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updated: 10/1/2013 7:22 PM

Sproles, Saints provide major obstacle to Bears' rebound

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  • All-purpose running back Darren Sproles and his Saints teammates are pointing to Sunday's game against the Bears at Soldier Field as they attempt to go 5-0.

      All-purpose running back Darren Sproles and his Saints teammates are pointing to Sunday's game against the Bears at Soldier Field as they attempt to go 5-0.
    Associated Press

 
 

It won't be easy for the Bears to bounce back from their first loss of the season.

They return to the friendly confines of Soldier Field on Sunday, but they face an explosive and undefeated New Orleans Saints team (noon, Fox) that has rediscovered how to play defense.

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The last time the Saints started 4-0 was in 2009, and they wound up winning Super Bowl. Coach Sean Payton's current team is considered by many to be more balanced than his championship team -- and that's bad news for the Bears.

The 3-1 Bears will attempt to rebound from their first loss of the year, a game in which they struggled to contain the Lions' dual-threat running back Reggie Bush. More bad news for the Bears: the Saints' Darren Sproles is an even more dangerous weapon than Bush. He's coming off a 38-17 Monday night victory over the previously undefeated Dolphins in which he caught 7 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.

Before that game, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said: "It's nice to be able to watch, to have that team on a national stage. You can sit down and eat dinner and watch your opponent."

If the Bears did watch the Saints roll over the Dolphins, it may have spoiled their dinners, especially the Bears' defenders who had trouble tackling Bush. Sproles may present more of a challenge because he's not obsessed with trying to find the safety of the sidelines.

Often when a quarterback checks down to a running back, the result is s a short gain. Not so with Sproles, who averages 12.0 yards per catch (277 yards on 23 receptions), more than any running back in the league with at least 12 catches.

And Sproles isn't even the biggest matchup problem the Saints present. That would be tight end Jimmy Graham, the fantasy god who had 100 receiving yards against Miami on 4 catches, 2 of them for touchdowns.

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham is a mismatch because he's bigger and faster than almost any linebacker or safety in the NFL. He leads the NFL with 6 touchdowns.

Quarterback Drew Brees is coming off a 30-for-39 demonstration of precision passing that accounted for 413 yards and 4 touchdowns in the romp over the Dolphins. He's currently fifth in the NFL with a 103.8 passer rating. Brees couldn't be blamed if he were looking forward to attacking a Bears defense that is 24th in passing yards allowed and 29th in sack percentage.

The Saints' offense is No. 3 in yards, but Brees has been sacked 12 times already this season. The Bears have just 6 sacks, and only 3 have come from linemen.

For opponents, the most troubling aspect of the Saints' resurrection is the improved play of the defense. Ever since Payton, a Naperville Central High School alum, came to The Big Easy, his teams have been prolific scorers. But the biggest reason the Saints stumbled to a 7-9 record last season -- other than Payton's one-year suspension for his role in Bountygate -- was a defense that allowed more yards than any in the history of the NFL. This year they're No. 6, permitting just 304.5 yards per game. Last year they allowed 440 yards and 28.4 points per game.

Under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan, Rex's slightly less garrulous brother, this may be the Saints' best defense ever under Payton.

The offense still looks every bit as dangerous as those that were mostly responsible for the Saints compiling a 37-11 regular-season record from 2009-11.

That's a daunting task for a Bears defense that has yet to hold any opponent under 21 points.

It will be near impossible if offensive turnovers and special teams breakdowns -- which doomed the Bears in Detroit -- give Brees and the Saints offense a short field to work with.

"The short field was the difference in our defense," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "You don't have four short fields and not have bad things happen to your football team."

Cutler's 3 interceptions allowed the Lions to begin scoring drives at their own 49-yard line and the Bears' 31- and 2-yard lines, which accounted for 10 points. Micheal Spurlock's 57-yard punt return gave Detroit the ball at the Bears' 22, and that resulted in 7 more points.

•The Bears signed defensive back Sean Cattouse to the practice squad and terminated the practice-squad contract of running back Harvey Unga. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cattouse is a Chicago native and Hubbard High School graduate. He was a three-time all-conference player at Cal, where he started 26 games. Cattouse entered the NFL with the Chargers in 2012 as an undrafted free agent.

•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.

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