New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is a master of exploiting a defenses weakness to the advantage of his offense. Luckily, he also has a quarterback with the uncanny ability to read defenses and execute any plan perfectly in Drew Brees.
Needless to say you can bet that he has taken notice that the Bears will likely be without their top strong safety in the lineup. Chris Harris is officially listed as doubtful for Sundays’ game with a nagging hamstring injury — he did not practice Friday.
With Harris likely sidelined the Bears will plan to move Major Wright, the teams starting free safety, over to strong safety and then plug in Brandon Meriweather in his place at free safety.
The Bears signed Meriweather just a day after he was released by the New England Patriots, and immediately put the two-time Pro Bowler through a crash course in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 defensive scheme.
But he is behind when it comes to fully learning the intricacies of the defense. Meriweather is also known to improvise way too much, and can be a liability when matched up against receiver’s in man coverage.
Meriweather was a part of a Patriots secondary that was shredded by Saints quarterback Drew Brees in 2009 when he completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns. It’s likely the Saints will go right at him until he proves he can be effective.
Wright is a third round pick from a year ago out of the University of Florida. He appeared in eleven games his rookie season at free safety recording 24 tackles and no picks.
He hasn’t yet developed into the force the Bears had thought when drafting him, but they are still high the young prospect and the hope is he will continue to get better as the season progresses.
Now Wright must step into a new role against an offense that is as good as the Saints, a tall order for even the best defensive backs in the NFL.
He should have his hands full covering New Orleans receivers and tight ends, and just like Meriweather the Saints are likely to test him early and often.
Chicago loves to run the Tampa-2 defense, which typically will allow throws underneath to prevent a big gain down the field. Head coach Lovie Smith will have to decide whether to stick to his guns, or commit more personnel to the blitz to get pressure on Brees.
Last week the Packers showed the Saints alot of zone coverage, and Brees threw for over 400 yards in the near come from behind victory. Beating the Tampa-2 has come to be a speciality of Brees and Payton.
Given that the Saints are likely going to look down field often over the two safeties Meriweather and Wright with speedy receivers Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, it could leave an abundance of throws underneath to Jimmy Graham, Adrian Arrington, and Lance Moore should he play.
Of course things are never as easy as they sound on paper. The Bears will audible and change the coverage depending on what formation the Saints offense displays, shifting their personell accordingly.
Then there is middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and defensive end Julius Peppers that the Saints must get around, two important players when it comes to executing the Tampa-2 to near lethality.
Earlier in the week Urlacher’s status for the game was unknown after the sudden death of his mother at her home in Texas. It appears now that Urlacher will suit up against the Saints after all.
Expect to see the New Orleans Saints in allot of 3-1-1 (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) formation sets if the Bears give pure Tampa-2 looks. Ultimately safety play will have a huge impact on the game, but expect Drew Brees to challenge both Meriweather and Wright early.