It's not often that a team can win a game while completing just four passes on offense.
The Chicago Bears did so Sunday, beating Carolina 17-3 on the strength of two defensive touchdowns – an interception and fumble return by free safety Eddie Jackson. Chicago's defense intercepted Cam Newton twice and sacked him five times.
It was the second consecutive week, and victory, that the Bears heavily leaned on the defense in victory (rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky completed just eight passes in the 27-24 victory over Baltimore; the Bears intercepted Joe Flacco twice and returned one for a touchdown, sacked him three times and recovered a fumble, and the Ravens didn't score an offensive touchdown).
"When you look at them in the last couple of years, they've made improvements in the secondary, the front has gotten stronger," New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Paytonsaid Wednesday morning in a teleconference with local media. "(Defensive coordinator) Vic (Fangio) has done a great job wherever he has been; in San Francisco, with those defenses that we saw back when they made their Super Bowl run. And you can see his blueprint on what they're doing now.
"I think they're playing hard and confident as a unit, I think they're hard to rush the ball against. They're real strong inside, they've got the ability to really pressure the passer. And I think they've gotten better in the secondary. I just know they're playing with a lot of confidence, you can see that on film."
FAMILIAR FACE:As is the case most weeks, a player will be facing his former team. This week, it's Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, a Saints from 2012-15, who may be having his best NFL season. Hicks has six sacks and 24 tackles; his career high is seven sacks, last season.
"He's doing extremely well," Payton said. "He's very disruptive, you can see the amount of pressures that he has per game and oftentimes, he's displacing the pocket and really forcing the quarterback to make poor decisions or hurrying the quarterback. He's having a Pro Bowl season."
HIGH MARKS FOR ROOK:Saints rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimorecontinues to impress with his ability to cover and willingness to tackle. Early on, the No. 11 overall pick has been a quick study.
"You're always hoping, with a handful of players, they pick it up and play right away," Payton said. "Sometimes it takes more time to develop. Certainly, we're pleased with his start and his early development. I think that he is smart, he's very competitive and I think he's doing a good job. I'm sure there's a handful of things that we'll continue to work on with him, but he's healthy, he's competing. Part of it is that drive as to what you want to be, and I think he has that."
Payton also lauded Lattimore's instincts.
"I think he's a tackler, I think he competes. You saw that on his college tape, you just didn't have as much evidence because of the amount snaps he played. But I like his length. I think he can run and mirror. The things that you look for in a corner – honestly, you grade your first part of the draft, I don't know that any of us felt that there was a good chance that he might be there when we picked. And fortunately, he was."
JACK OF ALL TRADES:Offensive lineman Senio Kelemeteplayed this third offensive line position this season in Sunday's win against Green Bay, when he subbed in at right guard for the injured Larry Warford. Kelemete also has played snaps at right tackle and left guard this season, and in the past also has filled in at left tackle.
"He's someone that has been able to plug into different spots," Payton said. "Since I've been here he's been a center, he's been a guard, he's played left tackle, he's played snaps at right tackle. That's unusual for an offensive lineman."
THE WISDOM OF RANK:Payton said that the intelligence of second-year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankinsis evident, and beneficial for the Saints.
"If you're around him long enough, he's just one of those guys that not always says a lot, but he is definitely someone that understands the whole scheme," Payton said. "Rarely is he missing assignments. Some guys pick things up quickly and he's one of them. He's got a good feel for his gap but also his responsibility as it pertains to run or pass. He was one of those rookies that came in with kind of the understanding or savviness, if you will, that some players in Year 3 or 4 might have."
DECEPTIVE NUMBERS:Though Trubisky completed a total of 12 passes in the Bears' last two victories, Payton said there is much to like about the rookie quarterback.
"He's someone we liked coming out (of college)," Payton said. "You see the athleticism, he does a great job of throwing on the run. There's a play he makes against Baltimore two weeks ago on third down – they're in overtime, he climbs the pocket, kind of steps to his right and throws one of these crossing routes. It's pretty impressive.
"I think he has that moxie. You can see that the team has got confidence in him. I think he's only going to get better. I think he's one of the rising stars, if you will, younger players that we're going to see a lot of good things from, I'm sure. You can kind of see that. He's very athletic and I think they're doing a good job with some of the boots and the schemes they're putting him in."