Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints: 5 storylines to watch in Week 9

Can the Bears ignore more off-the-field distractions this week?

Chicago Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent throws a pass during the first half  against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif.

LAKE FOREST – The last time the Bears played in New Orleans, Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy lost a playoff game, 21-9, against Drew Brees and the Saints in January 2021.

The Bears haven’t been back to the playoffs since.

They will, however, be back in New Orleans this weekend. The Bears and the Saints square off in a Week 9 matchup at the Caesars Superdome. The Bears haven’t won a game in Louisiana since November 2005.

Head coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears will look to rebound from last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Saints are coming off a high-scoring win over the Indianapolis Colts last week. Quarterback Justin Fields returned to practice Friday but is unlikely to play Sunday. Backup Tyson Bagent likely will start in his place.

The game kicks off at noon Sunday and will be broadcast on CBS. Here are five storylines to watch for in Week 9.

1. Saints defense presents a challenge

With Bagent making his third start for the Bears, Sunday’s matchup has the potential to be a tough one. The Saints’ defense is stingy. The Saints rank in the top 10 in points against, total yards against and passing yards against. Teams average only 5.6 yards per pass play against the Saints, which is the third-best mark among NFL defenses.

Bagent had an up-and-down night against the Chargers last week, when he was forced to throw the ball more because the Bears were playing from behind. This could be a similar situation where the Bears will try to lean on their run game with D’Onta Foreman. But if they fall behind, Bagent will be forced to throw the football downfield.

The Saints have a top-five interception rate at 3.3% of opponents pass attempts. Eight Saints have had at least one interception this season. Defensive end Carl Granderson leads the Saints with 5.5 sacks.

This matchup doesn’t bode well.

2. How does Montez Sweat look?

Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat runs during a game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, September 24, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. The Chicago Bears acquired Sweat on Tuesday in exchange for a 2024 second-round pick.

The Bears made one of the splash moves at Tuesday’s trade deadline when they sent a 2024 second-round draft pick to Washington in exchange for defensive end Montez Sweat. General manager Ryan Poles said that for a while he didn’t even think Sweat would be available. Here’s more on why the Bears made this move now.

Sweat is expected to make his Bears debut Sunday. It’s a quick turnaround for a player who was on another team only a few days ago, but the transition is easier for a position where the primary goal is to go tackle the quarterback. The Bears view Sweat as an all-around player who will be valuable against the run and the pass. It’s possible he’s on a limited snap count, but the Bears haven’t said much.

“He’s been ramped up in there, looks really good during the course of this week,” Eberflus said. “He’s been in there with our ones, with our twos, with our rush group, and he’s picking up things really fast.”

How will this pass rush look with its new addition? Does Sweat change the equation for fellow pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker?

This will be Bears fans first look at him. Fans should keep an eye out for No. 98.

3. More distractions

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson comes off the field after his first of two interceptions, a pick six, during their game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

It was another distraction-filled week for the Bears at Halas Hall. There was little talk of the Saints and more to do with off-the-field questions.

The Bears fired running backs coach David Walker for inappropriate conduct at work. He became the second assistant coach to leave the team midseason under murky circumstances. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned abruptly in late September.

“This is the first time something like this has ever happened,” safety Eddie Jackson said in regards to having two coaches leave midseason. “It’s just tough, though. You just got to remain locked in. I don’t know the words to say because we don’t really know what’s going on.”

Additionally, starting cornerback Jaylon Johnson requested a trade this week ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. The Bears, ultimately, did not trade Johnson. His camp and general manager Ryan Poles appear to still be on different pages when it comes to a contract extension, but Johnson will play out the final nine games of his contract.

With all that going on, football seemed to take a backseat this week. Poles addressed the media this week and said he remains fully behind Eberflus and his staff.

“That’s powerful, and I feel the same way about him,” Eberflus said Friday. “He is a strong man, a strong leader, he does an excellent job. We work hand-in-hand to really have that leadership in the building, and the whole organization, including Kevin [Warren] and George [McCaskey]. That’s where culture comes from.”

4. Missing pieces on defense

Chicago Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Las Vegas Raiders pass during their game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears’ defense will be without starting linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jaquan Brisker. Edmunds is dealing with a knee injury he suffered last week against the Chargers. Brisker will miss his second consecutive game with a concussion.

The Bears expect linebacker Jack Sanborn to fill in for Edmunds this week. Sanborn saw significant action during the second half of last season but has played a more limited role since the Bears signed Edmunds and T.J. Edwards in free agency.

Jackson is expected to return to action at safety after missing significant time with a foot injury.

They will be tasked with trying to slow a passing attack that, statistically, ranks in the top 10 behind quarterback Derek Carr. The Saints have several weapons, most notably receiver Chris Olave and running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara is extremely dangerous as a pass catcher coming out of the backfield.

5. Is this Bagent’s last start?

With Fields back at practice Friday, this could be Bagent’s last start for the foreseeable future. The Bears have a quick turnaround next week with a Thursday night matchup against Carolina looming.

Is that enough time for Fields to return to action?

“It’s day to day and then the trainers, [it’s] where the trainers say he is,” Eberflus said. “We work through it and look at it is as a coaching staff and say, ‘Hey, this is where his is. He’s accurate. Looks good. Everything looks on point,’ and go from there.”

The Bears likely will have a light week of practice next week. Practices during a Thursday game week are typically all or almost all walkthroughs. Does that really give Fields enough time to be game ready? It’s especially worth considering if giving him an extra nine days off after the Thursday game would be worthwhile for his injured thumb.

For now, however, this is Bagent’s offense to run. Bagent has stepped in and played well enough for a backup making his first starts.

“Certainly having Tyson, with the way he operates the offense and his functionality in our offense in terms of just operating, it’s been a big positive,” Eberflus said.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.