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New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears: Five things to watch

5 things to look for in today's game


The last two times the New Orleans Saints played in Chicago (in 2008 and '07), they lost and uncharacteristically, quarterback Drew Brees had subpar games. The team won't be using revenge as a motivator but Brees has a long memory, and he'll be looking to improve on these numbers: 24 of 43 for 232 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions, in '08, and 35 of 60 for 320 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions, in '07. Better weather conditions probably would help, but that can't be counted on – the '08 and '07 games were played in December, while this weekend, though an October game, the temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-50s, with wind and rain. This will be a good road test against a formidable opponent.


Probably, a little more is being made of the Saints' lack of a run game (97 attempts for 325 yards, with two touchdowns) than should be. That's because the Saints have been productive by unconventional means. Namely, short passes to running backs Darren Sproles (23 receptions for 277 yards) and Pierre Thomas (19 for 111) partially have substituted as the run game, and helps explain how the Saints own an almost nine-minute advantage in per game possession time (34:17 to 25:43). So keep an eye on the short game; Sproles and Thomas are combining to average 10 catches per game, which equates to run game production.


As usual, Chicago's defense is an opportunistic one. The Bears have two interception returns for touchdowns (and six picks), they've forced a whopping 12 fumbles, recovering eight, and the team owns a plus-5 turnover ratio. They go after the ball with great success, which means the Saints have to be especially keen in their decision-making and ball-handling. That also may mean that the Bears are willing to gamble a little more defensively; opponents have scored nine offensive touchdowns against them (the Saints have allowed six) and are averaging 28.5 points against them, 25.5 in Chicago's two home games. Also, opponents are averaging 6.1 yards per play, which is pretty significant.


Will Chicago be the opponent that essentially sells out defensively in an effort to shut down Saints tight end Jimmy Graham? You have to figure that, at some point, an opponent simply will dare the Saints to throw to anyone other than Graham (27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns), who has had his way this season. Rookie receiver Kenny Stills and second-year man Nick Toon could benefit from the extra attention, and it also could work in favor of Marques Colston.


Opponents have registered 12 sacks of Brees this season. That's an extremely high number and it's one the Saints want to get under control. The positive this week is that Chicago (six sacks) hasn't been getting to opposing quarterbacks, who have completed 65.5 percent of their passes (91 for 139) against the Bears. The cleaner Brees is, the better.


OK. We said five things but, actually, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a sixth: Devin Hester. The Bears' kick returner is the best in NFL history, with a league-record 17 combined touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, including 12 (another league record) on punt returns. Hester only has averaged 4.5 yards on four punt returns this season, but he's at 32.4 yards on 14 kickoff returns. So far, Saints punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead and the coverage teams have been very good. Opponents average 5.9 yards per punt return and 26.9 per kickoff. They can't afford any slippage this week.


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