GAME OVERVIEW ::
BY HILOW >>
- Big hit to the Chicago defense in the way of the likely absence of inside linebacker Roquon Smith
- Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Michael Thomas, Marcus Williams, and CJ Gardner-Johnson are all due back for the Saints
- With Marshon Lattimore covering Allen Robinson, David Montgomery in an extremely difficult matchup, and Darnell Mooney appearing likely to be out, the Bears may be relying on a Mitchell Trubisky to Anthony Miller and Javon Wims connection
HOW CHICAGO WILL TRY TO WIN ::
The big pieces of news out of Chicago regarding injuries are the likely absences of rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney (ankle), the Bears’ primary downfield threat, and inside linebacker Roquan Smith (elbow), a top three-graded coverage linebacker. Smith is a large reason for the Bears’ success against opposing running backs in the pass game, as veteran right inside linebacker Danny Trevathan has been a coverage liability this season. Backup inside linebackers Josh Woods and Joel Iyiegbuniwe have combined for only 94 defensive snaps in their careers. Chicago’s 62% pass play rate has remained rather sticky throughout the season, dipping only slightly to 57% in the first half when playing with a lead. The largest undoing for this Bears team has been offensive turnovers and poor ability to sustain drives (23rd-ranked drive success rate), placing regular increased pressure on their defense. This has led to a low situation-neutral pace of play (27th-ranked 31.50 seconds per play) but fast second half pace of play (12th-ranked 26.60 seconds per play in the second half) and high 64% second half pass play rate.
Backup running back/special teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons and his game day status is in question. Starting running back David Montgomery has averaged a staggering 81.7% of the offensive snaps in the eleven fully healthy games without Tarik Cohen, which ranks tops in the NFL by a wide margin. The matchup on the ground is a poor one for the Bears, yielding a well below average 3.95 net-adjusted line yards metric against an opponent allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (18.0) and ranked second in DVOA against the run. Montgomery’s torrid stretch to end the season (averaged 27.23 fantasy points per game over the final six games of the year, scoring seven touchdowns) came against opponents ranked in the bottom ten against the run (GBx2, DET, HOU, MIN, JAX).
Number one wide receiver Allen Robinson II joined rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney on the sidelines of practice on Thursday, but it was likely just for maintenance on his injured hamstring. Mooney has a much lower chance of making it back from an ankle injury sustained late in a Week 17 loss to the Packers. Out of a total of 584 offensive snaps, Bears’ third wide receiver Anthony Miller has played 87.15% out of the slot, indicating it would likely be Javon Wims that benefits the most from a snap rate perspective should Mooney miss; an important aspect to understand, however, is that it is likely the biggest boost to Allen Robinson from a pure expected target perspective. After starting the year slow, lockdown corner Marshon Lattimore has played lights out over the second half of the season, bringing down his completion rate allowed in coverage to 49.4% on the year. Furthermore, Robinson profiles as the type of wide receiver Lattimore has historically had the easiest time erasing (tall, possession-style, low 40-time, body wide receivers). The Saints are also expecting safeties Marcus Williams and CJ Gardner-Johnson back from injury, who combine with safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins to form the second-highest rated secondary in the league (Saints safeties as a unit have allowed a ridiculously low 55.1 QBR against in coverage on the year). The combination of high blitz rate (31.8%) and a defense forcing the third deepest average intended air yards (9.1) spells trouble for Mitchell Trubisky, who has eight interceptions and six fumbles (two lost) over his nine starts. Rookie tight end Cole Kmet continues to operate as the lead tight end for the Bears, playing no fewer than 78% of the offensive snap in any game since their Week 11 bye, and is a candidate to see a bump in targets should Mooney miss. Jimmy Graham’s red zone acumen keeps him in the discussion, but the combination of a low snap rate and low targets means he is very much touchdown or bust.
HOW NEW ORLEANS WILL TRY TO WIN ::
The Saints are expecting a slew of personnel back just in time for the playoffs, with all of running back Alvin Kamara, running back Latavius Murray, wide receiver Michael Thomas, and safeties Marcus Williams and CJ Gardner-Johnson expected back, but will be without recent addition linebacker Kwon Alexander for the entirety of the postseason run after a torn achilles sustained in Week 16. New Orleans would like to leverage their defensive prowess through slow pace of play (28th-ranked 31.54 situation-neutral pace of play), high rush rates (fifth highest rush rate over the full season at 47%), and a pass offense designed to maximize the strengths of the aging Drew Brees (while his arm strength is no longer what it used to be, his timing, ability to read a defense, and NFL IQ remain elite; ranks 34 out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in average intended air yards at 6.0).
The matchup on the ground should be considered a neutral one, yielding an above average 4.52 net-adjusted line yards against a Bears defense allowing middle of the pack numbers against the run. The New Orleans backfield typically operates in a 65/35 split between Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Murray getting more run in games the Saints control throughout. Considering the matchup, seasonal tendencies and pace up nature for the Saints, expect likeliest scenario to land the Saints around 70 total offensive plays run from scrimmage (about five more than their season average), which should translate to roughly 32-34 total rush attempts and 34-36 total pass attempts, leaving 18-20 running back opportunities for Kamara and eight to 12 for Murray as the likeliest scenario. The biggest boost to the Saints backfield comes in the form of the likely absence of Chicago inside linebacker Roquon Smith, who has been the key component of the linebacker coverage for the Bears. The linebacking unit for the Bears has been the weakest in coverage of the three levels (linebackers, corners, safeties) this season, and without Smith there are nothing but coverage liabilities remaining. Consider his absence a substantial boost to Kamara’s pass game ceiling.
The top three wide receivers for the Saints this week should be Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Marquez Callaway. On a team that runs 11-personnel at a below average 54% rate, and with Michael Thomas returning from an ankle injury, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see all three end the game in the 70-75% snap rate range. The cornerback unit for the Bears has basically been Kyle Fuller and then everyone else, with every member outside of Fuller allowing a 96.6 QBR in coverage or greater, which is #notgood. Because of the coverage lapses and difficulty in one-on-one coverage, the Bears blitz at the fourth lowest rate in the league and are top ten in zone-base coverage, instead relying on the strength of their defense (the front seven) to create pressure on the quarterback. With the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass-blocking offensive line, it is highly likely the Saints are able to hold off the vaunted Chicago pass rush, particularly with Drew Brees’ low time to throw. Expect tight end Jared Cook to play 50-55% of the offensive snaps, with rookie Adam Trautman mixing in for 35-40% himself.
LIKELIEST GAME FLOW ::
The Saints’ offense, and their ability to stretch the field (and opposing defense) sideways, is likely to face little resistance from a Bears defense that derives so much of its effectiveness from pressure created without having to blitz. The absence of Roquon Smith would leave a substantial void in the short-middle of the field. It is unlikely Kyle Fuller is used in a shadow role (typically plays the right side), the New Orleans wide receivers are moved around enough in their offensive alignments, and we shouldn’t expect more than 75% snap rates for all three Saints’ wide receivers, meaning there is a good deal of variance associated with the individual pass-catchers, but that shouldn’t affect the overall efficiency of the offense. In all, the Saints are very likely to assert control over this game sooner rather than later and, with an offense ranked fifth in the league in efficiency, should continue to do so throughout the game. This would increase the desperation from the Bears, providing additional opportunities for mistakes to be made from a quarterback who has historically been extremely mistake-prone.
XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
- Chicago is in trouble in this one. I have very little faith in Mitch Trubisky’s ability to captain this offense to success in a game in which they won’t be able to lean on their run game.
- David Montgomery has a great workload but ugh, the matchup is a nightmare. He’s the Chicago player least likely to absolutely fail just based on his volume, but the ceiling is hard to see here.
- Allen Robinson is the highest ceiling play on Chicago. His matchup is awful, making his floor pretty scary, but the odds of 10+ targets going his way in this game are extremely high. Priced right next to Kamara and Thomas he’s a hard sell but his ownership should also be a fair bit lower than the two Saints.
- Darnell Mooney looks like he’s going to miss this game. That should open up opportunity for Anthony Miller (at just $3,800) and Javon Wims ($200!!!). Both are strong value options.
- Newly emerged TE1 Cole Kmet has seen 7, 2, 6, and 10 targets in the last 4 games. He has not been wildly efficient but the Bears should be throwing a lot here and the volume is solid. Jimmy Graham’s volume has disappeared along with his snap count but he’s still scored 3 touchdowns in the last 4 games, giving him a “touchdown or bust” role that is still somewhat real.
- I will always dream on (and often lose money on) the big play ability of Cordarelle Patterson. The Bears might well need it in order to make something happen in this matchup.
- The Saints look likely to get both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas back just in time for the playoffs. They immediately become the clear alpha options on this offense and should hog a massive share of the work.
- Latavius Murray is, as always, highly viable in “Saints control the game” builds (which, of course, is the likeliest outcome of this game). His floor is low if the game ends up being highly competitive, but at $4k his odds of outscoring the kickers he’s priced around are good. I like Miller better than him, though, at a similar price range.
- Manny Sanders is really overpriced for his role with Thomas back, but Marquez Callaway is enticing at just $2k. Beyond Callaway, there are always the other Saints rotational pieces like Cook, Trautman, and perhaps one of Johnson or Jordan who are in play for MME.
- If this game doesn’t land around the Vegas totals, I think the next likeliest outcome is the Saints just stomping Chicago. The Bears have been a good story this year but they are the clearly inferior team and while Vegas pegs their total at 19.25 points I would be shocked if they hit it. I will be building a lot of New Orleans onslaughts for this one (note, however, that due to his voluminous role, Montgomery is viable as the one Chicago bring-back in a Saints onslaught lineup).
- Trubisky is 0-2 vs NOR (12-20 & 25-36), and Foles also lost to NOR this year (23-26)
- NOR won the last two games vs CHI despite notably missing Brees, Kamara, Cook, Tre’Quan in the first and Thomas, Sanders, Callaway in the second
- Trubisky since he returned: 242:3:2 // 267:1 // 267:3 // 202:1:1 // 265:2:1 // 252:0:1
- Pass eff def ranks of those teams: 14 // 32 // 29 // 13 // 31 // 14
- NOR ranks 4th in pass eff def and should be returning safeties Marcus Williams & CJ Gardner-Johnson
- Trubisky has thrown 8 INT in 8.5 games this year
- NOR is tied for first with 18 INT on defense (5 INT in Week 17 alone jumped them up)
- NOR has allowed the 8th lowest success rate to WRs
- Top WR scores vs NOR: Williams (30.9) // Lazard (29.4) // Moore (25.3) // Thielen (23.7) // Samuel (22.1) // ARob (20.7) // Aiyuk (19.7) // Ridley (18.8) // Moore (18.1) // Mooney (17.9) // Hill (17.4) // Golladay (16.2) // Julio (15.4) // Miller (15.3)
- ^CHI’s trio from that group (with Foles): ARob (20.7), Mooney (17.9), Miller (15.3)
- ARob with Trubisky: 5:74 // 3:33 // 6:69 (half) // 8:74:2 // 6:75 // 9:123:1 // 4:83 // 10:103 // 2:37
- ARob vs Lattimore Saints: 10:87:1 // 6:87:1
- ARob missed Thursday’s practice with a hamstring designation
- Raybon’s injury study for WR’s with hamstring injuries: 3% drop in PPR production for probable (109 games) and 13.8% drop in PPR production for questionable (95 games)
- Mooney since Trubisky’s return: 3:34 // 4:43 // 2:21:1 // 4:49:1 // 4:39 // 11:93
- Mooney may miss the game, leaving Anthony Miller as the WR2
- Monty with Trubisky::
- Rushing: 13:64 // 16:82 // 14:45 // 11:103 // 17:72:2 // 11:113:1 // 32:146:2 // 23:95:1 // 22:69:1
- Receiving: 1:10 // 3:45:1 // 2:9 // 5:40:1 // 4:39 // 3:42 // 1:16 // 2:26 // 9:63
- DK pts: 8.4 // 21.7 // 7.4 // 28.3 // 27.1 // 27.5 // 32.2 // 20.1 // 28.2
- CHI’s recent stretch of rush eff def opponents (ranks): 19 // 26 // 30 // 27 // 22 // 19
- NOR ranks 2nd in rush eff def
- Monty vs top-10 rush eff def::
- Rushing: 14:45 // 10:29:1 // 14:48 // 21:89 (NOR)
- Receiving: 2:9 // 7:30 // 5:21 // 2:16 (NOR)
- 38 of Monty’s 89 rush yds came on one play vs NOR
- NOR has allowed the 3rd lowest rate of explosive runs to RBs
- NOR has scored 36 & 26 vs Pagano’s Bears despite the aforementioned missing offensive players in those matchups (both games in CHI)
- Brees since NOR returned to the playoffs in 2017::
- 376:2:1 // 294:3:2 // 301:2:1 // 249:2:1 // 208:1:1
- Brees & Thomas will enter this game having played just 10 quarters together all year, with 8 coming against TB in two blowouts
- Brees’s best game of the year came in the last full game with Thomas when he threw for 222 yds, 4 TD in a 38-3 win (initially broke some ribs in this game)
- Brees is still recovering from his major rib injury, but the time off also gave a nagging shoulder injury some time to get right
- Brees & Payton have actually been more aggressive in play-calling since he returned, calling for some throws that Brees hasn’t been asked to make since 2016
- Brees finished with 280 yds, 2 TD in Chicago earlier this year despite missing his top 3 WRs
- 9 of last 10 QBs vs CHI have thrown 2+ TDs
- Starting RG Nick Easton was placed on IR, so rookie Cesar Ruiz, who has started several games himself, will be up against stud DT Akiem Hicks up front
- NOR flopped in the playoffs last year when Zimmer attacked the interior of NOR’s offensive line and made it extremely difficult for Brees in the pocket
- Top perimeter WR vs CHI: MJJ (4:55) // Slayton (3:33) // Ridley (5:110) // Hilton (3:29) // Evans (5:41:1) // Moore (5:93) // Reynolds (4:52:1) // Tre’Quan (5:43) // Brown (4:101:1) // Jefferson (8:135), Thielen (4:43:2) // Adams (6:61:1) // MJJ (8:116:1) // Hansen (7:56) // Jefferson (8:104) // Chark (4:62:1) // Adams (6:46:1)
- Michael Thomas vs CHI: 7:77 (2017) // 9:131 (2019)
- Thomas in the playoffs: 8:131 // 7:85:2 // 12:171:1 // 4:36 // 7:70
- Sanders with Brees since Week 3 vs GB: 4:56:1 // 6:93 // 12:122 // 4:38:1 // 4:76 // 4:83 // 9:63:1 (only the 4:38:1 vs TB came with Thomas too)
- Non-#1 WRs to finish with more yds than the #1 WR vs CHI::
- Amendola (5:81) // Pascal (3:58) // Ty Johnson (4:61) // Reynolds (4:52:1) // Hansen (7:56) // MVS (2:87:1); Jefferson & Chark also outproduced Thielen & Viska (Kyle Fuller spent more time on them)
- CHI has faced the 5th most TE targets
- Cook with Brees in 2020: 5:80 // 2:13:1 // 2:52:1 // 3:32:1 // 5:51:1 (CHI) // 2:30 // 2:29 // 3:82 // 4:43:1
- CHI allowed rec TDs to Cook & Taysom in the first matchup
- Leading NOR receiver yds with Brees: 80 // 86 // 56 // 93 // 122 // 75 // 51 // 51 // 76 // 83 // 63
- Kamara receiving yds in those games: 51 // 95 // 139 // 36 // 74 // 65 // 96 // 9 // 40 // 17 // DNP
- CHI has allowed the lowest success rate to RBs through the air
- Kamara still finished with 9:96 in the first matchup with NOR down their WRs
- Star LB Roquan Smith is expected to miss the game after being concussed early vs GB
- CHI ranks 4th in rush eff def, but has allowed the 3rd highest rate of explosive runs to RBs
- NOR rushing vs CHI: AK (12:67) // Lat (8:17) // Taysom (5:35)
- Kamara in the playoffs::
- Rushing: 10:23:1 // 11:43 // 16:71 // 8:15 // 7:21:1
- Receiving: 1:10 // 4:62:1 // 4:35 // 11:96 // 8:34
- Kamara will be playing without having been at the facility for 10 days, as he tested positive for the virus (virus affects people differently, but regardless tough to be fully in game shape after 10 days of quarantine)
- Kamara is regarded as one of the smartest players on the team, and he is still able to communicate with the team thanks to modern technology, so he is still present with gameplanning even if not physically present
- Murray will be playing after his one game absence as a close contact to AK
- Murray’s only games over 10 DK pts this year: (14:64:2, 1:19) // (12:49, 2:36) // (19:124:2, 1:2) // (4:3, 2:26:1) // (12:72, 3:24)
- Scores of those games: 35-29 // 24-9 // 31-3 // 29-32 // 52-33
- Lat’s best game as a Saint came when he filled in for AK vs CHI last year and ran for 119 yds, 2 TDs
- TyMont has been activated for the previous two games, dropping his only target in the first and then rushing for 105 yds on 18 carries as the only available RB
- TyMont started the year with just two touches/g before quickly going on IR
- CHI allowed the 5th lowest TD% in the RZ
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