The only thing the New Orleans Saints needed to get right Sunday against the Chicago Bears in the Caesars Superdome, they got right.
In a performance that saw spots of unevenness on offense, defense and special teams, the final score read 24-17, Saints. And the NFC South Division standing reveal that New Orleans is 5-4, and solely atop the division standings for the first time this season.
With that in mind, the Saints can forge ahead and, for the second consecutive week, pursue corrective measures in the aftermath of victory.
OFFENSE: One week after posting season highs in scoring (38 points), yards (511) and rushing yards (161), the Saints totaled 24, 301 and 87 in those categories, respectively. What New Orleans did do well was continue its red zone effectiveness (3 of 5 against the Bears, after going 3 of 4 against the Colts) and its third-down efficiency (7 of 14 against Chicago, 6 of 12 against Indianapolis). Being solid in those areas ensures more offensive snaps and scoring touchdowns in the red zone always is the secret sauce to winning. Credit the offensive line for not allowing quarterback Derek Carrto be sacked, but 214 passing yards, against a Bears defense that was allowing more than 260 passing yards per game, wasn't what could – and probably should – have been done against Chicago. Receiver Chris Olavegot back on track a bit (six catches for 46 yards and a touchdown), and the Saints have a whoever-is-open-gets-the-ball passing game, but Michael Thomas having no catches and one target is something that probably shouldn't happen.
DEFENSE: When the defense was bad, it was really bad. Chicago undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent led the Bears to 14 first-half points and befuddled the Saints to the tune of 10 of 13 passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns, and six carries for 60 yards in the first two quarters. But when the defense was good, it was really, REALLY good. New Orleans forced five turnovers (two interceptions by cornerback Paulson Adebo, an interception by safety Marcus Maye and fumble recoveries by Adebo and linebacker Pete Werner) and, in essence, those five turnovers proved to be the difference. The Saints were plus-five in takeaways, and needed every one of them against the pesky Bears. Bagent was 8 of 18 for 72 yards and two interceptions in the second half, and he lost a fumble while being sacked by linebacker Demario Davis. The slow-start conundrum that has played New Orleans defensively continued, though: The Saints have allowed 17, 17, 20 and 14 points in the first halves of the last four games. That's got to stop.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Blake Grupesimply has to tighten up. He's 18 for 23 on field goal attempts this season, but after hitting the left upright on a 47-yard attempt Sunday, it added to the list of costly, or potentially costly, misses he has had. Another solid game from punter Lou Hedley (four punts, three downed inside the 20 including Isaac Yiadom knocking one out of bounds at the Bears' 2 in the fourth quarter). Rashid Shaheed (two punt returns for 20 yards) is going to break another one if continually given opportunities.