By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
It’s playoff time once again and Chicago is back in the mix as the Bears will be taking on the Saints in New Orleans today at 3:40 pm central time (CBS, Amazon Prime, Nickelodeon).
Normally, this is the part of this column where we give a nice little intro of the game. Not this time, the playoffs are a new season, a season that gives you only one chance to fail and you’re out.
Though nothing that’s happened in the first 16 games really matters at this point, all of those experiences in some how made the team into the finished product it will be on the field at the Superdome — so lets get it, Bears. Show what you got, everything you got, and keep in mind these keys that you’ll need to win what could be an ideal wild card challenge.
Remember to visit WARR on Anchor, WARR Media’s podcast platform, for the audio version of 4th and Goal(s), featuring more detailed breakdowns of each game’s talking points.
Three Phase Game — The Bears didn’t listen to this column from last week and were unable to do this against the Packers. With the stakes even higher this week, they’d better be able to play all three phases effectively against the Saints.
Follow the Blueprint — The Bears would be wise to copy the approach and game plan that the Minnesota Vikings had last year in their thrilling upset wild card round win over the Saints in the Superdome.
Like the Bears this time around, Minnesota entered that game as the final seed in the NFC, but the Vikes played confidently throughout that game, relying on a bend-but-don’t-break defense to keep Drew Brees’ offense from getting in the end zone too many times, while also consistently feeding Dalvin Cook the ball when they were on offense (98 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns) — David Montgomery would look good in Cook’s role this time.
No Roquan Smith in this game means the Bears defense will have a harder time not breaking than it would had he been available. Someone’s likely going to have to step up in the middle of the field for the defense and put on an inspired, elevated performance that the Bears can rally around.
Slow Down Kamara — As far as New Orleans’ running game is concerned, Saints running back Alvin Kamara will be available after worry of him possibly missing the game because of COVID-19 concerns.
Kamara is a beast, one the entire nation got familiar with on Christmas Day when he scored a NFL record-tying six rushing TDs against Minnesota. And New Orleans’ good luck extends from there with the return of top receiver Michael Thomas from an ankle injury that had him on the reserve list. Getting both major weapons back at once will challenge the Bears extremely. Some type of containment will need to be set on one, or both, of that duo if Chicago wants any chance at winning.
6 >>> 3 — It’s been the story of the Bears’ regular season and it’ll be one of the main factors that decides whether this team continues deeper into playoff season. The Bears don’t necessarily struggle producing opportunities to score three points, ask the record-setting Cairo Santos as much.
But the Bears need to limit the important kicks Santos will have to execute today. Think extra-points, not field goals — if this team can’t convert more of their three point opportunities into six points, then don’t expect this unexpected playoff run to last beyond today.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR