The seventh-seed Chicago Bears will play the second seed New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs. Chicago slipped into this year’s expanded playoffs at 8-8, while the Saints are one of the best teams in the NFC. However, the Bears were able to take the Saints to overtime in their Week 8 matchup, so there is a chance Chicago is able to upset New Orleans. Here are 3 Bears keys for Wild Card Weekend.
Convert in the red zone
Last week, the Bears played horribly upon reaching the Packers red zone. They only scored 1 touchdown out of 5 trips to the red zone.
Inefficiency in the red zone has been a pattern for Chicago this season. They have only scored touchdowns on 31 of 55 trips inside the 20 yard line. This ranks 22nd in the NFL and worst among all playoff teams.
Meanwhile, the Saints have one of the best defenses in the league, ranking 5th in points allowed and 4th in yards allowed.
The good news for Chicago is New Orleans’ poor defensive statistics with their backs up against the wall. The Saints have allowed touchdowns on 68% of trips to the red zone. However, the issue for offenses facing the Saints is actually reaching the 20 yard line. They have allowed only 50 trips to the red zone, 9th least in the league.
The Bears will likely not have many opportunities in the red zone. The Saints have a tough defense that forces a lot of punts and field goals. Therefore, Chicago will need to be able to score touchdowns whenever they reach the red zone in order to keep up with an excellent New Orleans offense.
Stop Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara is one of the best running backs in the league. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield is unmatched, and he is hard to bring down. The Saints offense has ran on him for the whole season, with quarterback Drew Brees aging and receiver Michael Thomas missing games due to injury.
Stopping the Saints offense starts with slowing down Alvin Kamara. In the last matchup between the two teams, Chicago did a good job of stopping Kamara in the running game. He only had 67 yards on 12 carries, a respectable defensive stat line against the star running back. However, he killed Chicago in the passing game, amassing 96 receiving yards on 9 catches.
The Bears need to watch out for Kamara both running and receiving. This was their fatal flaw in the last game. However, it might be a tougher task due to Roquan Smith‘s injury.
Roquan Smith left the last game against the Packers in the 1st quarter with an elbow injury. He will likely not play, and if he does, he will not be playing to the best of his ability. This means that Chicago’s next middle linebacker, Danny Trevathan, will be covering Kamara frequently. This could be an issue, as Trevathan is bad against the passing game, allowing a 118.4 passer rating when thrown to.
No matter who is covering Alvin Kamara, the Bears need a find a way to stop him. If he can just run wild, Chicago’s defense will be in trouble against the Saints.
One the Bears problems in their previous game against the Saints was sacks. Chicago allowed 5 sacks and 8 quarterback hits. Their already struggling offense was constantly set back by a poor offensive line and a turtling quarterback in Nick Foles.
Since Mitchell Trubisky replaced Foles as starting quarterback, Chicago’s issues with sacks have diminished. Trubisky has only been sacked 13 times over the past 6 weeks, a sharp improvement over the totals when Foles was starting.
The Bears now have a more mobile quarterback and reliable offensive line. However, this does not mean that the Saints pass rush is not a threat. Led by Cam Jordan and Trey Hendrickson, they have the 8th most sacks in the NFL and 7th most quarterback pressures.
To beat the Saints, the Bears offense has to avoid being consistently set back and in a bad position to score. If they are sacked less than they were in the last matchup against the Saints, they have a better chance of winning.
The New Orleans Saints are a very strong team while Chicago just barely slipped into the playoffs. The Bears are deservedly a huge underdog in this game. However, anything could happen in the playoffs, so an upset is possible, albeit unlikely. Expect this game to be closer than many predict, but the Saints to still win.
Saints 30 – Bears 23
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