Bears vs. Saints: What to Watch 4
Bears DE Akiem Hicks will be a key test for Saints promising rookie guard Cesar Ruiz; Bears stagnant run game faces the Saints’ fourth-ranked run defense; Will Bear Weather be a factor?
Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks still holds a grudge against the Saints and coach Sean Payton after his unfulfilling first three seasons in the NFL in New Orleans ended with them trading him to the Patriots. He will relish the opportunity to torment his former team.
Hicks has 3œ sacks and seven tackles for loss and leads the Bears with 11 quarterback pressures. But he’s coming off an uneven game against the Rams in which he was called for four penalties, so he should be doubly motivated Sunday.
Saints rookie guard Cesar Ruiz, a first-round draft pick (24th overall) from Michigan, will make his third NFL start with Nick Easton recovering from a concussion. Ruiz is coming off an impressive game Sunday against the Panthers. He allowed zero pressures on 40 pass-block chances, according to Pro Football Focus (for whatever that’s worth). But Hicks is a step up in class.
Though quarterback Drew Brees is a stationary target, he is adept at avoiding pressure and his line protects him well. The Saints are tied for fifth in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed per pass play, so Hicks, Khalil Mack & Co. have a tough challenge here.
The Bears’ running game has screeched to a halt after a promising start. In their last four games, the Bears have averaged 43.8 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry to drop from 11th in the NFL in yards and seventh in yards per carry to 32nd and 30th, respectively. Their 175 rushing yards in the last month is the second-lowest four-game total in the NFL in the last four seasons.
The Saints are fourth in the league in rushing defense (89.7) and third in yards allowed per carry (3.5). They held the Panthers to 37 yards on 17 carries last week.
Player to watch
Saints running back Alvin Kamara because he’s just fun to watch. The 5-10, 215-pound Kamara is one of the most versatile backs and most dangerous weapons in the league. He is averaging a career-high 137.3 total yards per game (60.7 yards rushing and 76.7 yards receiving).
Bear Weather is a myth, but the season’s first near-wintry conditions — windy, with temperatures forecast in the 30s — might be a factor in the Saints’ first outdoor game of the season.
For what it’s worth, Brees is 0-3 at Soldier Field in cold weather (sub-40 degrees), with passer ratings of 83.2, 75.7 and 67.2. Brees and the Saints lost 39-14 in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, 33-25 in the 2007 regular season and 27-24 in the 2008 regular season. It’s worth noting the Bears scored 27 or more points in each of those victories. They’ve scored 27 or more points once in their last 15 home games.