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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Saints

Bears running back D'Onta Foreman
Bears running back D'Onta Foreman

The Bears (2-6) visit the New Orleans Saints (4-4) Sunday at the Caesars Superdome. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning:

(1) Run the ball effectively.

Nothing will help undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent—who's expected to make his third straight start in place of the injured Justin Fields—than a productive rushing attack. The Bears ran for 171, 178, 162 and 173 in four straight games before being held to 73 yards on the ground in last Sunday's loss to the Chargers.

"It's definitely important," said running back D'Onta Foreman. "That's a big focal point of our game and what helps us go. I think when we can be balanced and we can spread the ball around, that's when we're most effective. So it's definitely something that's going to be big for us."

With Khalil Herbert missing his fourth straight game with an ankle injury, Foreman is expected to continue to help fill the void. For the first time in his six-year NFL career, he topped 120 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns in a game in a win over the Raiders two weeks ago. On Sunday, Foreman likely will share the workload with rookie Roschon Johnson and Darrynton Evans.

The Bears offense entered Week 9 ranked 19th in total yards, sixth in rushing and 26th in passing. The Saints defense ranks fifth in total yards, 15th against the run and seventh versus the pass. New Orleans is second in the league in opponent passer rating (73.2) and opponent completion percentage (57.5) and has not allowed an opponent to throw for 275 or more yards in 34 straight games, the NFL's longest such streak since the Colts' 46 consecutive games from 2006-08.

A strong running game Sunday would allow the Bears to sustain drives and stay out of predictable passing situations against a fierce defense in the loudest stadium that Bagent—a Division II star at Shepherd University—will have ever played in.

(2) Pressure Saints quarterback Derek Carr.

The Bears made a big splash just before Tuesday's trade deadline, bolstering their pass rush by acquiring defensive end Montez Sweat from the Commanders in exchange for a 2024 second-round pick. Sweat led Washington with 6.5 sacks this season and is one of only two NFL players with at least six sacks, 10 tackles-for-loss and 10 quarterback hits, joining the Raiders' Maxx Crosby.

The Bears are hoping that Sweat energizes a pass rush that has recorded only 10 sacks this season. On Sunday, Sweat and his teammates will need to generate consistent pressure on Carr, who has passed for 353, 301 and 310 yards in New Orleans' last three games after throwing for 103, 127 and 183 in his previous three contests. In last Sunday's 38-27 win in Indianapolis, the Saints established season highs in points, total yards (511), passing yards (350) and rushing yards (161).

After averaging 15.5 points in their first four games, the Saints have averaged 27.3 points in their last four contests. Much of that improvement has been fueled by a potent passing game. New Orleans is the only NFL team with three receivers with 400 or more yards in Chris Olave (517), Rashid Shaheed (479) and Mike Thomas (439). In addition, the speedy Shaheed's nine receptions of at least 20 yards are second most in the league behind the Dolphins' Tyreek Hill, while Alvin Kamara's 39 receptions are the most among NFL running backs.

"It's a talented group," said cornerbacks coach/passing game coordinator Jon Hoke. "They've got wide receivers that are good with Thomas and Olave. And then 22 (Shaheed) has been running by people. The running back, 41 (Kamara), is very talented, and he's involved in the passing game.

"And then with Derek, Derek has played a lot of football. He's taken a lot of snaps, and he's a good player. Me personally, I've known Derek since he was in high school. He was my son's quarterback when they were in high school, so I just know the talent he is. I know the passion he has for the game, and I have a lot of respect for what he's done and what he's trying to do."

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall Thursday to continue their preparation for Sunday's road game against the New Orleans Saints.

(3) Play a clean game.

After strong defensive performances in three straight games, the Bears missed several tackles in last Sunday's loss to the Chargers. Two came on touchdown receptions of 39 yards by Austin Ekeler and 11 yards by Donald Parham Jr.

"It was frustrating because we know we can do better," said cornerback Jaylon Johnson. "It's not something that you've got to learn or figure out what it is. You've just got to do it better."

To improve their chances of beating the Saints, the Bears must eliminate not only missed tackles but also turnovers. They're 2-0 this season in games in which they've committed no turnovers and 0-6 when they've given the ball away at least once.

The Bears have generated a takeaway in each of their last four games, while the Saints are one of three NFL teams that has produced a takeaway in every game they've played this season, joining the Chiefs and Colts.

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