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A heart condition discovered at the combine has put the Michigan lineman's career in limbo, but Hurst had the best film of any defensive tackle in this year's draft class.

17 Jan 2007

Every Play Counts: Chicago's Defensive Line

by Michael David Smith

Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander was back to last season's MVP form against the Bears on Sunday, carrying 26 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns and nearly leading Seattle to a playoff upset in Chicago. But how much of Seattle's success on the ground goes to Alexander, and how much blame to the Bears' defense? After watching the Bears' defensive line on every play of that 27-24 Chicago win, I think this line has real problems stopping the run, and they're problems the Saints could exploit in Sunday's NFC Championship.

The Bears' decision to build their line around speed and pass rushing ability more than strength and run stopping ability has yielded the predictable result that opposing offensive linemen can blow the Bears off the ball. The Bears clearly miss tackle Tommie Harris, who was their best lineman before he was lost for the season with a hamstring injury, and of the five linemen who logged significant playing time Sunday, only one, Adewale Ogunleye, played well against both the run and the pass. Here are some thoughts on each of the five:

End Adewale Ogunleye

Ogunleye was the Bears' best lineman Sunday. Alexander twice ran in his direction on first-and-10, and twice Ogunleye tackled him, once for no gain and once for a gain of just a yard.

Oguleye's speed also allowed the Bears to use zone blitzes frequently against Seattle, and that seemed to frustrate Matt Hasselbeck. On third-and-9 on Seattle's first series, Chicago sent cornerback Ricky Manning on a blitz on the left and linebacker Lance Briggs on a blitz on the right. Both of Chicago's defensive ends, Ogunleye and Mark Anderson, dropped into coverage to replace Manning and Briggs. So although the Bears had two blitzers, they still had only four pass rushers. Those four were enough to confuse the Seahawks' offensive line, and the play worked just as it was drawn up: Manning forced Hasselbeck into a bad throw. (Bears cornerback Charles Tillman dropped what should have been an interception, though.)

Ogunleye also had a crucial sack on a third-and-1 with the Bears down 24-21 in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt and giving the Bears the ball back for what would become their game-tying field goal drive. Overall it was a very good game for Ogunleye.

Tackle Tank Johnson

Johnson was arrested on gun charges last month and his best friend was shot and killed while the two of them were at a Chicago nightclub two days later. Johnson has long had off-field problems, and the Bears probably would have cut him if they hadn't already been without Harris.

On Sunday Johnson's sack late in the fourth quarter might have saved the Bears' season, as it ended a drive on which the Seahawks looked like they were heading for a game-winning field goal. That wasn't the only time Johnson made his presence felt rushing the passer; on a third-and-7 he beat left guard Rob Sims and forced Hasselbeck to hurry his throw, which Brian Urlacher knocked away to force a punt. Johnson is very good at getting inside pressure.

But on running plays Johnson was virtually nonexistent. Aside from that sack, he had only one tackle all day, and that was on the meaningless draw that Seattle ran on the last play of the first half. Some defensive tackles can keep blockers off the linebackers and be effective against the run even when they're not making the tackles themselves, but Johnson doesn't do much of that. You can bet that the Saints are planning a healthy dose of runs directly at Johnson. Chicago sometimes substitutes Johnson with Alfonso Boone, who at 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds is the Bears' biggest defensive player. I didn't get enough looks at Boone to come to any strong conclusions Sunday, but it couldn't hurt to have him on the field more in short-yardage situations.

Tackle Ian Scott

I've been a Scott fan for a long time, but he got pushed around too often against Seattle. On a four-yard gain by Alexander on second-and-2, guard Chris Gray pushed Scott back easily and Alexander ran directly behind him to pick up the first down.

When Alexander picked up two yards on second-and-1 on Seattle's second drive, Sims and center Chris Spencer buried Scott. That (as well as left tackle Walter Jones' pushing defensive end Alex Brown back) allowed Alexander to get the first down. It's those short-yardage plays when it's hard to feel confident in the Bears' undersized front.

Scott doesn't generate much of a pass rush at all (as the nose tackle in coach Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 scheme, he's not expected to) and has only two sacks in his career. When you're a defensive lineman who doesn't rush the passer and doesn't make tackles on running plays, you're in trouble.

End Alex Brown

Brown often lined up against Seattle's tight ends. Sometimes he took advantage of that seeming mismatch, as on Seattle's first play, when Alexander tried to bounce it to the outside but couldn't find anywhere to go because Brown pushed Jerramy Stevens directly back to where Alexander wanted to run. With nowhere to go, Alexander hesitated and was brought down by safety Chris Harris for a gain of just a yard.

But too often, Brown lost those individual battles. On a second-and-2, Seattle tight end Will Heller was matched one-on-one with Brown and pushed him two yards straight back at the snap. Brown did get off Heller's block and tackle Alexander, but not until Alexander had gained five yards. Heller is a good blocker and bigger than Brown, but no tight end should have that easy a time against a defensive end.

End Mark Anderson

Anderson, a rookie out of Alabama, had 12 sacks this season and is the Bears' best pass rusher. Most of the time when a rookie records a lot of sacks it's because he does nothing but rush to the outside on every play, but Anderson's pass rushing is a little more sophisticated than that. On one third-and-10 Sunday, Anderson lined up at right defensive end and faked like he was going to rush to the outside, but then stunted to the inside and hit Hasselbeck just as he released his pass.

But on a second-and-10, Anderson showed why he's still a work in progress. Lined up against Jones, Anderson got pushed back several yards as Alexander gained six. The Bears rarely use Anderson on running downs, but he's so effective against the pass that I'd like to see him get more playing time, which would mean less for Brown.

In that brief overview of Chicago's linemen, I didn't mention the drive that should be the most alarming to Bears fans. After a Rex Grossman fumble, Seattle took over at the Chicago 26-yard line, and it was all Alexander: On first-and-10, Seattle right tackle Sean Locklear drove Johnson down the line and opened up a big hole for Alexander for a 13-yard gain. After a Hasselbeck incompletion, Alexander picked up seven yards on second-and-10 by running through a huge hole right in the middle of the field, with Spencer and left guard Rob Sims doubling Johnson and pushing him straight back. On third-and-3, Alexander's spin move allowed him to avoid the grasp of both Johnson and Scott, although safety Danieal Manning did a nice job filling the hole to stop Alexander just short of the first down. Then, on fourth and inches, Seattle went with six offensive linemen and none of the Bears' defensive linemen could get off their blocks. Alexander had only one man to beat -- Brian Urlacher -- and he took a stutter step to the outside, faking Urlacher out, before cutting inside to the end zone.

Much of the time when Chicago did stop Alexander, the secondary did more than the defensive line. Alexander lost two yards on the first play of Seattle's third possession, but Seattle's offensive line did a fine job getting the better of Chicago's defensive line on the play. The problem for Seattle was that fullback Mack Strong completely missed his block on safety Todd Johnson, and Johnson tackled Alexander for a loss of two. Later, Maurice Morris was stopped for two yards on second-and-10, and that time it was cornerback Ricky Manning who brought him down from the backside.

Will run support from the secondary be enough to overcome the defensive line's liabilities in the NFC Championship Game? I have my doubts. Although the Bears' speed is well suited to stopping Saints running back Reggie Bush, New Orleans' other back, Deuce McAllister, is a straight-ahead runner who follows holes right up the middle, and the Saints' offensive line should open a lot of those. As strong as the Bears' defense has been this season, the season will come to an end if Chicago doesn't get a better performance out of its defensive line on Sunday.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 17 Jan 2007

105 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2007, 5:26pm by Danalyst


by Ilanin (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:41am

Is the "especially this time" deliberately left in from the article on the Colts Run Defense (magic beans edition) or was that an oversight?

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:45am

Writing as a Packer fan I saw the Bears play eight games this season. The "bookends" were the first and last games of the season against GB.

In the first game of the season GB was introducing rookie linemen at both guard positions and it showed. The Chicago defensive line routinely got the better of their Packer counterparts. It was a mismatch. The interior of the Packer offensive line was overwhelmed. By the end of the first half the Bears offense had run over 40 plays to the Packers 12. It was an embarrassment.

The last game of the season couldn't have been more different. While both tackles pitched shutouts the guards and center Scott Wells held up at the point of attack. Most notably, guard Daryn Colledge absolutely owned Tank Johnson drive blocking him straight back multiple times.

The commentators routinely make mention of the loss of Tommie Harris. Many who post at FO want to pooh-pooh that loss stating that the Bears have had time to adjust. So which is it?

Both. Harris' injury has been a devastating loss. And the coaching staff has TRIED to compensate but Tank Johnson in regular action is shown to be a pale shadow of Harris.

Harris DEMANDS a double team. In 2005 playing against a makeshift Packer offensive line Harris single-handedly destroyed the Packers blocking "scheme". In fact, one is challenged to label the approach anything because mostly it involved throwing bodies at Harris hoping to get in his way. Will Whitticker might as well have curled up in the fetal position after the ball was snapped as Harris at least would have had to exert energy to step over him. I cannot overstate the impact Harris had on the Packers offense when he was on the field in '05 and the first game of '06.

As a role player, Johnson had fresh legs and was facing offensive linemen weary and bewildered from facing Harris. Now as a starter he was having to rely on his own abilities. And as MDS writes above and as Packer fans witnessed left to his own devices Tank Johnson ain't all that and a bag of chips.

Scott Wells is an undersized center. Blocking Harris was a "nightmare" according to Wells. Facing other interior linemen in the second game against the Bears was described by Wells as "a lot easier".

I know it's easy to overstate one player's impact. But there is a LOT Of anecdotal evidence pointing to Harris playing a pivotal role in the effectiveness of the Bears defense. I do not know what additional "scheming" can be done to compensate for a lineman who is a one man wrecking crew.

by Mike W (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:45am

"Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. Especially this time."

Yeah, but it's been this way for several weks now.

by paytonrules (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:47am

Great article, again.

You should probably say "As good as the Bears defense had been" though, since Harris and Brown went down this isn't the same team. That's 2 Pro-Bowlers, which is pretty hard to replace.

by paytonrules (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:47am

oh damn

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:55am

One thing Wells talked about in the same radio interview which was echoed in a talk show with Packer writer Bob McGinn is that in the second game the Packer offensive line was able to get to the second level of Bear defenders (namely Urlacher) because they did NOT have to double any Bears d-linemen.

That and they rarely had to keep anyone in to help pass block. In the first game of the season and throughout most of the year the Packers were regularly keeping 6 to 7 back to keep Favre on his feet. In that final game against Chicago it wasn't necessary.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:08am

There were reports that Tank lost a considerable amount of weight after his arrest and his friend's death. Although Lovie favors smaller defenders, I wonder if Tank has lost too much to be effective inside.

It's funny: Tank and Tommie were drafted the same year. In training camp that year, everyone raved about how Tank was outplaying the first-rounder.

by James C (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:31am

The Bears struggle when they are lined up out of the correct alignment for the play. Either because they are setting up stunts or blitzes in passing situations, or due to the offense hurring to the line and quick counting the snap. Both of the above were evident on Sunday. The Seahawks kept lining up three wide with Alexander at tailback on second and (especially) third and long, despite the fact that they rarely use Alexander as a receiver or a blocker the Bears seemed not to be expecting a run. As the Bears use a one gap defense against the run when the alignment is off it will leave one guy trying to hold two gaps and a RB with good vision should be able to find the crease and get a good gain.

by bob dollman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:50am

The problem is will a rookie coach take advantage. I have my doubts. The way the Saints play they seem to want to throw the ball so many times and have Bush in so many times. That doesn't leave much left for Deuce. I'll take my chances on the Saints' staff blowing this one.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:01pm

Post 9:

Sean Payton and his staff have taken on multiple teams with veteran staffs and that offense has not missed a beat. I would be legitimately stunned if the Saints were "outcoached" on Sunday.

Payton went toe to toe against Cowher, Parcells, and Reid (twice). The Saints lost once by seven points on the road.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:10pm

Post 9:

As follow up, one of Payton's strengths is that he doesn't just "test" an opponent's weakness. He ATTACKS IT repeatedly. Over and over and over again.

It's a simple concept but one that most coaches at any level simply don't follow. Find the weak area. Then HAMMER IT IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE.

He did that against Green Bay. He did that against the Steelers. Against the Cowboys. Against the Giants. And last weekend against the Eagles.

If the Bears win it won't be because Lovie Smith outsmarted Payton. Remember, it was Lovie's squad that came up with the masterplan of putting Steve Smith in single coverage in last year's playoff.

by dbt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:17pm

I wouldn't count on Payton blowing anything. He's been making tough, correct decisions all season.

by LMSx (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:19pm

Nit: I don't think center Robbie Tobeck was in the game, I think it was Chris Spencer.

by Jimmty6 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:19pm

I think the Seahawks did a good job getting the Bears into their nickle package, then running up the gut. The Bears take Hunter and Ian Scott off the field on nickle situations and replace them with Ricky Manning Jr. and Alfonso Boone. The Seahawks did this a number of times and it worked very well.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:23pm

Isn't this characteristic of most cover-two defenses? The base scheme seems to depend on a smaller, faster DL that can pressure the QB without blitzing, freeing the LBs to drop back into coverage; the run defense depends on either the DL getting penetration to force a passing down, or cheating a safety up to the line and filling the extra gap. Pittsburgh exploited this twice last year: they pounded Jerome Bettis right at the D-line against Chicago, and then threw deep against Indy when Bob Sanders got too close to the LOS.

The NO offense seems to match up well against Chicago - they can use McAllister/Karney to power run and set up the 2nd and 5, and Brees is smart & patient enough to wait for the holes in the zone or throw underneath to Bush. That doesn't mean they will light it up for 30, but I don't think the Bears can dominate the way they did early in the season. I'm much more curious about how the Bears offense matches up agains the NO defense.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:24pm

Re 11:
Lovie says they don't change their scheme no matter who the oppononet is. That was certainly true last year but they're doing a lot more and different things this year on defense. Also, it wouldn't have been as bad a scheme if fourth and fifth corners weren't trying to cover Smith. There were a couple injuries and some guys I had never heard of ended up at corner - and that's never a good thing. So, it seems that Lovie learned from last year and there aren't quite as many injuries in the secondary.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:39pm

I mentioned this in either the game thread or the Audibles but Mike McKenzie has really slowed down. He has never been one to get intercetions because of his bad hands but he was always a solid cover corner. But against the Eagles McKenzie was clearly jamming and then praying. Thomas? What more needs to be written?

If the Bears receivers get matched up in single coverage AND the Chicago line can hold up the rush Berrian, Davis, or Bradley should be able to hit a home run.

It's interesting in that the biggest weakness of the Saints is the area where most Bears fans fear to have Rex tread.

by Joseph (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:51pm

Re:9 (Warning: Saints Homer)

Don't you remember the NO vs DAL game on Sunday night football 6 weeks ago? Everybody (including FO--there was an EPC on their defense the week before the above-mentioned game) was touting Dallas as a championship contender. I think Coach Payton exploited the Cowboys weaknesses pretty good that night. Two other teams followed suit in Dec that helped the Eagles overtake the Boys for the NFC East title.

by Marko (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 12:59pm

"The Bears rarely use Anderson on running downs, but he’s so effective against the pass that I’d like to see him get more playing time, which would mean less for Brown."

Anderson doesn't just play right end - he also rotates in with Ogunleye at left end so that all three ends stay fresh. Also, because the Bears have really struggled getting a pass rush from just their front four since Harris' injury, they have frequently used all three ends at the same time in their nickel package, with Anderson playing right end and Brown sliding down to play defensive tackle.

"If the Bears receivers get matched up in single coverage AND the Chicago line can hold up the rush Berrian, Davis, or Bradley should be able to hit a home run."

Bradley hurt his ankle against Seattle. The last I heard, he was still wearing a protective boot and is unlikely to play.

by bryndildaddy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:09pm

Actually, Robbie Tobeck didn't get into the game on Sunday (and subsequently annonced his retirement Monday). Chris Spencer was at Center for the Hawks.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:17pm

re 2: Badger, I could not agree with you more. The Bears transformation from an elite defense to an average one is largely the direct attribute of missing Tommie Harris, their most important defensive player after Urlacher. Of course the recent plethora of injuries in the secondary didn't help matters any.

The 3 technique tackle is hugely important to any Tampa 2 defense and that's especially true with Harris. He always demanded a double-team, creating favorable matchups for the rest of the line or forcing opponents to keep in extra blockers. In the 1st game against the Seahawks this year the pass rush was fearsome (including 2 Harris sacks), but on Sunday the Bears struggled to generate pressure without blitzing, which they aren't built for. If that happens against the Saints they'll be in trouble.

Losing Mike Brown was bad but it was sustainable. Todd Johnson is strong in run support but his lack of coverage skills wasn't nearly as apparent with a good pass rush. In general the secondary is built to contain, not to shut down. None of the corners have great individual coverage skills.

Reggie Bush's trickiness and speed don't worry me nearly as much as a power running game with Deuce combined with Brees getting time to pick apart zone coverage. The Saints' defense ain't anything to write home about though either. I definitely expect Jones/Benson to have a solid game, especially if Rex can nail a couple of early deep balls and force the safeties out of the box. Also if wind and snow impede passing and the Bears can stack the box I like their power running game up the gut behind Olin Kreutz over that of the Saints'.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:24pm

17: I don't fear Rex throwing the deep ball. That's what he does the best if he gets time. It's straightforward and all he as to do is set back and wing it. There's no coverages to read or precision timing. I fear Rex throwing poorly timed slants, forcing throws into double coverage, throwing off his back foot (which I didn't see much of vs. the Seahawks) and his infinite backpedal maneuver in the face of pressure. Oh yeah, and his inability to recognize the blitz, difficulty feeling pressure, and alarming tendency to fumble. No, of all the things about Rex the one I'm by far the most confident in is him pulling back the Sex Cannon and chucking the ball 60 yards to Berrian. The worst thing that can happen is an INT which will probably wind up like a long punt anyway. I hope he throws deep against Mackenzie and Thomas all day.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:48pm

Great article, and great thread, leaving several things to chew on. First, Payton does seem to have the most important qualities for an effective playcaller. He is pragmatic and ruthless, as opposed to what some other prominent playcallers are frequently like, who often get too cute (think Mike Martz), and thus fail to simply call what is most likely to work, or fail to call it over and over again until a defense does something to stop it.

Unless the Bears drop a safety into the box from the start, and perhaps even then, I suspect Payton is going to try to find out right away if Tank Johnson and Ian Scott are up to the task. If they display weakness, Payton is going to make their afternoon as embarassing as it can be for NFL defensive tackles. Also, when a defensive end can get reliably handled one on one by a tight end, and the defensive tackles are getting blocked, a defense is in a heap of trouble. Ogunleye can only play one position. The Bears better reincarnate themsleves to early season form, and without Harris that is a tall,tall order.

If the Bears try to cover for those guys, that is when Bush might provide some entertainment, along with Colston on Co. on some deep routes. I really like Ogunleye, but having him, or the Bears linebackers cover Bush out on a short route is not a matchup favorable to Chicago.

Can the Bears win? Absolutely. Brees needs to play well in order for the Bears' problems to be fully exploited, which means the outside rush by the Bears DEs has to be handled, and blitz pickups need to be executed. Those aren't sure things by any means. Most importantly, Grossman benefits by going up against another defense which was not upper-echelon in the regular season, which means he has a reasonable chance to be productive.

I asked in another thread yesterday, but I won't seek an answer unless the Bears and Colts win on Sunday. In the DVOA measured seasons, has any team been so fortunate as to play three consecutive playoff games without having faced a defense which finished in the top half of th league defensively? Maybe this is Grossman's, and the Bears', lucky year after all.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:52pm


Bradley's injury may be the most underreported story of the game. Without him, their speed options are extremely limited. The only other WR on the roster is Justin Gage, and he's slow and sucky.

Despite what Lovie said about scaling back Hester's duties to what he does best, I wonder if we'll see him line up at WR to run some fly routes.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 1:56pm

Absolutely, mb. If Turner doesn't have Grossman taking big shots deep downfield with frequency, he isn't calling a good game. It really is what Grossman does best, and it nicely dovetails with the Saints' defensive weaknesses. They ought to make a deep throw to Berrian on the first or second play of the game.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:02pm


I think your analysis is mostly correct. I will add one thing: with the exception of Grossman, Lovie is ruthless when it comes to personnel changes. If Alex Brown is consistently getting pancaked, Mark Anderson will see much more playing time. The local media was trying to whip up some controversy on that score during the Bears mediocre streak. Boone also comes in at end on some running downs.

Also, the Bears are generally excellent at defending passes to RB's, although they haven't seen anything like Bush. Tiki was probably the closest, and he gashed them so well on the ground that he didn't catch many passes. Still, Urlacher and Briggs can stay with him or knock him on his rear on short routes. I'm more concerned about him running free in the middle of the zone out of the slot.

I think it will end up as a shootout because the Saints D is average. Still, (unfortunately for me) that favors NO>

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:02pm

Re: 2 I'm in the camp that doesn't understand why anyone would pooh pooh the loss of Harris. The guy is one of the top 3 (in my opinion) DT's in the league. You don't just "adjust" to that. I'm a GB fan too, and the day he went on IR, I wrote off Chicago's chances of winning the superbowl.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:03pm

Re 24:
But the Bears rarely use three wide recievers, let alone more. Rashied Davis is the slot man and most teams don't sub their starting wideouts out of the game. Anyway, Bradley had another dissapointing season with injuries so it's not like the Bears relied on him.

I'm curious why two of the best cover linebackers in the league would have trouble with Reggie Bush. Any reason Briggs and Urlacher couldn't shut out Bush, Will?

by Eddo (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:05pm

24: I couldn't agree more; I'd much rather see Hester get playing time at the fourth WR position than Gage. Even if they use Desmond Clark rather than Gage, I'd be happy.
21: I agree that Todd Johnson is nowhere near Mike Brown in coverage ability. Yet Chris Harris may be worse. Both Harris and Johnson are good at run support, but Johnson is slow and Harris cheats too much toward one receiver/route and often doesn't give adequate help over the tops of the corners. I think it was the Rams game where Charles Tillman was visibly upset with Harris for leaving the corner routes wide open.
Of course, these safety issues can be alleviated by a good pass rush and the front seven stopping the running game without safety help. The article is right on, I feel; the defensive line will win or lose this game for the Bears.
The media has been wrong in that Grossman is not the reason the Bears will lose (or win, for that matter). The defense and special teams can overcome bad quarterback play, as they did against the Vikings, Cardinals (OK, so that was a really fluky game), and nearly did against the Patriots in Foxboro. Unless Rex starts handing off to defensive lineman, he will not be the reason the Bears lose. The defense failing to hold the Saints to under 20 points will be the reason.

by Moshe (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:21pm

I'm not sure I agree that Johnson and Harris are capable at run support. I think that Harris is an adequate replacement for Brown in the secondary, but in run support he was missing tackles left and right against Seattle. I think that T. Harris is certainly an impact loss on the line but the loss of Brown is just as significant; ultimately it leaves the Bears guessing on what package of players to have on the field instead of having well-rounded players who can do multiple things. Now, they can put Anderson in for rushing the passer and C Harris back in coverage, or they can go with a regular line and T. Johnson to stop the run, but they won't be good at both at the same time without T Harris and M Brown.
Additionally, I think that Lovie Smith is excellent at getting his players to run schemes to perfection (you rarely see them out of position) but he and his staff are poor at in game management and playcalling. this means the bears often guess wrong about what package to have on the field.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:23pm


I didn't look for him on every play, but Harris seemed much better in coverage against the 'Hawks than he's been in recent games. He was in great position over the top on the play where TMQ complained about the announcers saying he almost intercepted the ball, and he was set up to try for the INT or deliver a big hit on the pass Urlacher knocked down.

With Colston lacking great speed, I wonder will they leave Tillman one-on-one with him like they did against Plaxico in the NYG game.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:26pm

Bradley is rapidly developing a rep of being too fragile to play in the NFL. I saw him leave the game and this is approximately the 132nd time I have seen Bradley exit due to injury and not return. What is up with that dude? No body fat so can't take a blow? Skeletal structure made of china? Candy *ss?

Blitzing Brees is your classic boom or bust approach. The Eagles did sack Drew but 2 of the 3 were the proverbial "coverage" sacks. When they did bring extra guys and got stoned by the O-line Drew found somebody. With Joe Tiller having done his d*mndest to get Brees killed at Purdue by sometimes leaving about 3 guys in to block I doubt there is anything the Bears could do that would faze him.

So Chicago, which do you want? Seeing Urlacher blow in to ALMOST get to Brees only to see the ball thrown past his ear to an open receiver or having Brian and Reggie make "Hound and the Fox 3"?

by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:47pm

Bush will be a non factor in this game. Our LBs have too much speed and will negate Bush's sideline to sideline running style. Urlacher, or Briggs are probably among the best cover LBs in the NFC.

by BB (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 2:49pm

22, 25: Ding ding ding, we have a winner. Bears fans love it when Rex throws the deep ball, with the caveat that he does so when he can step into it. He's a fantastic deep ball thrower when he can step into the throw, but if there's a rush then he chucks it off his back foot and it almost always gets picked. He showed at least some improvement in tossing it OB when there was pressure instead of trying to force it, which is a good sign. If they don't try multiple bombs on Sunday then Turner has fallen asleep at the wheel, Berrian should be open on those patterns almost any time they want them given the toasty Saints DBs, particularly if the running game is working OK (and I have no doubts it will be fine).

I'd be shocked if the Bears didn't cover Colston 1-on-1 with Tillman, that's a perfect matchup for Peanut, exactly the kind of receiver he can actually cover well. This game is all about Deuce -- if he has a good game running the ball, the Saints have an excellent shot. If the Bears keep him in control, they win the game.

by Marko (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:00pm

I agree with those who think Tillman should and will be one-on-one with Colston just like he was with Plaxico Burress.

Regarding Reggie Bush, the one thing I haven't seen discussed a lot in the media is how he will do in Soldier Field. That field was in pretty bad shape late in the year (as always) and was resodded multiple times. Players didn't seem to slip as much last week as they did in the season finale vs. the Packers, but there still were some players slipping around and having their cleats stuck in the turf when trying to cut. Besides his speed, a lot of Bush's game is based on his ability to cut sharply and juke defenders. He may be the type of player who will often lose his footing at Soldier Field, greatly reducing his effectiveness. The weather conditions don't look like they will be too bad (cold, but not extremely cold, with about a 30% chance of snow according to the last forecast I saw), but the field still is somewhat slippery even without precipitation.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:04pm

Re 24: As mactbone noted the Moose/Berrian combo with Davis in the slot has worked all year. Bradley's been injured on and off all year and his abscence wasn't very noticeable. I'd really like to see Rex go to Desmond Clark early and frequently.

I don't think Hester is likely to do more than come in for a snap or two as a decoy. WR is one of the most difficult positions to learn and he didn't even play it consistenly in college where he was more of a jack of all trades. Not to mention his struggles with his current responsiblities. Witness his game Sunday where he muffed two punts. I don't think anyone needs to put anything else on his plate. That said I could see him getting turned loose on a go route and trying to catch the Saints napping. Honestly I think he'll have an impact on offense, but not until next year at the earliest.

Re 23, 25: Will Allen, I think Urlacher and Briggs are two of the best cover LBs in the NFL and that both of them can stick with Bush. Urlacher was running step for step with a WR (can't remember which one) on Sunday. The problem will be if he gets matched up with a DE or if, as Charles Jake suggested, he lines up in the slot and gets free in the middle of the zone. In general the Bears have been very good against passes to RBs (3rd in DVOA) and their problem is power, not speed. Also, I think you're right that the Bears should max protect and sling it deep right away. Even though you and I and Sean Payton all know that's what they want to do I just don't think the Saints can stop it and if Rex hits Berrian it'd be huge, both psychologically and in terms of opening up the seams for Clark and Davis and getting the safeties off the line.

The Bears defensive line is one key to the game, but I think the other key is the Bears offesnive line, which was pretty awful against the Seahawks. I think Rex actually didn't get enough credit for handling constant pressure on Sunday, making mostly good decisions and not forcing the ball, although he really had problems recognizing the blitz. If they can slow down the Saints' quality pass rush I think Grossman can exploit a weak secondary. Also they have to be able to pound the run enough to prevent the defense from staying on the field and getting worn down too early which also happened in the Seahawks game.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:06pm

mactbone, Bush simply does things that are not possible for any other player in the NFL. He spent a good portion of the season discovering what things he did in college would not work, and what things would. He seems to have come into his own over the past several weeks, and I think we may be on the precipice of seeing something quite extraordinary, especially given the other talent the Saints have on offense, which allows Payton to employ Bush most explosively.
Imagine Gale Sayers or Barry Sanders (the only two guys who I can think of who compare in terms of explosive elusiveness) on teams with one of the league's best quarterbacks, and other top-notch offensive talent, to get some sense of what defenseive coordinators may be facing for the next few years.

Is it possible to stop the Saints? Sure. Their offensive line is competent but not really elite. If a defense doesn't just whip their offensive line, however, their ball handlers are likely going to torture any set of linebackers or dbs any team has. Ogunleye better lead the charge, and the other fellas on the line better follow right behind him.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:18pm

mb, I love Uhrlacher, but straight line speed on a pass route is not the issue (ignoring for now that the Seahawks don't have anybody as fast in a pass route as Bush), tackling Bush after he has caught a short pass is. The best linebackers in the NFL could not handle Barry Sanders one on one in the open field, and the best linebackers in the NFL cannot handle Bush one on one in the open field. No, that doesn't mean Bush breaks a big play every time he touches the ball, just as it didn't mean that Sanders did. It is a uniquely unfavorable match-up however, and if the Bears think it is similar to defending, say, Tiki Barber, they are likely in for a rude surprise.

by Bearsfaithful (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:19pm

If the defensive coordinator were anyone other than Ron Rivera I would have hope that schemes would be devised to cover Bear offensive line weaknesses, but Rivera is a method man and not a dynamic play caller. The sky could be falling and he'll do what he always does in certain situations. That does not fair well going up against Peyton. On Sunday the Bears coaches better drink some Think'O tea and get ready to make a lot of dynamic adjustments. I hope Rivera realizes that the reason he is still a defensive coordination is because it's clear as day that he can't think on his feet.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:22pm

Marko, that is an excellent point. Bad footing helps the Bears out a lot.

by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:26pm

"Additionally, I think that Lovie Smith is excellent at getting his players to run schemes to perfection (you rarely see them out of position) but he and his staff are poor at in game management and playcalling."

And look at how that turned out last week for the Saints.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:29pm

Re 38:
You're seriously trying to say that Bush is faster than the Seattle wide recievers (Jackson, Branch, Burleson)? Urlacher was matched up on Darrel Jackson - not Bobby Engram or Keyshawn Johnson - but a guy who can legitimately stretch the field, and you think Bush is faster? Look, Bush has averaged 8.4 yards a catch and less than 4 a carry, he had a DVOA of -.8, good enough for 28th in the league, and he's the guy the Bears should worry about? No, the Bears should worry about clogging the middle and not allowing Deuce to get going and working to slow down the passing game the same way the Redskins did.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:41pm

Will Allen, I understand what you're saying about Reggie Bush. I think that the Bears' LBs will be able to slow him down by making it difficult for him to catch the ball in the first place. I have no illusions about them having some kind of magical ability to tackle him in space. I also have no doubt that he will get a few plays in. However, I'm much more concerned with Deuce and Brees who I think are worse matchups. I believe the Saints' are more apt to be successful just hammering Deuce down the Bears' collective throat than having Bush trying to beat Urlacher and Briggs sideline to sideline. I think Payton will recognize the interior line's weakness and pound away until the Bears prove they can stop it, and if they can't get a rush going against Brees he'll find open guys to throw too sooner or later.

Agree with everyone who mentioned Tillman on Colston one on one after he shut down Burress. If Peanut can hold Colston to a similar game that would be huge.

by John P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:42pm

"... those short-yardage plays when it’s hard to feel confident in the Bears’ undersized front. "

The Seahawks converted 1 out of 6 short 3rd downs (3 yards or less) in that game.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:44pm

mactbone, yes, I think is Bush is faster. I have never seen Darrel Jackson make the pursuit angles taken by defensive backs look absolutely stupid. Reggie Bush does with frequency. If you think the Reggie Bush playing now is the same Reggie Bush who was playing 12 weeks ago, you are incorrect. As I stated above, however, Deuce is the number one concern for the Bears. Absolutely. My point was that there is no other player in the league who does the things that Reggie Bush can do, however, so schemeing as if he is the typical above-average ball handler in the open field is likely going to produce unpleasant results for a defense. Of course, you can't take extra measures against every opposing ball handler, which is what makes the Saints offense so difficult to face. That was my only point, really.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:50pm

42: Catching Bush isn't a matter of speed, it's a matter of changing direction.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:53pm

OK, so the Bears linebackers can cover backs OUT OF THE BACKFIELD. So, what happens when Bush splits out wide or motions from the backfield out wide? Do the LBs follow him, leaving one less man in the box, which opens things up for Deuce? Or do they stay in the box and let Reggie go against a safety whom you admitted was poor in coverage?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 3:55pm

Yeah, mb, jacking up Bush as he crosses the line of scrimmage, or leaves the backfield, is the best option. That's harder to do if you are distracted by the prospect of Deuce repeatedly gashing you in the middle. Don't get me wrong, I think the Bears have at least a 50% chance of winning (in the Super Dome I think the Saints would have a definite edge); I just think the matchups in this game are particularly intrigueing, especially Saints offense versus Bears defense.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:00pm

The Bears can win games where they get gashed on the ground, but stop the pass (see the NYG game). Tiki had 140-something yards and Jacobs vulched 2 TD's, but the Bears won by 18. Of course, Brees is in a whole other universe from Eli, but the gameplan should be the same. If he has to hold the ball long enough for the rush to arrive, he can be stopped.

So as armchair D coord, I say cover Colston with Peanut, double Henderson, and go Patriots vs. Rams receivers on Bush whenever he comes out of the backfield.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:06pm

Also, I wouldn't assume that Tillman can shut down Colston because he was able to do so versus Burress. Why? I'm going out on a limb and stating that Drew Brees is a slightly better QB than Eli Manning.

Just a little bit.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:15pm


That's true, but it cuts both ways. Brees won't throw it 5 feet over Colston's head, but he won't throw it to him if he's well-covered either. Ideally (for Bears fans), he'll have to pull it down, look for other options who'll also be covered, and then get sacked or be forced to throw it away.

Unlike most posters, I think Brees is the Bears' biggest concern. They aren't built to come from behind, and Brees can run up the score more quickly than Deuce. Blitzing him is TMQ-fodder, and the front 4 hasn't been getting pressure, so the only other way to neutralize him is to make him hold the ball.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:17pm

One also should not ignore one of the keys to beating the Bears, which is denying Hester big returns, while not sacrificing huge chunks of field position by denying him the ball. That is not an easy task.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:21pm

You are correct in that regard, Charles. If countering the running game means the Bears allow Brees good shots downfield, they will have made themselves worse off. This ain't the easiest week of Rivera's coaching career.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:33pm

It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Bears to throw a bit of the Saints right back at them and split Thomas Jones out with Benson at the tailback position.

Of course, one of the reasons all that silliness works is that the Saints qb knows where everyone is, where they are supposed to be, can recognize a favorable matchup, and get the right guy the ball most of the time.

The Bears qb is tough little SOB himself but is only up to page 5 of the qb handbook.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 4:33pm

It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Bears to throw a bit of the Saints right back at them and split Thomas Jones out with Benson at the tailback position.

Of course, one of the reasons all that silliness works is that the Saints qb knows where everyone is, where they are supposed to be, can recognize a favorable matchup, and get the right guy the ball most of the time.

The Bears qb is tough little SOB himself but is only up to page 5 of the qb handbook.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:02pm

Sophandros: Burress was also Eli's only reliable option besides Shockey in that game and he still only managed 4 catches for 48 yards. Brees is no Elisha but I think the issue is whether or not Colston can get seperation. Tillman is big enough not to get pushed around by him and Colston's not a speed guy. I'm not saying it's automatic but it would make sense instead of letting Colston just run crisp routes (his strong suit) into holes in coverage.

Charles Jake: That's a pretty solid armchair defensive scheme. I'd be worried about a couple other things as well; Bush split wide or in the slot and the Saints going 3-wide to spread the defense and running draws/delays, which the Seahawks did with great success. I'd counter Bush split out by putting a body on him even though that opens up the box a little more.

BadgerT1000: Unfortunately Thomas Jones doesn't have the skills to split out wide. It works with the Saints not only because Brees is excellent at recognizing and exploiting favorable matchups but also because Bush has the Westbrook/Faulk ability to do so. Jones and Benson are fine catching screens or passes out into the flats but they're not a threat split out and I think the Saints would recognize that. In fact I think the Bears would be wise to utilize screens as a way to capitalize on the likelihood of the Saints trying to get after Grossman and to help the O line.

Also, this is a very interesting and engaging thread. Kudos to all who are posting.

by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:02pm

Sophandros: Burress was also Eli's only reliable option besides Shockey in that game and he still only managed 4 catches for 48 yards. Brees is no Elisha but I think the issue is whether or not Colston can get seperation. Tillman is big enough not to get pushed around by him and Colston's not a speed guy. I'm not saying it's automatic but it would make sense instead of letting Colston just run crisp routes (his strong suit) into holes in coverage.

Charles Jake: That's a pretty solid armchair defensive scheme. I'd be worried about a couple other things as well; Bush split wide or in the slot and the Saints going 3-wide to spread the defense and running draws/delays, which the Seahawks did with great success. I'd counter Bush split out by putting a body on him even though that opens up the box a little more.

BadgerT1000: Unfortunately Thomas Jones doesn't have the skills to split out wide. It works with the Saints not only because Brees is excellent at recognizing and exploiting favorable matchups but also because Bush has the Westbrook/Faulk ability to do so. Jones and Benson are fine catching screens or passes out into the flats but they're not a threat split out and I think the Saints would recognize that. In fact I think the Bears would be wise to utilize screens as a way to capitalize on the likelihood of the Saints trying to get after Grossman and to help the O line.

Also, this is a very interesting and engaging thread. Kudos to all who are posting.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:19pm

Considering the circumstances I think the Bears would be well advised to "Go Boise" on the Saints. As in if they have been holding back now's the time to fire those bullets.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:30pm

Does anyone have any suggestions for who the Bears' RBs compare to? I recorded most of the Saints games this season, so if they played someone like that, I'd like to see how they defended them.

by Jordy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:30pm

Certainly a nitpick when it's only the D-line being evaluated here but this parenthetical is incorrect:

"Bears cornerback Charles Tillman dropped what should have been an interception"

D-Jax had both of Tillman's hands locked down at waist level. He'd have had to use his teeth.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:37pm


I agree, this is a great thread. I never post this much at work.


Thomas Jones is a patient, pick-your-way runner. Early in the season he was criticized by fans for "tap-dancing" instead of hitting the hole. He's been more effective since mid-season, but his style's the same.

Benson is your basic one-cut, hit-the-hole-full-speed type of guy. He runs with power and rarely goes down on first contact. He showed better receiving skills against the 'Hawks than we've previously seen.

by James C (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:43pm

When the Bears signed Jones the intention was to use him as a reciever moved out of the backfield into the slot on a regular basis as part of Terry Shea's offense. The plan never really got any further than rave reviews coming out of training camp about him running slant patterns and such, but the intention was that his skill set would allow him to be used out of the slot. They never have though so I have no idea whether they can now.

by Jordy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:44pm

It may seem too convenient, but I'd compare Thomas Jones to brother Julius, although Julius came out with better numbers in their back-to-back matchups with Seattle.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 5:55pm

Jones can string moves together, is able to turn the corner, will slash hard inside and finishes runs. Benson has more power and explosiveness than Jones but isn't as elusive or fast.

Personally, I think the Bears have underutilized Jones (thankfully). But if there were ever a time to have Thomas take on a bigger role in the offense Sunday is it.

by James C (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 6:07pm

Benson might be described as a shiftier Eddie George. Runs with a lot of power (perhaps not quite as much as George), doesn't have great long speed but has very good acceleration, lateral agility and vision.

I thought the play last week when he caught a swing pass and broke two tackles along way behind the first down line before picking up the first was fantastic.

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:07pm

No. 64: It's funny you say that, because I thought the Bears underutilized Benson on Sunday. After Jones played pretty much the whole first three quarters, I thought we'd see Cedric for the entirety of the fourth, but we didn't. I think there's a lot to be said for fresh legs, especially at this point of the season.

Also, I think people are overrating the Saints offense a wee bit. They're good, but they're not exactly the Montana to Rice 49ers. They were just third in the NFC in points scored, behind the Cowboys and one other team I can't quite remember...

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:14pm


Regarding Jones I mean over the course of his career with Chicago, not specifically on Sunday.

I think Jones DOES have the ability to be used in a "Bush-like" manner. I am sure the Bears have their reasons for not doing so but I don't see it.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:18pm

66: Head to head, how did the Saints perform against those teams. Just asking...

by MWH (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:25pm

re: 66
The primary reasons I see for the disparity in the points scored for the Bears vs. Saints are the difference in turnovers and special teams touchdowns. Hester has several returns for TD's against Bush's single score and I don't even want to rehash how few turnovers the Saints have caused. It's just not the defense's strength.

by Jordy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 7:25pm


The other team ahead of them in points scored is their next opponent, not their last one.

by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 8:24pm

For those interested when Shea was coordinator, Jones set a franchise record for most catches by a RB in a season. Just remember this is the same franchise that had Walter Payton, one of the greatest receiving backs ever.

by Subrata Sircar (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 10:30pm

In what is currently #37, Will Allen wrote:
"mactbone, Bush simply does things that are not possible for any other player in the NFL. He spent a good portion of the season discovering what things he did in college would not work, and what things would."

I'll second that appraisal. I was at the Rose Bowl in 2004(?), when Michigan played USC, and partway through the 3rd quarter I turned to my brother-in-law and said something to the effect of "I knew Leinert and Williams and [Udezi? - the defensive end who went pro after that game] were good, but who's this #24 out of the backfield? He's just killing us!"

Having seen a long line of unbelievably mobile players in person (Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson in college; Barry Sanders in the pros pop to mind off the top), Reggie Bush was as good as any of them. Desmond Howard didn't have a great pro career, and Charles Woodson is likely not going to have one, but all of them came into the league and were able to keep that home-run threat aspect to their games when healthy.

One of the reasons Barry Sanders was so good was that he was incredibly fit - both flexible and strong. Here's an experiment: take either foot, and gently - GENTLY! - bend it sideways at the ankle in either direction. How far can you go?

Barry Sanders once demonstrated bending either foot at the ankle almost 90 degrees in either direction. That hurts just thinking about it, and is not something even most pro athletes can do.

Anyway, if Bush ends up being as great as we hope, it will be because he was able to stay healthy for an extended period of time. He's got the talent, but he still needs some help.

by mm (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:12pm

I've noticed when people talk about the matchups everyone seems to assume Horn won't be playing.

While this injury has dragged on so long I wouldn't bet on it, there seems to be a fair chance he'll finally be out there. How do the Bears do if Colston, Henderson, and Horn are all out running routes?

by Luke (not verified) :: Wed, 01/17/2007 - 11:26pm

It seemed to me that the bears were able to stop the run pretty good when they knew it was coming, and it was their LBers doing most of the damage (especially Briggs). Most of Alexander's long runs were on draws or passing downs. The fact that the seahawks were 0 for 7 on 3rd and 3 or less says it all.

by ELeggitt (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 12:16am

The Bears D vs. the Saints offense is a matchup I can't wait to see. I beleive the Bears combination of speed and scheme will confuse Brees and the Saints offense at first. But I really like the adjustments Sean Payton makes during games, especially the way he uses all of his weapons to force mismathes. The Bears haven't seen an offense with this size (Colston) and speed(Bush & Henderson) combination all year. I also like the fact that the Saints played against the Tampa cover 2 scheme twice this year. It really comes down to picking your poison if your Chicago's defense, bring up safeties to stop the run or stay back and protect against the big play??? Should be interseting to say the least!

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 12:40am

I just heard on the radio that Horn is likely to play. If he is close to normal, the Bears' task just got a lot more complicated.

by Thomas L. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 3:54am

I'm looking at the numbers to see what it takes to beat the Saints.

They have six losses: home and home against Carolina, 21-16 and 31-21, Baltimore, 35-22, at Pittsburgh, 38-31, Cincinnati, 31-16, and Washington, 16-10. I'd say that the Bears defense is better than any of these teams, even without Tommie Harris. I look at the 11 games New Orleans won, and the Bears are better at both offense and defense than, well, just about any of these teams. Philadelphia is probably the best team New orleans beat all year, and only by three points (twice).

Brees looks good against teams like Atlanta, San Franciso, and Dallas, but did not look good against Cincinnati. Repeating myself, the Bears are better on defense than any of these teams.
I think New Orleans can score around
20-28 points, unless poor field conditions make this a low-scoring game. With Harris out, I don't see Chicago holding New Orleans into the teens.

So, the big question is: how many points can the Bears score? Over the regular season, Chicago scored a lot of points, equally so after the injury to Harris, which could have led to fewer chances and poorer field position. Their special teams are clearly better than New Orleans, so lots of punts will favor the Bears, unless Hester gets stone hands again. The only teams to beats Chicago are Miami, New England amd Green Bay. Two of these teams have great defenses. Plus, The Bears have been good on offense four of the last five games (the exception, a meaningless game at home against Green Bay). New Orleans does not have a great defense, and if Rex Grossman gets to throw a few bombs, expect them to explode in New Orleans' lap. When I punch up the numbers, good weather Bears 31-26; bad weather Bears 24-21 - SU odds 64-36.

One last thought. Payton is clearly a better coach than Smith. The question is how much is this already reflected in the stats? We saw Belichick get a solid ten points from Marty last week. I rate Smith as not likely to choke, but also not likely to take special advantage of New Orleans weakness on defense. Still, the numbers say go with Chicago and over, weather permitting.

by Jim (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 9:39am

When I think back to Denis Green's rant about "The Bears were who we thought they were..."

Turns out Denis Green was right in my mind. I've been writing this site since the 3rd game of the year that the Bears are not nearly the team DVOA suggested they were. The offence is mediocre at best and terrible at times and the defence is now mediocre at best.

If the Bears make the Super Bowl, which I doubt, I think we are in for a 44-10 type of laugher.

by Danalyst (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 11:31am

"Will run support from the secondary be enough to overcome the defensive line’s liabilities in the NFC Championship Game? I have my doubts."

Interesting article, but also only half of the coin. If we take a look at the adjusted line yards for these two teams I could probably write something similar about what the Bears might do in the rushing game to the Saints DL. A more balanced picture might be that both teams have a legitimate opportunity of success in the run game. That puts a special focus on early scoring and getting ahead. Who does that gets a capitalization factor to actually use the run game. The Bears are in great position with everyone talking about Deuce and Bush and noone talking about Jones and Benson. Bring it on. Edge Bears at home.

by Danalyst (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 11:33am

And who are the Saint defensive playmakers again?

by david44 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 11:49am

There are a 100 ways to micro-ananlyze
this game, but the bottom line is:
If the field is dry, no rain,.etc...,
the Saints win by 2 touchdowns. They are clearly the better team. They have the better coach and the better Q.B., hands down. This will be just like the Dallas game, a blowout, when nobody gave them
a chance there either.

by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:01pm

Thomas L.: "Payton is clearly a better coach than Smith."

What makes you say that? Lovie Smith turned around a scuffling franchise inside of 3 years and he was Coach of the Year last year. He's gone to the playoffs in back to back years despite inconsistent QB play and numerous injuries. I don't doubt that Payton seems like a great play-caller, or that he has come up with some great game plans and shown the ability to ruthlessly hammer away at an opponent's weaknesses. He has had great success this year and may be a better game manager than Lovie but I do not think that makes him a definitively better coach.

David44: Everyone is giving the Saints a chance. I have not seen one piece of analysis or prognostication that favors the Bears in a blowout. In fact, the Bears almost seem like the underdogs. I seriously doubt the game will be a blowout either way.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:11pm

Something that doesn't get mentioned enough about Lovie Smith is that his entire team, particularly on defense, plays hard EVERY SINGLE DOWN.

We have all witnessed players either on the opposing team or on our team of choice taking a play or two or five off. Not on the Bears. Not at all. Not as in EVER.

If a Bears player does look to be lollygagging on a play I have seen that player leave the field and not come back.

According to reports Smith places this on Page 1 (if you will) of the Bears handbook. As in "YOU WILL PLAY HARD EVERY PLAY OR YOU WILL NOT PLAY". I am guessing since who knows what exactly Lovie and his staff communicate to the players. But that is the basic message.

And with guys like Urlacher and Thomas Jones playing at fever pitch on every down he certainly has his team leaders settting the right example.

As a Packer fan, I have witnessed some of Smith's faults as a coach. He is certainly not perfect by any stretch. But if you want your team to give maximum effort on every single play no matter the circumstances then Lovie Smith is the best d*mn coach in football. Period.

by david44 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:33pm

MB: There is a difference between coaching regular season vs. playoffs.
(see Marty Schott...). There have been many "Coaches of the Year" that were unable to win big playoff games even with the superior team and homefield advantage. We saw that just last year in Chicago vs. Carolina. Think about what you posted, "Payton seems like a great play-caller,..has come up with great game plans,..ruthlessly hammer away at an opponents weakness". There is another NFL coach you could say all that about. He coaches a team from the Northeast and has 3 Superbowl rings, I think.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:41pm

Yep, and as important as strategy can be, if you give me superior personnel, a function of talent evaluation and good cap management, and maximize intensity, I'll win about 80% of the time, regardless of strategy or playcalling. Of course, in the playoffs, the talent differential tends to shrink, and even the least intense players step up their efforts, allowing strategy and playcalling to become more important. This is where a guy like Belichik really starts to make a difference, compared to even other very good coaches. Guys like Belichik are so rare, however, that it really would a serious error to fire a guy like Schottenheimer in the pursuit of the next Belichik. Better to stick with Marty and hope that his luck improves a little.

by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 1:53pm


"They are clearly the better team"

Wow, what analysis. No one has ever summed up an argument so succinctly before. No really in the history of mankind, never not one guy. Not Aristotle, not Euclid, not Bacon or Newton either. Any argument Darwin put down on paper probably seems a little puerile by comparison.

Someone better email Roger Goodell quick and let him know that as one team is "clearly the better" they might as well cancel the game. What a shame I thought it might have been a good contest, you know a lot of angles as to how it played out and all. Like other people have bothered to include in their posts so as not to appear to be a complete arse.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:04pm

Re 83:
Apparently Lovie has a metric that he uses to gauge that. He calls them "loafs." Any time a player on defense doesn't run to the ball at/beyond the line of scrimmage it's a loaf, any time a player isn't looking for someone to block on offense it's a loaf, etc. After a game, they'll go over the tape and count the loafs by each player. Urlacher has said that he usually doesn't go through a game without about 5 loafs. Some have more, a few less and I think they said that no player ever comes out with zero. Your observations certainly seem to bear this out as a viable motivational tactic.

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:09pm

Uh, by what measure are the Saints "clearly the better team"? Seasonal DVOA, W-L, points differential... all favor the Bears.

Everyone got down on the Bears for their mediocre showing in the final three games of the season, but in that same span, the Saints lost a game at home to the dreadful Redskins that could have cost them their bye week in the playoffs, then honked a home game to the Panthers in the final weekend.

Then they each won home playoff games by identical 27-24 scores. So where's the big edge for the Saints?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:19pm

I haven't looked it up, Boots, but I'd guess that the Saints have less variance. Of course, the Bears' variance is largely a function of Grossman's play against above average defenses, and in what more and more looks like an incredible break for the Bears, Grossman could very well end up playing three consecutive playoff games against below average defenses.

by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:20pm

Re:88 I know for some reason everyone in the media wants to treat the Bears as if they are some 8-8 team that somehow stumbled into the playoffs. When they consistently proved, again, and again they were the superior team in the NFC. The Bears have not lost a meaningful game to an NFC opponent at all this season. (Week 17 we were resting starters in the 2nd half, and we won the second Det, and TB games despite our backups playing)

All season the media pundits were trying to crown someone else as the best team in the NFC, first it was the Giants, then the Cowboys, Saints, and Eagles they all fell flat on their faces.

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:28pm

That may be, Will, but it's kind of a stupid reason to favor the Saints. After all, it was Rex's high variability that was supposed to doom the Bears in the playoffs.

As a Bears fan, I don't have a whole lot of confidence in Sunday's game, but I think it's ludicrous that anyone would think the Saints are somehow clearly better than the Bears. Hey, Pats fans -- THIS is what it's like to be disrespected.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:39pm

I think that although their schemes are different, the Saints and Seahawks offensive personnel is very similar. They both have a lot of good recievers, and a quarterback that knows how to use them. They both have a strong power back. They both have very highly regarded coaches. Payton looks like he is a better coach, but there isn't a lot of seasons to base that off of. Except... the Saints also have Reggie Bush, and all the complications that this causes. But I still expect them to try to use a similar gameplan as the Seahawks. Find holes in the coverage. In 2nd and long situations throw a quick 5-8 yard route underneath; stay out of 3rd and long so that the smaller size of the DL becomes an asset to your offense, not an obstacle.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:41pm

#90, I dunno, I heard plenty of media voices remarking about how clearly superior the Bears were in the NFC, especially early. Then, the player they have at the game's most important position turned in performances that were absolutely, hideously, dreadful. Bad beyond description. Make Trent Dilfer look like Johnny Unitas bad. Then, mostly due to injuries, the Bears' defense underwent a significant regression in performance. People are going to notice that. Then, the Bears had to go into overtime at home to beat the worst team in the playoffs, once strength of schedule is factored.

Now, I give the Bears at least a 50% chance of winning on Sunday, and perhaps significantly more, depending on field conditions. If the Bears are so fortunate as to have the Colts beat the Pats, I'll give the Bears at least a 50% chance of winning that game. If the Bears do win the trophy, however, this will be the most flawed Super Bowl champion, factoring injuries to the Bears' defense, since, I dunno, probably the 1970 Colts.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:51pm

Oh, Boots, I agree it's crazy to say that the Saints are clearly better, especially at Soldier Field, mostly because the Saints aren't good enough on defense to have confidence that they will bring out Horribillus Rex. If Grossman has the opportunties to throw deep to wide open receivers, like he did against the 'Hawks, and it is not very unlikely that he will, the Bears will very likely win, especially if they get a good game from Hester.

If they do win, and the Patriots win, however, Belichik and company will likely, as Pat noted in this or another thread, just devour Grossman like a wolf given a pork chop.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 2:51pm

Oh, Boots, I agree it's crazy to say that the Saints are clearly better, especially at Soldier Field, mostly because the Saints aren't good enough on defense to have confidence that they will bring out Horribillus Rex. If Grossman has the opportunties to throw deep to wide open receivers, like he did against the 'Hawks, and it is not very unlikely that he will, the Bears will very likely win, especially if they get a good game from Hester.

If they do win, and the Patriots win, however, Belichik and company will likely, as Pat noted in this or another thread, just devour Grossman like a wolf given a pork chop.

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 3:01pm

Tha Patriots would be heavily favored, and rightly so, in a SB matchup vs. the Bears. Then again, the Pats had a chance to devour Grossman like a pork chop in Week 12, and they ended up eking out a four-point home victory. Rex had a poor game, but he also had the Bears one fumbled snap away from winning.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 4:17pm

Re Saints' offense: I don't think people are overrating it. It was fifth-best both straight up and weighted, behind the Colts, Chargers, Eagles, and Bengals.

As MWH suggested, total points scored is not the best metric to use to compare offenses. But if you must use it, the Bears had nine return touchdowns this season: taking out those and the Saints' three, New Orleans' offense + kicking outscored the Bears' offense + kicking, 392-371.

It will be a very interesting game to watch. I'll be interested to see how it goes when the Bears have the ball.

by david44 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 4:48pm

RE:86 Gee Whiz. You have us all scrambling for a dictionary after you eloquent post. "Puerile ?, Euclid and Bacon?". And to label me at the very end
using a variant (arse) makes all other posts here hardly worthy of association with yours. The only way I can even describe it(you) is maybe INSOLENT or IMPUDENT. Back to football............
Maybe calling the Saints clearly better was an overstatement. But with the effect the injuries to Harris and Brown had and the game-planning by Peyton in big games this year, the only advantages
the Bears have is home-field and the weather. Yes, the Bears have been excellent in special teams all year, but you can bet that the Saints will not give
Hester anything to return on punts or kickoffs.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 4:53pm

Re 96:
That was also the first game that Devin Hester returned a kick - and he only returned one in that game. R. Davis returned the other two.

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 4:58pm

the only advantages
the Bears have is home-field and the weather

...and defense and special teams, but how could those possibly matter when that unstoppable Saints offense scored three more touchdowns over 16 games than the Bears' popgun attack?

by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 5:41pm

Don't know if this will be mentioned in the preview tomorrow but I was looking around in the Premium database and found a few interesting things.

The Bears D is at it's worst defending the pass in the red zone - guess what NO is worst at on offense? Red zone passing.

The Saints O is very good in X and long situations but the Bears are just as good at defending them.

NO is one of the worst teams on third down defense and that's where the Bears are also bad - although third and long is a pretty good situation for the Bears which seems odd.

I keep looking through the stats and everything I see shows the teams to be fiarly evenly matched. The Saints have a great offense and mediocre defense and the Bears have the reverse. Wherever one side is at a disadvantage, the other side performs poorly at as well. One thing I noticed though is that even though the Bears are below average on offense in the first quarter, the Saints are horrible on defense. If the Bears can put some points up early it will definitely give them a leg up. The fourth quarter is where Chicago's offense performs the worst and that could spell trouble, but the Bears have a decent Late and Close offense.

by milo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 6:37pm

Well, how about this: The Bears have played four teams in the top ten of adjusted sack rate defensive lines and all three of their losses came against those teams. The Saints are #6. The Saints have played five teams in the top ten ASR. 5-3 including week 17 against Carolina. They have also racked up 200 yards rushing in 2 of their last 3 games (including week 17). Last week, Garcia was impressive in responding to pretty good pressure from the Saints, will Grossman respond as well? The Bears defensive line will need to come to play and the Saints dl might also have a lot to do with the outcome of this game.

by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 7:45pm

David44: First off, thank you for pointing out that there is in fact a difference between the regular season and the playoffs, a point of which I was previously unaware. I see that several people have pointed out the flaws in you're "reasoning" or lack thereof, so I'll try to be succinct.

Lovie Smith has an 1-1 playoff record as a head coach. I don't think that is indicative of a Schottenheimeresque penchant for for postseason failure or an inability to plan for games or make ingame adjustements. He and his staff had one terrible playoff game against Carolina.

Sean Payton has been a head coach for one very successful year. Without out taking anything away from his accomplishments, would it be possible to hold off on the Belichick comparisons at least until the he makes it to a Super Bowl?

Game planning and strategy are one area out of many that a head coach is responsible for. Just because a coach has shown an aptness for identifying and exploiting an opponent's weakness does not make him the 2nd Coming of Parcells.

by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/18/2007 - 10:22pm

RE 86
Mmmmm. Bacon. Yum.

RE 90
Weighted DVOA (sorry if someone else point this out and I missed it) has the Saints as the better team.

by Danalyst (not verified) :: Tue, 01/23/2007 - 5:26pm

# 79 you are indeed brilliant.

Oh. that was me. :D