BEARS AT SAINTS
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago
Radio: WWL-AM, 870 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
Records: Both the Saints and the Bears are 5-8. The Bears have lost five of their past seven games and four of their six contests this year at Soldier Field. Meanwhile, after losing their previous four games at home, the Saints have won in their past two road trips.
Last week: The Bears were routed 41-28 at home against Dallas. Chicago held the Cowboys to punts on Dallas’ first two possessions but then surrendered touchdowns on five straight drives while being able to answer only one of those scores. The Bears fell behind 35-7 and closed the deficit in garbage time.
Meanwhile, in a stunning 41-10 defeat against Carolina (4-8-1), New Orleans turned the ball over twice on its first three plays on offense and then missed a field goal before finding itself down 38-3 in the latter part of the third quarter. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was essentially empty when Saints tight end Ben Watson caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to prevent New Orleans from going without a touchdown for the first time in a game since coach Sean Payton took charge of the franchise in 2006.
Coaches: Bears, Marc Trestman, 2nd season (13-16); Saints, Sean Payton, 8th season (78-47)
(League rank in parentheses)
Total yards: Saints, 421 (3rd); Bears, 342.8 (18th)
Passing: Saints, 297.3 (3rd); Bears, 254.2 (11th)
Rushing: Saints, 123.7 (9th); Bears, 88.7 (26th)
Points: Saints, 25.6 (9th); Bears, 21.6 (T-18th)
Total yards: Saints, 398.7 (31st); Bears, 377.8 (28th)
Passing: Saints, 265.2 (29th); Bears, 265.5 (30th)
Rushing: Saints, 133.5 (29th); Bears, 112.3 (16th)Points: Saints, 27.6 (30th); Bears, 29.1 (32nd)
Bears: Quarterback Jay Cutler, runnikng back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Jared Allen, defensive end Willie Young, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Ryan Mundy
Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Marques Colston, tight end Jimmy Graham, linebacker Curtis Lofton, safety Kenny Vaccaro, cornerback Keenan Lewis
Offense: Quarterback Jay Cutler has the glamour position and the money (he’s in the first season of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension), but it’s running back Matt Forte who’s the motor of the offense for Chicago. He’s rushed for 854 yards and six touchdowns on 214 carries, and he’s caught 86 passes for 724 yards and three touchdowns. Only three players in the NFL this season have more than the 1,578 combined yards from scrimmage racked up by Forte, who was a star both at Tulane and at Slidell High School before joining the Bears as a second-round draft selection in 2008.
Other weapons the Bears and Cutler (330-of-494 passing for 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions) can turn to are veteran tight end Martellus Bennett and second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery. Bennett has 77 catches for 821 yards and six touchdowns, and Jeffery has 73 grabs for 949 yards and eight touchdowns. At least the Saints won’t have to contend with five-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall (61 catches for 721 yards and eight touchdowns), whose season is over after he fractured two ribs and hurt a lung in the loss to Dallas.
Defense: Chicago’s defense (No. 28) has been almost as ineffective as New Orleans’ 31st-ranked unit has been this year, but it’s been stouter against the run. The pass rush the Bears have generated has mostly come from four-time first-team All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, who leads his team in quarterback hurries (24) and quarterback hits (17) and is tied for second in sacks (five) with linemates Stephen Paea and Jay Ratliff, according to the metrics of Pro Football Focus. The Bears’ sack leader is defensive end Willie Young (8.5).
In the secondary, safeties Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte as well as rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller each have three interceptions to account for nine of the Bears’ 11 picks this year.
Special teams: The Bears enter their match-up with the Saints cold in this area. In the loss at Dallas, they had a punt partially blocked, an extra point blocked, and an offside called on the kickoff after the blocked extra point.
The lone bright spot the Saints had in their blowout to the Panthers was Jalen Saunders, who had a season-high 68 yards on three returns. It was Saunders’ third game with the Saints. He he was signed after rookie receiver/return specialist Brandin Cooks broke his thumb in a loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 16, and New Orleans will look to build off that at the expense of the Bears’ punt coverage players.
-- Lots of complicated possible playoff scenarios are out there right now, but the only one the Saints care about is this one: They will make the postseason without relying on tiebreakers if they win Monday, at home against Atlanta (5-8) on Dec. 21 and at Tampa Bay (2-11) on Dec. 28. The NFC South winner will host a first-round playoff game. The Saints and the Falcons (who beat New Orleans on Sept. 7). Carolina (4-8-1) is also a contender.
For the Saints, losing any of the games remaining on their schedule could allow Atlanta to pull away or Carolina to pass them.
-- Under Payton, the Saints are 1-3 at Soldier Field. Two of the defeats came in December, and one was in January. The win was on a mild October day last year.
-- Ramon Antonio Vargas