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New Orleans Saints familiar with formidable Chicago defense

Bears lead NFL in red-zone defense, at 42.3 percent

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Yes, the Chicago Bears added a Super Bowl-winning quarterback (Nick Foles) and, true, they also tossed in a productive tight end (Jimmy Graham) last offseason to spice up the offense.

But when the New Orleans Saints (4-2) take on the Bears (5-2) on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Bears' defense – as usual – is the unit that takes center stage for Chicago.

The Saints will play the Bears for the third time in the last four seasons, so there's a sense of familiarity. And New Orleans knows that from front (linebacker Khalil Mack has 5.5 sacks this season and 67 in his first seven seasons) to back (safety Eddie Jackson has 42 tackles and a fumble return for a touchdown), Chicago has disruptors and play-makers.

"They're a really good defense, they have been for the last several years," Saints left guard Andrus Peat said. "They obviously have Khalil Mack, who's one of the best players in the league overall, so they're tough up front. They also have (defensive end and former Saint) Akiem Hicks, who's playing well. They're definitely a salty defense."

The Bears have the best red-zone defense (42.3 percent) in the league. The 342.2 yards per game they allow (10th fewest in the league) shrinks to 307.7 at home. Only seven teams yield fewer than the 222.1 passing yards per game that Chicago gives up, and only six give up fewer points than the Bears' 20 per game.

The Saints, averaging 30 points per game, are well aware of what makes Chicago most effective on defense.

"They rush the passer," said quarterback Drew Brees, who missed last year's game against the Bears while recovering from a torn ligament in his thumb. "That's something they've always done a great job of. When you look at, for example, their big play reel – they don't give up a lot of big plays.

"It's a product of great pass rush. They get to you before you have a chance to see things develop and they obviously they are really good on the back end, too. They have two really good safeties, two really good corners and obviously good nickel and dime players too. They're good in coverage. Equate tight coverage plus good pass rush is usually good results for a defense."

Coach Sean Payton sees much of the same things.

"I think they're talented on the back end personnel-wise," Payton said. "They give you a mixture of schemes, they'll play some quarters look with a press technique, they'll mix up some cover one looks. And I've said this before, they do a real good job of rocking the safeties, and then the rush that complements the coverage.

"All those things have been good as you watch the tape. They're playing with great technique. You see them break on the ball, they've turned the ball over, they have good ball skills, and they're smart."

Still, the Saints have had success against the Bears in their recent encounters. In 2017, New Orleans posted a 20-12 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and last year, the Saints jumped to a 36-10 lead before claiming a 36-25 victory. In that game, running back Latavius Murray ran 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns, receiver Michael Thomas caught nine passes for 131 yards and on special teams, the Saints blocked a punt, deflected a punt and saw Deonte Harris total 100 yards on punt and kickoff returns.

"We came out with a lot of energy and played hard and competed," Peat said of last year's game. "We know they're a tough defense, so we've just got to go out there and compete."

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