Bears offense vs. Falcons defense
If the Bears are to win this game and get some vindication, they’ll need to rely on this matchup getting them there. The Falcons are a good team, but it’s their defense that is their weak spot. The Bears should be able to move the ball effectively through the air against a Falcons defense that is allowing 228.8 passing yards per game, the 11th-worst total in the league. The Bears will have to beware John Abraham, who has always been a monster and finished last year with 16.5 sacks, but the Falcons as a unit have only recorded 8 sacks this year, which ranks them No. 25 in that department. I expect Matt Forte to find a few holes to exploit as well because the Falcons are an even worse run defense, at least statistically. They rank No. 24 against the run and have given up an average of 127 yards per game. Running the ball — or at least sustaining long drives with short passing routes that act as run plays — is crucial to the success of the Bears in this game because it’s imperative they limit the amount of time the Falcons’ offense spends on the field. They’re not going to be perfect — no offense usually is — but I like the Bears’ chances of pushing the Falcons to the limit and winning in a shootout if need be.
Bears defense vs. Falcons offense
Former Bear and current NFL Network and FOX analyst Tom Waddle called this game a bad matchup for the Bears. Pro Football Weekly publisher and editor Hub Arkush said likewise, and also picked the Falcons over the Bears as his lock of the week. All but one of ESPN’s panel of experts picked the Falcons to win this game. And yours truly has serious reservations about this game as well. The reason is the same for everybody involved, and that’s this matchup pitting the Bears’ defense against the Falcons’ offense. This is what is going to determine the outcome of the game — most likely; there are often surprises in every game. The Falcons looked good offensively through their first three games but took it to a much higher level last week by pummeling the 49ers, 45-10. In that game, Matt Ryan completed 68% of his passes and threw for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns, receiver Roddy White caught 8 passes for 210 yards and 2 scores, and Michael Turner rushed for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns. That was against a pretty good 49ers defense. The Bears are just a little better than that, though. They have a pretty good run defense for the second straight year, currently ranked No. 9 in the league while allowing 93.5 yards per game. While Turner could break off big runs on any play, I’m not as worried about him as I am about the Bears’ pass defense. All season, they’ve been gashed for big plays and have stayed on the field for far too long. They gave up 21 points to a developing Lions offense in the first half two weeks ago. Now they face an established offense with many more playmakers.
The Bears have the No. 1 kickoff return team in the league, aided by the explosive Johnny Knox who returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown against the Lions. The Falcons are currently ranked No. 1 in the league in kickoff coverage. The matchup alone isn’t as sexy as, say, a No. 1 offense facing a No. 1 defense, but this should be pretty fun to watch. Obviously, as Bears fans, we have no intention of seeing much of the Bears’ kickoff return team. If we could have it our way, we’d see them just one time, when the Falcons kick off to start the first or second half. That would mean the Bears would shut out the Falcons. While nothing is impossible, that’s not going to happen. So we should get a couple looks at this battle and I think the Bears will take advantage. Of course, we know how well Brad Maynard is punting and he’ll need another great effort to pin the Falcons’ offense deep in its own territory and make them work harder. Robbie Gould is 86% this year in field goals, whereas Jason Elam is 67%. In last year’s game, the Falcons had the better special teams. It’s a new year and the Bears go into this game with the slight edge.
Since the Mike Smith era began in Atlanta, the Falcons have lost just one game in ten tries at home. The crowd volume obviously plays a factor in how opponents play on the road. The Bears have faced a pair of opponents in the Packers and Seahawks that have loud stadiums, so the communication shouldn’t be a big issue. The fact that the game is being played on turf may actually help the Bears as they’re a team built on speed. Yes, the Falcons’ offense will be faster and more explosive, but so will the Bears’ defense. The Falcons have already moved on from their victory last year, as most winning teams do. They have nothing to prove from last year and are instead focused on accumulating a conference win and gaining the tiebreaker over the Bears should these two teams be tied at season’s end and are both in the playoff hunt. Aside from Lovie Smith, who claims his team is focused on this year, many of the Bears still have last year on their mind and will try to use it as extra motivation. It might work and it might not, but one thing is for certain: the Bears will need all the help they can get to win this game. We’ll know for sure if they’re the real deal or not as they face their stiffest challenge to date. I think they’ll keep it close, but the Falcons are just a little better at this point.
Final Score: Atlanta 24, Chicago 23