by Carlos Nazario
A wild and crazy week 1 is in the books, and quite a few surprises arose. After the rule change moving up the kickoffs to the 35 yard line, many “experts” predicted the end of big returns. As it turned out, there were quite a few touchbacks, but there were also 8 touchdown returns, a record. Also, there were 14 quarterbacks who threw for 300 yards or more.
Some teams surprised experts in week 1. Baltimore thoroughly crushed Pittsburgh in a game that was supposed to be very close. The Redskins, picked by some to finish last in the NFC East, upset the Giants. In perhaps the biggest surprise, the Chicago Bears dominated the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons are Super Bowl contenders. Many thought the Bears run at the title last season was a fluke. This was supposed to be an aerial attack by Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The Bears made a statement that last season was not a fluke, beat the Falcons 30-12, and did not allow a defensive touchdown. Now, suddenly, many experts have the Bears as a top 10 team this week, after ranking them in the lower tier in the preseason. Well, so much for preseason predictions.
This week the Bears travel to New Orleans to battle the Saints, who lost a shootout against the Green Bay Packers 42-34. Drew Brees had another great game, completing 32 of 49 passes for 419 yards. They only rushed for 80 yards, though, and that put pressure on Brees to complete pass after pass. Also, the defense allowed 103 yards rushing and 296 net passing yards.
The Bears used the “bend but don’t break” defense against the high-flying Falcons. They allowed 110 rushing yards, but almost half of that total (53) came on one Michael Turner run. They did not allow a big play, and as a result, the Falcons offense did not score a touchdown.
The Saints will have to get big production from their running game to take pressure off of Brees. Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas will need to get more than 40 yards and 31 yards respectively, or the Bears will tee off on the Pro Bowl quarterback.
The key may be Thomas, who seems to enjoy playing against the Bears. In two games versus the Bears, Thomas has a total of sixty-six touches for 451 yards and has scored three touchdowns. His average yards-per-touch is 6.8.
The Saints are without their top receiver, Marques Colston, who broke his collarbone. This puts even more pressure on the running game against one of the best run defenses in the game.
After a shaky start to the game, the Bears offensive line protected Cutler well, and he was given time to find the open men. The Bears also used screen passes to perfection. If the line holds up again, Cutler could be in for another great game.
Against the Packers, the Saints had difficulty stopping the pass early. When they made halftime adjustments, they had difficulty stopping the run. The Packers exposed some gaping holes in that defense, and they will have to patch most of them or they will go 0-2 to start the season.
The Bears list linebacker Brian Urlacher as questionable after his mother died suddenly on Tuesday. He was expected back to practice on Thursday, however, and all signs point to him playing. He is the heart and soul of the Bears and if he does not go, it may change things dramatically. He had a team-high 10 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, and his production will be sorely missed if he cannot go. My prediction for week 2: Bears 34 Saints 13.
Time for some gumbo!