8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: New Orleans -3
Dysfunction is the theme of the night as the flat-lining Chicago Bears host the struggling New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football at Soldier Field. It’s hard to fathom, but even at three games under .500, the Saints (5-8) will move into first place in the mediocre NFC South with a victory tonight. However, Sean Payton’s charges have only managed to win one out of their past five outings, sustaining a disappointing drubbing at the hands of the Panthers last weekend in the Super Dome. New Orleans successfully snapped a three-game losing streak the week before with a 35-32 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field, but came home only to be hammered 41-10 by their division rival. Matters got out of hand quickly, as the visitors scored seventeen unanswered points in the First Quarter, before eventually leading 24-3 at Halftime. But it was absolutely shocking at the level of ineptitude of the host’s offense, which was held to a season-low 310 total yards last Sunday. Drew Brees struggled mightily on 29-of-49 passing for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while the running game, though effective (17 carries for 92 yards), quickly became irrelevant due to the mounting deficit. In turn, the Saints continued to get burned defensively, this time to the tune of 497 yards, including 271 on the ground. Think about that for a second, folks; Payton just watched his defense relinquish over forty points and nearly 500 yards to the twenty-first-ranked scoring offense in the NFL and the sixteenth-ranked unit in terms of total yards. No wonder Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan is on his way out…
And therein lies the problem with this team; after a defensive renaissance the year before, the New Orleans Saints Defense has been flat-out pathetic in 2014, and that collective performance is all but guaranteed to cost Ryan his job. But first, let’s take a moment to reflect on the past three years… in 2012 with Payton suspended for the entirety of the campaign due to his role in the ridiculous Bountgate saga, the Saints’ Defense slumped to record lows, allowing an all-time single-season worst total of 7,042 yards (440.1). Fast-forward to 2013, and Ryan headed one of the better turnaround stories in recent memory, as his defense finished the season ranked fourth in points allowed (19.0) and fourth in total yards allowed (305.7). That’s a significant difference in yards, people; a 134.4-yard improvement to be exact. Now we come back to the present, where instead of continuing to grow under the veteran assistant’s watch they’ve experienced what can only be described as exponential decay. Thus far, New Orleans has allowed 27.6 points (30th overall) on 398.7 total yards (31st overall), including 265.2 against the pass (29th overall) on 7.2 net yards per attempt (30th overall), and another 133.5 yards versus the rush (29th overall) on a porous 4.8 yards per carry (30th overall). Furthermore, they’ve yielded the third-most First Downs in the league (293), and rank next-to-last in average yards (375.1), points (2.44), and time allowed per opponents’ drive (2:52). Seven times already this year they have given up over 400 yards of offense, including each of the last four contests (472.3). Turnovers would be a nice way of compensating for all the yards allowed, but as has been the case with many defenses coached by Ryan, the Takeaway Well has run dry; the Saints have managed to force just thirteen turnovers this season, fourth-fewest in the league. Then again, that should come as no surprise, for they only managed to force nineteen a year ago, which was (wink, wink) fourth-fewest overall. It’s gotten so bad that there have been multiple reports of both Payton and Ryan getting into heated confrontations over the past few weeks, with the latter’s job security being in constant flux. So what in the hell happened here, you ask? Well, a tougher schedule did these guys absolutely no favors, particularly against the hyper-competitive AFC North, whom they lost three out of four against, but much of the blame can be attributed to personnel, or lack thereof. Nose Tackle Brodrick Bunkley (quadriceps) and Free Safety Jairus Byrd (knee) have both landed on Injured Reserve, while fellow Safety Kenny Vaccaro has regressed greatly after a spectacular rookie campaign, so much to the point where Payton has benched him, and allegedly threatened to release him altogether. Even the likes of Junior Galette (7.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), Cameron Jordan (6.0 sacks), and Keenan Lewis (1 interception, 11 passes defended), who all enjoyed breakout seasons in 2013, have each taken a step back in 2014. Unfortunately, Galette is listed as Questionable for tonight’s contest with a knee injury, while Lewis may be inactive due to illness.
Meanwhile, as bad as things look in New Orleans, it’s even worse in the Windy City, where Chicago (5-8) has devolved into a dumpster fire. If you think Rob Ryan is in hot water, than you should really take a look at Marc Trestman, who looks like prime candidate number one to be the first Head Coach axed on Black Monday. The former CFL skipper inherited a 10-6 team that has spent years amassing talent on the offensive side of the ball, but simply could not unlike it’s potential. Like Ryan, the Offensive Guru vastly improved his team’s play on one side of the ball in 2013, with the Bears ranking towards the top of the league in many categories; under his watch, the Offense averaged 27.8 points (2nd overall) on 392.4 total yards (8th overall), including 278.1 through the air (5th overall) on 7.0 net yards per pass attempt (5th overall), and another 114.3 yards on the ground (16th overall) on 4.5 yards per carry (7th overall). Furthermore, they ranked fifth overall in both points (2.16) and yards (33.5) per drive. However, after reinstating Jay Cutler in favor of a Josh McCown who had been playing out of his mind, the Coach watched his team lose each of their final two games, and once again fail to qualify for the postseason. Fast-forward twelve months, and the Bears languish in last place in the NFC North, losers of five of their last seven, with nary a shred of hope for the Playoffs. That sound you hear is the blowing winds of sweeping change, folks…
After resigning Cutler to a massive $129.5 million contract in the Offseason, the franchise made it abundantly clear that he was their guy. After all, he was the reason Trestman was hired in the first place; with decades of experience coaching Quarterbacks including the likes of Steve Young, to Jeff Garcia, to Rich Gannon, he was to be the man that finally solved the riddle that is Jay Cutler. And to a degree, he’s done his job; the ninth-year veteran has enjoyed career-bests in completion percentage (66.8%), touchdown percentage (5.3%), and passer rating (91.7), including his lowest interception percentage in three years (3.0%), and is set to start all sixteen games in a season for the first time since 2009. However, the problem is that Trestman isn’t simply a Quarterbacks Coach in Chicago, he’s the Head Coach, and those aforementioned improvements have not translated into victories. In fact, the team has gotten worse… After fielding arguably the most explosive offense in franchise history in 2013, the Bears have fallen off the rails, averaging 21.6 points (18th overall) on 357.0 total yards (17th overall), including 268.3 yards through the air (10th overall) on 6.2 net yards per pass attempt (21st overall), and another 88.7 yards on the ground (26th overall) on 3.9 yards per carry (23rd overall). Injuries along the Offensive Line have greatly hampered the running game, particularly Matt Forte, who has rushed for his fewest yards in five years (65.7 yards/game). Trestman has utilized him much or as a receiver of late, mostly because they’ve been trailing for the majority of games; Forte has rushed for a total of 32 yards over the last two contests, but has accumulated 126 yards in the passing game over that period. And with Brandon Marshall (721 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns) out for the remainder of the season with broken ribs and a punctured lung, you can bet that he’s going to see even more ball thrown his way. Now there are clear signs of dissension in their ranks; a week ago there were reports of an anonymous source from inside the franchise stating that the Bears were experiencing significant “buyer’s remorse” over Cutler’s massive deal, only for Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer (former Offensive Line Coach for the Saints) to admit the quotes were from him. But it didn’t stop there, for the Assistant Coach went so far as to apologize to Cutler through the Media. And now there are reports swirling that the Quarterback has described his feelings as hurt, and apparently doesn’t trust many figures in the organization. What a mess… With that said, the overall regression of the Offense pales in comparison to the collective nosedive of the defense, which has plummeted to the league basement under Trestman’s watch. No team has allowed more points than Chicago this season (29.1), and only three have relinquished more yards (377.8). That futility was on full display last Thursday Night against the Cowboys, who dismantled the Bears at Soldier Field in the 41-28 debacle. Honestly, the game wasn’t event hat close; trailing 14-7 at Halftime, the hosts yielded twenty-one unanswered points in the Third Quarter, as Tony Romo picked the beleaguered Secondary apart, and DeMarco Murray ran wild for 179 yards. If not for twenty-one points of their own in Garbage Time, the final score would have looked much more uglier than it was.
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