With Week One of the NFL season now officially in the books, many fans are saying the same word, “Wow.” Whether it was an Opening Night shootout, a rookie Quarterback setting milestones, or a veteran QB breaking records, one thing is for certain: this week proved why we couldn’t live without the NFL. For Saints fans, it was a weekend of mixed emotion. The team’s heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers at the opposing goal line left Black and Gold fans wanting a second try. In a sense, they got it.
If the weekend was brutal to any one division in the NFL, one could nominate the NFC South as the primary target. With the Saints, Falcons, Panthers, and Buccaneers losing their opening contests, the “W” column has yet to be touched in what was thought to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of football.
With Week Two on the horizon, though, things don’t be looking to get any easier for the “Who Dat Nation.” The Chicago Bears are coming to town, and they aren’t here to party on Bourbon St. In what was a complete-team beat down of the defending NFC South Champion Falcons on Sunday, the Bears showed ferocity on both sides of the ball. For the offense, highly-criticized QB Jay Cutler connected well with RB Matt Forte, as Cutler totaled 312 yards through the air and Forte reached the 90-yard mark in the receiving category. On defense, a pair of forced fumbles kept the Falcons’ offense off the field, and veteran LB Brian Urlacher made his presence felt with an interception and a fumble recovery for a TD. All in all, it was a brutal day to be a Falcons fan.
While one may believe that I would spotlight that ferocious “D” of the Chicago Bears, I’m going to take a peek at the other side of the ball. In the first game of the season, the Chicago Bears focused on the one phase of their offense that they knew would give them the upper-hand: the passing game. What do I mean by this? The Atlanta Falcons had a rough 2010 season with regards to pass defense. In fact, out of the 32 NFL teams, the Falcons ranked 22nd in the league in passing defense, allowing 3,625 yards via the air and 226.6 yds/game. On the flip side, the Falcons’ run defense was fairly steady. In 2010, the Birds were ranked 10th in the league when it came to stopping the run, allowing 1,694 yards and 105.9 yds/game.
So what did the Bears do? They told Jay Cutler to let it fly. Cutler would finish the day with 22 completions out of 32 attempts, racking up 312 yards and two TDs, including a 56-yard play to Forte. Three players for Chicago (Forte, Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester) would finish with over 60 yards receiving on the day, and in the end, the Bears found themselves on the winning side of a 30-12 score.
So now knowing the game plan that the Bears took against the Falcons, how does this translate to Week Two against the Saints? In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. In 2010, the New Orleans Saints were ranked 4th in the league in pass defense, allowing a mere total of 3,103 yards and 193.9 yds/game (Let’s face facts, the pass defense in 2011 is better than what was seen during the Thursday Night contest against the Packers. A combination of bad matchups and the best QB in the NFL can make any pass defense look sub-par.). The run defense was a different story. Last season, the Black and Gold were the 16th-ranked run defense in the league, allowing 1,797 total yards on the ground and 112.3 yds/game. And if the preseason/opening game weren’t enough to convince you that much hasn’t changed, then I don’t know what will. In the preseason, the Saints gave up 589 yards on the ground and opponents averaged 147.2 yds/game over the course of four exhibitions. The opener showed no signs of improvement, as four different names (Rodgers, Ryan Grant, James Starks, and John Kuhn) ran for 103 yards, with Grant and Starks averaging 4.4 and 4.8 yds/carry respectively.
In other words, expect to see plenty of Forte this coming Sunday. Forte, a Louisiana native straight out of Tulane University, will be looking to make a nice homecoming in front of his hometown crowd. And with him averaging 4.3 yds/carry in Week One against a decent Falcons’ run D, one can only imagine the pain that he is looking to cause to New Orleans. If I’m LB Jonathan Vilma, then I am steadily watching game tape on the young RB. The last thing the Saints need is for the Bears to establish a run game. If that happens, then the Bears will be able to, as I have said in previous pieces, open up the play-action. And just like the Packers from last week, the Bears have fast, if not faster, WRs that can stretch the field. It should be interesting to see how Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams plans to counter a potential ground attack from Chicago. It’s still early in the week, but the clock is ticking.
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