Five things to watch: Saints at Bears

Here's a look at five things to watch during Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Chicago’s pass rush: It’s imperative that the Bears pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown for 300 yards or more in nine consecutive games, which ties an NFL record he established from 2011-12. The Bears don’t necessarily have to sack him, but they need to disrupt the timing between Brees and his targets by getting to him, and forcing him to throw a little earlier than he wants. If the Bears can do that, they will take some pressure off the secondary. The Saints own a winning percentage of .703 when Brees throws for 300 yards or more, but the team is 16-11 when opponents hold the quarterback to fewer than 250 yards through the air. The Bears think they might have an inside track to getting to Brees, who has been sacked 12 times this season. Remember, Chicago’s offense is very similar to New Orleans’, and with new head coach Marc Trestman, the team now spends portions of practice pitting the starting offense against the starting defense.

“(Defensive coordinator) Mel (Tucker) has some things that create some… I think we’ve done some things structurally to force and integrate some problems on New Orleans’ offensive side of the football,” Trestman said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Matt Forte’s production: Chicago needs to keep New Orleans’ offense off the field, and the best way to do it is to establish the run early with Matt Forte and chew up the clock. When the teams last played in 2011, Forte accounted for 166 yards from scrimmage (49 rushing and 117 receiving). So look for the Bears to make Forte an integral part of not just the rushing game, but the passing attack as well, because of his ability to create matchup problems for defenses. If Forte produces a big game, it significantly increases Chicago’s prospects for victory. The Bears should also try to get Michael Bush heavily involved to keep Forte fresh.

“You’ve got to play continuity football. We don’t want to put Drew Brees on a short field. We don’t want to do that. So that brings in the special teams and our ability to cover. Offensively, our ability to use the clock and to keep the ball out of his hands, that’s all a part of it,” Trestman said. “You’re not going to take away their offense trying to get their job done, which is to try to score. But ultimately within the framework of the game, you certainly want Drew Brees to have to go the length of the field where our defense can create more opportunities for ourselves.”

The Bears offensive line: New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mixes up fronts, which can confuse defenses. The Saints play a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4, but they also throw in quite a bit of nickel and dime looks, and exotic packages that feature all 11 defenders standing up, designed to throw off the count up front for offensive linemen. So the offensive line and quarterback Jay Cutler need to quickly recognize the looks given by New Orleans, and make the necessary adjustments. New Orleans has been able to generate a decent pass rush with just the front four, but a couple of players the Bears need to focus on are defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette.

“It’s one of those teams where you’re not looking at one simple front and going off of that. They give us a lot of looks, a lot of pressure from different spots on the field,” rookie right guard Kyle Long sad. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can move around from the top of the field down to the bottom. Their linebackers come up on the line of scrimmage. It poses a lot of threats for us. Our preparation and the things we’ve done this week, we’ve been able to simplify it and come up with a plan.”

How Bears defend Jimmy Graham: Tucker rightfully called Graham a “mismatch nightmare” because “he runs like a fast wide receiver, he’s got excellent catch radius, he’s a fierce competitor, his quarterback looks for him, and he feels like every ball that’s thrown to him he should catch it.” How the Bears defend Graham will likely determine the outcome of this game. So far, no team has been able to neutralize Graham , who leads the Saints with 27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns. His 413 receiving yards in the past three games ties Shannon Sharpe (1996) and Dave Kocourek (1961) for the highest total for a tight end in a three-game span. The Bears won’t be able to successfully guard Graham with a linebacker because of the speed mismatch, and nickel corner Isaiah Frey might be too small to handle the tight end, who at 6-7, is a former college basketball player. The Bears might try to use a couple of packages that feature Zack Bowman (6-1) at the nickel covering Graham.

How Adam Podlesh performs: Field position is crucial in every game, but it’s even more important in this contest because of New Orleans’ ability to score quickly. The Bears want to force Brees to direct long drives, which in turn, allow the defense more opportunities to force mistakes. Podlesh finished with a net-punting average of 28.8 yards in last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions, and his short 40-yard punt in the second quarter was returned by Micheal Spurlock for a 57-yard gain.

The Bears worked out several punters on Tuesday, and a source said the club has strongly considered going another direction at the position. So Podlesh, who specializes in directional punting, needs to perform well in this game, or his replacement could quickly be on the way.

“I kind of understood after what I put out there on the field in Detroit that I basically said to myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were going to look at was out on the market,” Podlesh said.