54 completions, 731 yards, and five touchdowns. That’s the combined Week one total of the two gunslingers meeting at the Superdome on Sunday. Undoubtedly, a showdown between two of the league’s top risk takers at the quarterback position. It’s a battle in the Big Easy that will produce a team coming off of an impressive victory in front of their home crowd, and a team coming off of a heartbreaking defeat to the defending Super Bowl champs, looking to capture the first of many wins on the 2011 campaign in front of their raucous home fans. A potential Playoff preview?
1. Superdome’s super effect – Simply put, the Saints defense is going to rally behind their home crowd. Also, you have to believe they want to seek redemption from Week one’s disappointing performance, albeit against Rodgers’ Packers, surrendering five offensive touchdowns at Lambeau. It’s still apparent Jay Cutler’s protection is a bit shaky, as seen by the four times he was sacked against Atlanta last Sunday. With that said, expect Gregg Williams’ group to run blitz like crazy (make Forte fight for yards after contact) early and force the Bears to duplicate last week’s success via the screen game. It’s not as much about the pressure on Cutler as it is the heat on Cutler’s playmakers – play physical with them and see if they can battle for yards.
2. Brees’ supporting cast – Even without Marques Colston, the Saints are not lacking weaponry for Drew Brees. Darren Sproles, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and Jimmy Graham all possess the ability to make 20+ yard plays. I believe the Chicago defense will have a hard time with Graham and Sproles, yet, I think they can contain the New Orleans wide receivers. If the Bears want to get off the field on third downs, they’ll need to account for Sproles, wherever he lines up, and Graham’s special matchup-problem inducing skill set. You saw last week that the Bears held their own against Roddy White and Julio Jones, but, they know to be extra aware of the sneaky Sproles and graceful Graham.
3. Special Teams wins – I have a feeling this game will come down to whichever team makes the biggest special teams play late. Both Devin Hester and Sproles are game-changers who have to be accounted for, especially on the fast Superdome surface. With both teams so evenly matched, could it come down to a key punt return or wild field goal block? It’s going to be a closely-contested fight, in which case, usually means the outcome will be decided by a special player in in the special teams department. Fasten your seat belts, this dynamic duel is going to come down to the wire.
Prediction – Brees’ quick release, Ingram’s improved play, and a physical secondary will propel the Saints to their first triumph of the season. I can’t see Sean Payton’s squad falling to 0-2 in the Superdome against a less than stellar pass defense. Too many third-down conversions and aerial fireworks from an imaginative Brees-powered offense. Saints 29 Bears 22