 19 points per game. But they’ve regressed in a significant way, which has some to do with injuries, lack of execution and scheme. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano could likely be out of a job after this season following the regression of this defense. He just hasn’t utilized his players the way Vic Fangio did two years ago. It also doesn’t help that they’ve been without a couple of key players in the secondary in cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine. Although Johnson has a good chance to return this week. Then there’s the likelihood that Roquan Smith won’t be out there, which would be devastating for this defense.

One potentially big loss is Bears LB Roquan Smith, who was injured in Week 17. If he can’t go, how do you expect Chicago to adjust without him?

AB: The loss of Smith would be just deflating for this defense. While Khalil Mack gets a lot of the attention in Chicago, and rightfully so, Smith, by all accounts, has been the Bears’ defensive MVP this season. Smith has been having an All-Pro year, where he’s been among the top of the league in tackles and tackles-for-loss. But he’s also done a great job quarterbacking this defense, something that was absent when he went down against the Packers last week. The Packers immediately knew to target that weakness, and they did it with ease. If Smith can’t go, it’ll likely be Josh Woods that gets the nod with Danny Trevathan taking over signal-calling duties. Woods was picked apart a lot last week, but a full week of practice should yield some moderate improvement.

David Montgomery gave the Saints trouble, running for the most yards against them at point in the season. But can he be an asset on passing downs and take pressure off Trubisky and Allen Robinson?

AB: Chicago’s offensive identity is simple: Establish the run with Montgomery to alleviate pressure off Trubisky in utilizing play-action, where the Bears have found success. Montgomery has been an asset both on the ground and in the air for this Bears offense. Montgomery finished both in the top-five in rushing yards and scrimmage yards this season, and he’s proven to be a threat when he gets out in space. Montgomery has eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards in six straight games, and he’s been a big reason for this offense’s success. Chicago will want to establish the run to open up the rest of the offense, although they’re certainly going to need to stretch the field, as well.

This one is for all the marbles. Let’s see your score prediction; how do you see this playing out, and do the Bears have a shot at the upset in New Orleans?

AB: While anything can happen in the playoffs, the Bears face quite a daunting task of upsetting the Saints. Even with their recent history of early playoff exits. But Chicago has yet to prove they can beat teams with winning records. Sure, the offense has looked much better over the last two months. But they’re going to have to be perfect to hang with New Orleans. I do think this game will be close for most of the afternoon – not unlike the Packers game – but the Saints just have too much firepower for a regressing defense to contend with. Saints 31, Bears 24

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