|IR/PUP/NFI||S Cameron Worrell (IR-shoulder); LB Marcus Reese (IR-shoulder); LB Rod Wilson (IR-knee); WR Airese Currie (NFI-foot); FB Jason McKie (NFI-pectoral); FB Bryan Johnson (PUP-foot); CB Alfonso Marshall (PUP-knee); LB Joe Odom (IR-ankle); WR Mark Bradley (IR-knee).||LB James Allen (IR-knee); RB Deuce McAllister (IR-knee); S Jay Bellamy (IR-shoulder); WR Michael Lewis (IR-knee); WR Chase Lyman (IR-knee); OT Jon Stinchcomb (IR-knee), TE Boo Williams (IR-knee).|
|Out||QB Rex Grossman (ankle); WR Bernard Berrian (thumb).||None.|
|Questionable||OG Ruben Brown (pectoral).||TE Ernie Conwell (knee); WR Az-Zahir Hakim (ribs); CB Mike McKenzie (shoulder); TE Shad Meier (hip); LB T.J. Slaughter (groin).|
|Probable||P Brad Maynard (calf); DT Tommie Harris (groin).||None.|
Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton is coming off his best game of the season. With last week's start (Orton's seventh); he has surpassed the injured Rex Grossman (ankle) in starts. Orton lost target Mark Bradley to a knee injury last week which cost him the season. Justin Gage, who Bradley beat out, will regain to his starting role. Gage will likely be working against Mike McKenzie, who has a sore shoulder but is expected to play. Returning to practice this week is Airese Currie, a rookie speedster who has not been among the actives because of off season foot surgery. Currie could be activated as soon as this week. The Bears have also auditioned veteran wide receiver Charles Lee. Rookie Josh Bullocks has stepped in at safety since Jay Bellamy went on injured reserve. Former Cardinal Ron McKinnon has been starting at middle linebacker for Courtney Watson for disciplinary reasons stemming from his being late for team meetings and compounded by his recent DUI. Linebacker depth is an issue for New Orleans, since James Allen is out for the season and T.J. Slaughter is slowed by a groin injury, Sedrick Hodge and Colby Buckwoldt have been under a great deal of pressure to stop the run behind a defensive line that is often more concerned about getting sacks than playing both the run and pass.
Fullbacks Bryan Johnson and Jason McKie have returned to practice (PUP). Determinations will be made for each player's status within the next few weeks. In their place, Marc Edwards has delivered key blocks and receptions since his insertion into the lineup in the preseason. Left guard Ruben Brown is making slow but steady progress in his recovery from a partially torn pectoral. Roberto Garza has played well enough for Brown to keep the offense on track. He'll match up with Willie Whitehead. Running back Thomas Jones has turned the corner on a knee injury suffered a few weeks ago, but now has a rib injury which is not expected to slow him down. He was removed from the injury report on Thursday. Rookie Cedric Benson will likely see more time to spell Jones.
The Saints struggle to stop the run (134 yards per game). They're also allowing 28 points per contest. The Bears will keep to their conservative, balanced attack and seek to exploit the Saints' deficiencies. The Saints have good pass rushers on their defensive line. How they utilize them to pressure Kyle Orton and how the Bears buy Orton time will be a key to the game. If the Bears resort to max protection to block four pass rushers, Orton could struggle to find open receivers against nickel and dime coverage in passing situations. If that occurs, the Bears could benefit from continuing to roll out Orton, and also from utilizing the draw.
Antowain Smith and former Bear Aaron Stecker have stepped in for Deuce McAllister (knee) to keep the Saints rushing over 120 rushing yards per game. Stecker has had some issues with his ankle since his workload increased, but returned to practice Thursday. Stecker's ability to cut back against the grain will be a good challenge for the Bear defense. Wide receiver Joe Horn is back after missing more than a month with a hamstring pull. Horn will face Charles Tillman, The NFC's Defensive Player of the Week. Tillman scored the game-ending touchdown on an overtime interception last week in Detroit. While Horn was hurt, Donte' Stallworth (35-511, 2 touchdowns) stepped up his play. Tillman was removed from the report on Thursday (quadriceps). Az-Zahir Hakim caught 17 pass for 293 yards in 3 starts prior to missing last week's contest (ribs).
Tight ends Ernie Conwell and Shad Meier are questionable. Conwell had to step into the starting role when Boo Williams was lost for the year with a knee injury. The Bears' defensive line is as healthy as they have been in over a month. They should be chomping at the bit to get after the mercurial Aaron Brooks. The Saints have allowed 25 sacks, and have benched guard Jermane Mayberry for Montrae Holland. Holland will be tasked with stopping Tommie Harris, who was added to the injury report on Thursday (groin). Bears' punter Brad Maynard is nursing a calf injury that has negated his ability to kick for distance.
The Saints may be wounded, but they are very dangerous. Aaron Brooks can be one of the most difficult quarterbacks in the NFL to defend. The Bears' secondary will be tested, as will the discipline of the defensive line in terms of containing Brooks and keeping gap control against the cutbacks of Stecker. Expect the Bears to apply pressure to Brooks from all angles, since his breakdowns in protection have been evenly dispersed.