Bears vs. Saints: What to Watch for on Sunday

For the first time in 18 years, the Bears are one step away from advancing to the Super Bowl. The Saints, billed as the new 'America's Team', stand in their way. Will Rex Grossman finally silence all his critics, or will Drew Brees continue this storybook cajun run? Here are 10 things to watch for on Championship Sunday at Soldier Field.

1. Can Rex Grossman keep it rolling after last week's performance?
Grossman wasn't exactly sensational against Seattle, but he made some crucial plays when his team needed them. He did commit two turnovers, and while that fumble proved once again that he's no Fran Tarkenton, the interception was not his fault. If he can complete 21 of 38 passes for 282 yards again, most Bears fans will take that effort. More than any other player on Sunday, Grossman has the hopes of an entire city on his shoulders. Fortunately for the former Gator, the New Orleans secondary hasn't covered anyone lately and has been hit hard by the big play.

2. Can Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye get consistent pressure?
Brown and Ogunleye have both been heavily srutinized lately for their inability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Against Seattle last Sunday, the two veteran ends responded and were each credited with a sack. Like Matt Hasselbeck, Drew Brees is not exactly fleet of foot but knows how to buy himself an extra second in the pocket. With the Chicago secondary having trouble defending the pass the last quarter of the season, they need some help from the big boys up front. Brown and Ogunleye don't necessarily need to get a bunch of sacks, but hurrying Brees's decision-making is paramount to slowing down the No. 1 offense in the NFL.

3. Will Ron Turner commit to running the ball with Jones and Benson?
Although it doesn't appear that weather will be too much of a factor, the Bears still have to keep the ball on the ground with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson as much as possible. Even if the Saints jump out to an early lead, Turner has to be patient and keep feeding the pigskin to his two tailbacks. New Orleans allowed 4.9 yards per rush during the regular season, an astronomical number for a team within one step of the Super Bowl. Chicago's offensive line is much bigger than the Saints' front four, plus Grossman is one of the best play-action throwers in the league. Perhaps most importantly, time-consuming drives that consistently move the chains will keep Brees & Company on the sideline in the cold.

4. Is Deuce McAllister the X-factor in this football game?
Reggie Bush is the much flashier player, but McAllister is the heart and soul of the New Orleans ground game. Coming off of knee surgery just a season ago, he led the team with 1,057 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns. He was a human bowling ball against Philadelphia in the divisional round, racking up 143 yards on just 21 carries and scoring a pair of TDs. The Bears had all kinds of trouble with Shaun Alexander between the tackles a week ago and obviously miss the presence of Tommie Harris. If McAllister gets 20 attempts, chances are the Saints are having success on the ground, and, chances are, the Monsters of the Midway will lose.

5. Can Bernard Berrian get matched up one-on-one with Fred Thomas?
Berrian is one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL on the deep ball, as evidenced by his 68-yard touchdown catch last week against a depleted Seattle secondary. New Orleans is also having trouble in the defensive backfield, specifically Thomas at cornerback. The 33-year-old veteran has been torched the last few games and surrendered a 75-yard scoring strike to Philly's Donte' Stallworth just a week ago. Grossman has plenty of arm strength and no shame when it comes to taking shots down the field with the odds in his favor. Thomas will not be able to run with Berrian and could be susceptible to longer patterns in single coverage.

6. Why does it seem like Chris Harris can't tackle anymore?
Harris was a pleasant surprise as a first-year player in 2005, taking over for Mike Green at free safety and coming up with a handful of big plays. But with the emergence of rookie Danieal Manning and the loss of Mike Brown in Week 6, Harris was moved over to strong safety. It was assumed that he would be a natural fit because he's stronger than he is fast and supports the run better than he defends the pass. Harris may have been credited with seven tackles - six of them solo - last week against Seattle, but he came up empty time and time again. He has a tendency of taking bad angles to the football, and that problem will only get worse if a talent like Bush is slicing through the secondary.

7. Will Desmond Clark be a part of the offense once again?
If you look at the numbers, Grossman tends to play his best when his dependable tight end is heavily involved in the attack. Clark caught a pair of touchdown passes in Week 8 against San Francisco and again in Week 15 facing Tampa Bay, and those were arguably Grossman's two best outings of the season. However, Clark caught just one pass for 13 yards last week and wasn't much of a factor. The New Orleans secondary will have to keep their focus on the game-breaking ability of Berrian on the outside, which could leave the middle of the field fairly open. If Clark catches four or five balls on Sunday, that should be a very good sign for Grossman and Bears fans alike.

8. Any chance weather wreaks havoc on a dome team like the Saints?
Although an inch or two of snow is in the forecast and the temperature should hover between 25 and 30 degrees, it should be fairly calm at Soldier Field. The Saints curiously practiced indoors all week back in Louisiana, while the Bears were outside in Lake Forest on Wednesday and Thursday. Brees played his college football at Purdue and shouldn't have any problems adjusting, but Bush could have some of his open-field abilities neutralized on a snowy and slick surface. Those cutbacks and spin moves won't be quite as effective as they might be at the Superdome, especially with lightning bolts like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs gunning for him. The bruising, straight-ahead, no-nonsense approach of McAllister should have the Bears much more worried.

9. What are the odds there are as many no-shows as last week?
To the surprise of many, 6,659 ticket-holders failed to come through the turnstiles at Soldier Field. The weather can't be blamed - it was a fairly tame 32 degrees at game time with no precipitation in the area. The Bears may be the No. 1 seed and have the best record in the NFC, but fans of the team are still uneasy with what they have seen and appear to be expecting the worst. Plus, this franchise had lost three straight home postseason games dating back to 1991 and broke a lot of hearts in the process. Many of those demons should have been exorcised after last week's triumph over Seattle, so expect a capacity crowd for the NFC Championship Game.

10. Is this finally the year that the Bears head back to the Super Bowl?
Although the Bears are 2.5-point favorites according to the oddsmakers, the majority of the experts out there seem to be picking the Saints in a mild upset. Brees led his team on a magical journey in the wake of last year's Hurricane Katrina disaster, helping put smiles back on some faces down in creole country. Chicago appeared to be the team to beat halfway through the season, but they looked infinitely more fallible down the stretch despite the fact that they continued to win. But the result of this game will have less to do with blackened voodoo and more to do with the Bears' ability to stop the Saints' high-powered offense. That being said, New Orleans could be that proverbial team of destiny.



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