Bears

Why this trip to New Orleans may not be the right time for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky

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USA Today

Why this trip to New Orleans may not be the right time for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky

The last four quarterbacks to start against the New Orleans Saints don’t exactly have a pretty track record: Brett Hundley, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton combined to complete 74 of 131 passes for 730 yards with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. On a per-game average, that comes out to a 56 percent completion rate, 183 yards, less than one touchdown and two interceptions. 

New Orleans’ defense may be prone to allowing yards (5.7 per play, 27th in the NFL), but they’re allowing an average of 22.2 points per game (16th), so this isn’t necessarily a leaky defense. Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranks the Saints’ defense 15th, backing up the traditional numbers: This is about an average defense, but one that succeeds against the pass (6th in passing DVOA). 

It’s also a defense that struggles against the run. Opposing rushers have averaged 4.9 yards per carry against the Saints, tied for the second-highest average in the league. 

And it’s worth noting that the Saints had at least one takeaway in their four wins; in their two losses, they didn’t force a turnover. Worth noting, too: Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was John Fox’s defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos in 2011.

So this all begs the question: Is this the game for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky?

“Dennis does a good job,” Fox said. “I think they got off to a little bit of a rough start both against Minnesota and then New England, but I think they’ve improved and you see that. I think that’s why their record has improved. They’ve run off four in a row and are playing really good football right now.

“… (They’ve improved) just in assignments, guys playing with better eyes, guys being where they’re supposed to me. We had some of the same ills to start the season, but we’ve improved and so have they.”

The Bears can find a way for Trubisky to throw the ball more than seven times with some safe, quick gain concepts, or try to get him out of the pocket on play-action rollouts if the Saints’ defense allows it. The issue of running the ball is an interesting one, too: Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart is the only running back to face eight or more men in the box on over 50 percent of his runs against the Saints this year. 

If the Saints don’t stack the box, it could allow the Bears to do what they did so well against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. And that could mean Trubisky doesn’t throw the ball a whole lot. 

But as long as the Bears emerge with a win — which, to drive home the point, would get this team to .500 halfway through the season — it doesn’t matter how conservative the plan is for their rookie quarterback. 

“Winning’s the most important thing,” Trubisky said. “I don’t care if I throw zero passes if we win the game. I don’t care if I’m not playing if we’re winning the game. As long as the Chicago Bears are winning, we’re doing something right.”

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: