The Detroit Lions posed significant problems in the persons of wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush. But the receiver who did the greatest damage to the Bears was tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who caught all seven passes thrown to him and contributed 54 yards of offense.
The Saints pose bigger problems, literally and figuratively, beginning with tight end Jimmy Graham, extending through running back Darren Sproles and on to wide receiver Marques Colston.
“They have Sproles, who is a big threat and they also have Jimmy Graham, guys on the outside, Marques Colston -- tons of guys who can just push the field, fast guys,” said safety Chris Conte. “And their ability -- Drew Brees -- to move safeties and find guys deep, so they're doing a great job.”
If the Bears had trouble with Pettigrew, which they did, Graham will prove…interesting.
Graham is 6-7, runs like a wide receiver and is second in the NFL with 458 yards on 27 catches. He is averaging a gaudy 17 yards per catch; no Bears receiver is averaging more than Brandon Marshall’s 12.9 per.
“And they do a great job with formations, just in general in their scheme,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Sean [Payton, Saints coach] and those guys do a phenomenal job of shifts and formations and different types of looks, trying to create mis-matches. It’s a huge challenge for us.”
The problem is that Graham (23), Sproles (15) and Colston (14) have combined for 52 first downs, all but five on passes.
But the Bears, expected to throw some new looks at the Saints, have options at least worth exploring, particularly with respect to Graham.
Cornerback Charles Tillman, listed as questionable with a groin injury but expected to start Sunday, is 6-2 and better in coverage than 6-2 Conte. But then who matches up with Colston at 6-4.
The wild card is Shea McClellin, with some coverage experience as a college linebacker and who has dropped into short zone coverage during his time as a Bear.
“I think [Graham] is a tough match-up, but we have guys, too,” Tillman said. “It’s not just about what Jimmy Graham can do or what Drew Brees can do. We have good players as well.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great players and the two guys I just named, Jimmy and Drew, they’re at the top of their game. But we have good guys on our team as well.”