Bears offense vs. Falcons defense
What once was considered a laughing stock from football pundits nationwide has begun to garner respect. Kyle Orton and the Bears’ passing offense has looked much more than respectable; it’s looked formidable. Not that we should have expected anything less the past two weeks, but while Philadelphia and Detroit were stacking the box to stop Matt Forte, Orton completed 61% of his passes (42-of-68) for 533 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It’s a simple formula for success: you run the football until they take it away from you. When they do, you make them pay through the air. If you can’t pass in those situations, you won’t win. I honestly don’t see any reason why the Bears can’t continue what they’ve been doing. Atlanta’s defense is 21st against the run and 22nd against the pass. The groundwork is laid for the Bears to have offensive success in the game, and I expect they will unless they shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers. Last week against the Packers, the Falcons gave up 313 passing yards and 104 rushing yards on 23 carries (4.5 avg). Realistically, the Packers should have won if they had gotten pressure on Matt Ryan, which we’ll get to in the next section.
Bears defense vs. Falcons offense
The Falcons have the league’s leading rusher in Michael Turner and the Bears have the 4th best run defense. Given that the Bears have employed an effective strategy of bringing linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to the line of scrimmage and have lined them up in various gaps to confuse the offense, I expect the Bears to contain the Falcons’ run game. Pay attention to the front four, because I believe the success for the entire team will be determined by them. If the front four can put pressure on Matt Ryan and rattle the rookie, the Falcons won’t have success moving the ball. Ryan has looked like the typical rookie quarterback, going through peaks and valleys. When he’s not pressured, as was the case last week against the Packers, he can look like a good quarterback. When a defense attacks him, he’ll make mistakes. Forget about Michael Turner. The key is getting a pass rush on Ryan. Because if the Bears let Ryan get comfortable in the pocket, they’ll be able to move the ball and have a balanced offensive attack. If Ryan is under constant pressure, Turner can’t carry the offensive load by himself. If the Bears’ defensive scheme has been good enough to confuse veteran quarterbacks the likes of Peyton Manning, Jake Delhomme, and Donovan McNabb, I’m sure they’ll be able to get in the head of the Falcons’ rookie. And as for Turner, sure, he racked up over 200 yards in Week 1 against the Lions and over 100 yards against the Chiefs, two of the worst run defenses in the league. But when he’s faced good run defenses, he’s been contained. Against Carolina, he rushed for just 56 yards. And against Tampa Bay, he picked up 42.
On a side note, pay attention to Alex Brown if he gets a sack Sunday. He’ll almost surely do his “Gator chop”, because I’m confident he watched from his Atlanta hotel room as his alma mater, Florida, beat up LSU Saturday night.
Call it a hunch, or maybe just wishful thinking, but I believe this is the week that Devin Hester ends his drought and will return a kick for a touchdown. That is, unless the Falcons kick the ball away from him. Almost every team this year has done a good job of neutralizing Hester and not letting him get good looks on returns. Hester will be indoors this week on a fast track and I know Dave Toub’s guys have just been aching to spring Hester loose for a score. Nevertheless, it’s become a weekly tradition, but Robbie Gould’s kicking, Brad Maynard’s punting, and Toub’s coverage and return teams are among the best in the game. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the best long snapper in the game, Patrick Mannelly.
If there’s one intangible that the Falcons have — aside from home field advantage — that gives them an edge over the Bears, it’s extra confidence. And a confident team is a dangerous team. This Falcons team racked up a big road victory last week at Lambeau Field and are feeling an air of invincibility right now. But sometimes, excessive confidence gives a team false hope. They could be in for a rude awakening Sunday, let their guard down, and that’s when the Bears are at their best at forcing turnovers and capitalizing off of them. You see, the Bears have a quiet confidence about their own ability to play with anybody in the league. Last week against a bad Detroit team, the Bears successfully played without Tommie Harris or Nathan Vasher. This week, they could have both of those players back, Harris almost definitely. And a deep corps of defensive tackles rotating in and out of the game will keep the rookie Ryan uneasy all game. While I think this game could be a blowout for the Bears, it’s better to protect my hind by keeping the score close.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Atlanta 20