A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Put constant pressure on Matt Ryan
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked twice by the Miami Dolphins in the season opener and has barely been touched since. His two sacks are tied with four other quarterbacks for the league lead in fewest sacks. To say his offensive line has done a good job protecting him would be an understatement. This is the week we find out for sure if Rod Marinelli’s impact has truly been felt — the Bears are fourth in the league and second in the NFC with 14 sacks — or if the first quarter success was a result of facing poor offensive lines. Ryan is too good a quarterback to be given unlimited time in the pocket. We saw what Lions rookie Matthew Stafford did to the Bears in the first half when the defense didn’t even breathe on him. Stafford could have had an even bigger day if he hadn’t misfired on several passes down field that could have resulted in big plays. Ryan is a better quarterback and will connect on those types of passes, so the Bears have to pressure him all game, even if they can’t manage to sack him.
2. Keep the Falcons’ offense off the field
It’s an old NFL adage. The opponent’s offense cannot score points from the sideline. And, the best kind of defense is a better offense. I don’t want to see or hear about Ryan for any more time than necessary. Neither him, nor Michael Turner, nor Tony Gonzalez, nor Roddy White, nor Michael Jenkins… you get the point. In fact, the less we see of Ryan with his helmet on and the more we see him wearing a baseball cap on the sideline the better. The best way to chew up clock and keep the opponent’s offense on the sideline is to run the football. We know the Bears haven’t done so well this year in that department, but they might be able to find some lanes this week. The Falcons are ranked No. 24 against the run having allowed 127 yards per game. If they can’t get Forte in motion, fine. Go with the short-passing game and get Devin Hester and Johnny Knox out in space with the ball in their hands. It’s simple math. The more drives the Falcons have, the more chances they have to score.
3. Play a full 60 minutes
I’m getting sick of talking about it, writing about it, hearing about it, and thinking about it. But until this week passes, it’s inevitable. The Bears took a one-point lead over the Falcons last year with 11 seconds to go in the game. And they lost. Thus, the cliche of football being a 60-minute game was proven true. The Bears seemed to have trouble all last season with finishing games. This season, the opposite is haunting them. They’ve been quite good at finishing, with the exception of Week 1 against the Packers, and have outscored opponents 67-26 in the second half of games this year. They have not started particularly well, though, getting outscored 31-7 in the first quarter of games up to this point. The best way for the Bears to pick up a victory on the road against a good opponent is to jump out to an early lead and then close out the game with a strong fourth quarter. If the Bears climb into an early hole against the Falcons just as they’ve done all season, Atlanta is a good enough team to put them away early while keeping their foot on the pedal.
4. Make the Falcons work for their yards and points
Atlanta is going to have success in this game, of that I’m sure. They’re too good a team and they’re playing at home and they’re coming off a blowout over the 49ers which should have them extremely confident with a lot of momentum on their side. But, just because it seems inevitable they’ll move the ball and put points on the board, that doesn’t mean the Bears can afford to let them do it quickly. It all starts with field position. If Brad Maynard can continue to down his punts inside the 20, that will force the Falcons to move that much farther to score. Obviously, in a perfect world, the Bears would hold the Falcons to three-and-outs, but that’s not realistic all the time. The more third downs the Bears can generate, though, the better. Finally, the Bears need to limit the amount of big plays the Falcons generate. Not only are they downers for the defense, but they’re tremendous confidence boosters for the offense. The safeties need to keep everything in front of them to prevent the big pass, and the defense as a whole needs to tackle well and fill their lanes to prevent Turner from breaking off big gains.