The fact is, the New Orleans Saints defense won’t have time on Sunday to monitor anything Chicago’s defense is doing.
The Bears defense was the league’s standard last season, posting numbers – 17.7 points and 299.7 yards allowed, with 36 turnovers, 50 sacks and six defensive touchdowns – that any defense could aspire to mimic.
But, one, it’s not as if the units will be on Soldier Field at the same time when the Saints (5-1) play the Bears (3-2). And, two, New Orleans has its own list of goals to accomplish Sunday if it hopes to win its fifth straight game.
“They’ve got a really good defense, you can tell they're well-coached, some really good players on all three levels,” Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. “I think that’s a big reason they’ve been so successful in the past.
“(But) our job is to stop the offense. We’ve got enough responsibilities and game plan, things that we’ve got to talk and discuss on the sideline, that you really don’t have time to pay attention to see how your offense versus their defense is doing. At the end of the game, you just want to come away with a ‘W’ and however that happens, it’s really complementary football.”
Defensively, the Saints have done their fair share of complementing the last four games.
In victories over Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, the Saints have allowed 16.8 points and 312.5 yards per game, and managed to score a defensive touchdown. If the sample is sliced down to three games – and Seattle’s 515 yards and 27 points are taken off – then New Orleans has squeezed its last three opponents down to 13.3 points and 245 yards per game, with nine sacks, two interceptions, two fumbles recovered, 18 quarterback hits and 17 passes defensed.
Add in that the Saints have allowed 71.3 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry over those three games, and there’s ample evidence that, at least for the last month of NFL games, the Saints have been about as good defensively as have any team.
Those numbers compare favorably to the Bears this season, who have allowed 13.8 points and 312.2 yards per game, with 17 sacks, four interceptions, six fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said the Saints appear to be heading in the right direction defensively.
“You just want to go out and execute the plan,” Rankins said. “We all know what their defense has. It starts with (outside linebacker/defensive end) Khalil Mack being their leader, their best player, and all around that defense they have tremendous playmakers.
“But for us as a defense, we’re aware of who they are on defense but in our own right, we’re prideful of what we can do on the field. For us, it’s about going out and executing the game plan and getting the ball back to our offense, and giving them as many opportunities as they can to score the football.”
There hasn’t been much to not like about the way New Orleans has handled its business defensively during its four-game winning streak.
“I think it’s trending in the right direction,” Rankins said. “I think each and every game, you see us more and more locked in on certain things and keys to be able to win some of these games. I mean, as you’ve seen, two of the last three games have been low-scoring games.
“We’ve just done a great job of identifying the way the game is going and being able to understand that if it’s going to be a low-scoring game, each possession counts, every yard counts, everything matters. Or if it’s going to be a shootout, just being able to come up with timely stops in key situations.
“Just being able to identify what needs to be done and when it needs to be done has been key throughout this three-game stretch, and I think we’re trending in the right direction.”
But in truth, Coach Sean Payton said, the trend was pointed in the right direction even before the recent stretch. It actually started the game before, in the Saints’ only loss of the season, a 27-9 decision against the Rams in Los Angeles.
“When you look at the half of football we played up in L.A., even in a loss, at halftime, we had played tremendously well,” Payton said. The Saints held the Rams to six points and 173 yards in the first half, with third-down stops on five of seven Rams attempts, and a couple of sacks.
“And we weren’t able to hold on or possess the football as long offensively, but I think you saw a carryover into Seattle, which is a tough road place to win,” Payton said. In Seattle, the Saints held the Seahawks to a touchdown through three quarters of a 33-27 victory, and Seattle’s final touchdown was scored on an untimed down. At halftime, New Orleans had scored as many touchdowns on defense (Vonn Bell’s 33-yard fumble return) as it had allowed to Seattle’s offense.
“Our league is no different than any other sport,” Payton said. “You gain your confidence during the games themselves, and you make your improvements. I think we’ve been able to do a good job of that.”