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Bears, Saints pack 1-2 punches at running back

CHICAGO -- When it comes to stopping the run, the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints are in for some double trouble.

Both teams feature a one-two punch at running back that could decide the outcome of today's NFC Championship Game.

The Bears and Saints each have a 1,000-yard rusher in Thomas Jones and Deuce McAllister, respectively. Jones gained 1,210 yards and scored six touchdowns. McAllister came back strong from a major knee injury to post 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Cedric Benson ably backed up Jones with 647 yards and six touchdowns, while Reggie Bush totaled 565 yards rushing, 742 yards receiving and nine total TDs as McAllister's understudy.

"Run and stop the run. That saying is as old as football itself," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. "There's no question that the team that does both well is going to win this game."

The Bears ranked sixth against the run during the regular season, but they allowed 108 yards and two touchdowns to Seattle's Shaun Alexander in last week's divisional playoff game.

If the Bears couldn't stop Alexander, what are they going to do against the Saints' one-two punch? The 6-foot-1, 232-pound McAllister is a power back who grinds out tough yards between the tackles. He rushed for 143 yards against the Eagles last week.

Bush (5-11, 203 pounds) is more effective in space, and his breakaway speed makes him a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball.

"Our No. 1 concern is stopping Deuce McAllister," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We want to stop the run every week. So he is our main concern right now, especially after what he did last week."

While the Bears fear McAllister most, they are concerned about Bush's game-breaking skills.

"Somebody asked me to describe him," Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said of Bush. "I had an immediate nightmare of Barry Sanders. You have to have a body on him immediately or you could be in trouble with his speed."

The Saints know they will have their hands full as well, trying to contain Jones and Benson.

The 5-10, 215-pound Jones, who scored twice in last week's playoff win, is an elusive back with good quickness and balance. Benson is a bruising power runner who uses his 5-11, 220-pound frame to pound defenses.

Jones accounted for 58.8 percent of the Bears' 503 rushing attempts this season, but Benson took on a larger role in the running game down the stretch. In the last four regular-season games, Benson had more carries (59) and yards (275) than Jones and had his first 100-yard game in the NFL during the season finale against Green Bay.

"Jones is a good back who breaks a lot of tackles," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. "Benson is a real load when he starts running downhill, and they have been getting him more involved in the offense. Whoever is in the game, we have to play physical, stay in our gaps and hustle to the ball."

Not to be overlooked is the explosive potential of the passing games. The Saints had an NFL-high 65 pass plays of 20 yards or more, including 17 for touchdowns. The Bears had 50 20-yard-plus completions with 10 TDs.

"Both teams can throw the ball," Saints defensive end Will Smith said. "But the run game sets everything up. We have to take that away and make them one dimensional."


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