The Chicago Bears have certainly had their share of ups and downs over the course of this unpredictable 2020 season. Their 5-1 start had many believing that this team might be better than anyone thought possible, then they proceeded to go 3-7 over their remaining 10 games.
Those final three wins came only after Matt Nagy finally came to his senses — albeit with the help of an injury to Nick Foles — and inserted Mitchell Trubisky back into the lineup as the Bears’ starting QB.
The Bears played the New Orleans Saints in Week 8, entering the game with a respectable 5-2 record. They lost in overtime after sloppy defensive play on the Saints’ last possession of the second quarter, which bled into an inept third quarter. That trend would continue to haunt the Bears over their next six games before they finally outscored the Jaguars 21-0 in the third quarter of their Week 16 matchup.
Make no mistake about it, this isn’t the same Bears team that played the Saints 10 weeks ago. The big question isn’t whether the Bears have the talent to win against the Saints on Sunday, which they do if Roquan Smith is healthy enough to play. The real issue is whether Nagy has learned enough over the course of the season to put together a winning game plan.
The Saints were 2-of-13 on third down conversions in their first matchup against the Bears and Alvin Kamara was held to a mere 67 yards rushing. However, the defense failed to stop the short passing game as Kamara went off for 96 yards on nine receptions. The managed just one sack and two QB hits, allowing Drew Brees the time he needed to finish 109.8 QB rating.
With the exception of Kamara’s 47-yard reception over the middle — which was largely due to a missed assignment in coverage by Khalil Mack — the Bears actually did a good job in limiting the overall damage by the Saints’ star back. That possession ended in a missed field goal by the Saints, so the large gain had a negligible impact on the outcome of the game.
Chuck Pagano has to find a way to get more pressure on Brees while taking away the outlet pass to Kamara. If the Bears defense can do that while limiting the Saints rushing attack, they should be able to control the time of possession and ensure they win the field position battle.
The Bears melted down against the Saints in the third quarter, committing five penalties including the cheap-shot play by Javon Wims that got him disqualified from the game. They also allowed one sack, had two punts, an interception, and a turnover on downs. That led to 13 points for the Saints and virtually assured them of a win.
The Bears have improved their play in the third quarter over their last five games, going from completely self-destructive to good, if not very good, performance in those games. The common factor for the Bears over that time frame is that Trubisky at QB with play-calling that suits his skills. If Trubsiky plays well on Sunday and limits the bad throws, the Bears will be much better positioned than they were offensively in the first game against the Saints.
The bottom line is that, pending health, Nagy has all the tools necessary to win against the Saints. Even though the Bears are 10-point underdogs, they should have a good chance at winning their first playoff game in 10 years if they can limit turnovers and penalties.