Injury Report: Bears vs. Saints

The Bears host the Saints on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. Chicago is coming off a thrilling 27-24 overtime win against Seattle, while New Orleans got past Philadelphia by the same score. The Saints are coached by Naperville native Sean Payton, who also played for the Bears during the 1987 strike season. Let's take a closer look at the injuries and their impact on this game.

BEARS - S Mike Brown (foot), WR Airese Currie (foot), DT Dusty Dvoracek (foot), DT Tommie Harris (hamstring), FB Bryan Johnson (leg), S Brandon McGowan (Achilles), Jamar Williams (shoulder)
SAINTS - LB James Allen (knee), P Mitch Berger (pelvis), TE Ernie Conwell (knee), S Roman Harper (knee), OG Augie Hoffman (ankle), RB Keith Joseph (knee), RB Fred McAfee (undisclosed), DE Rob Ninkovich (knee), LB Tommy Polley (shoulder), OT Chad Setterstrom (knee)

BEARS - none
SAINTS - none

BEARS - none
SAINTS - none

BEARS - WR Mark Bradley (ankle)
SAINTS - TE Mark Campbell (knee), WR Joe Horn (groin), S Omar Stoutmire (hip)

BEARS - DE Adewale Ogunleye (quadriceps)
SAINTS - none

Bears Offense vs. Saints Defense
Fullback Jason McKie aggravated an ankle injury and missed a chunk of time against the Seahawks. Backup tight end Gabe Reid has been getting the reps while McKie has been hurt. Minor aches and pains for left tackle John Tait and running back Thomas Jones appear to have gotten better thanks to the bye week. Tait's matchup with defensive end Will Smith (10.5 sacks) is going to be a key. Wide receiver Mark Bradley suffered an ankle injury last week against the Seahawks. Game analysts who have focused on the Saints' prolific offense and Rex Grossman's mercurial season may miss this fact: New Orleans was actually second in scoring in the NFC to Chicago (427-413).

The Saints defense is led by underrated outside linebackers Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita. Apart from being their leading tacklers, they have also contributed 7.5 sacks. Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie leads a secondary that allows only 178 passing yards per game but has only come up with 11 interceptions. Safety Omar Stoutmire (hip) has not seen action in roughly a month. The Saints are hoping to have him back in action. In his stead, Jay Bellamy has responded to the call with solid play. Lovie Smith is familiar with defensive tackle Brian Young (6 sacks) from their St. Louis days. Young can be overpowered against the run but may present problems for right guard Roberto Garza on passing downs.

New Orleans allowed an average of 160 yards rushing through their first five losses. Look for the Bears to control the clock with a steady dose of Jones and Cedric Benson to keep the Saints' high-powered offense on the sideline. The running game should set the hook for play-action against a secondary that might be better on paper than it is in reality. The Saints will bring a variety of blitzes against both the run and pass to take advantage of the speed of their linebackers.

Bears Defense vs. Saints Offense
The return to health of safety Todd Johnson (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (back) came at just the right time. Tillman played the entire game against Seattle, while Johnson was used sparingly. Rookie Marques Colston (6'4", 231 pounds) presents the kind of physical challenge Tillman should draw. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye suffered a quadriceps injury last week. He'll face off with tackle Jon Stinchcomb. The injury to Ogunleye means additional time for rookie pass rusher Mark Anderson (12 sacks).

The Saints offense is led by the league's top passer in Drew Brees (356-554, 4418 yards, 26 touchdowns). Brees commands an aerial assault averaging 281 yards per game. Veteran wide receiver Joe Horn has missed significant time recovering from a groin injury. The Saints are deep at receiver. Apart from deploying sensational rookie Reggie Bush (88-742, 2 touchdowns) in the slot, they can also line up with speedster Devery Henderson (32-745, 5 touchdowns, 23.3 yards per catch) or Terrance Copper to pick up the slack.

The Saints will utilize Colston in a fashion similar to the way Arizona peppered the Bears with short passes to Anquan Boldin. Sure tackling is going to be more important than ever. In their first five losses of the year, New Orleans had a minus-13 turnover differential. They were plus-9 the rest of the season. The Bears led the NFL with 44 forced turnovers. Expect the Bears to give the duo of run-stopping tackles Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone extra reps to shut down the middle, allowing Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to use their speed to cut off plays on the edge.

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