A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Force the third-and-long
The Bears will have their work cut out for them against a Falcons team coming off a 13-3 season last year thanks, in large part, to an offense that was fifth in scoring and is loaded with weapons. The Falcons offense features a solid young quarterback in Matt Ryan and a pair of athletic receivers in Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones to go with veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. But the Bears can’t forget about running back Michael Turner. When Turner is involved in the offense, it opens up things for the passing game, and that’s when Ryan is most dangerous. It’s important for the Bears to take Turner out of the game early and hold runs on first or second down to minimal gains to force third-and-long situations which will help the Bears’ pass rush get to Ryan.
2. Come after Matt Ryan in waves
The Bears have good depth along the defensive line and they’ll need to utilize it against Ryan. Julius Peppers figures to command the most attention as usual, and that puts extra onus on Israel Idonije and Henry Melton to increase the pressure on Ryan. It’s unclear at this point what the rotation will look like, but whatever playing time Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye see at tackle, they’ll need to help collapse the middle of the pocket and disrupt plays. It’s not enough to generate sporadic pressure on a quarterback as good as Ryan. The Bears have to attack in waves so that Ryan never gets completely comfortable and can’t guess from where the pressure is coming.
3. Consume the time of possession
The best defense to combat a good offense is a rested defense, and the Bears can give their defense a break by holding onto the football offensively. We can’t get a good indication from the preseason about what kind of offense Mike Martz will run, which means we don’t know if he’ll revert to a pass-happy attack or if he’ll maintain last year’s balanced approach. But in order to give the defense the break it needs, the offense needs to run the football effectively. With the combination of Matt Forte and Marion Barber, they can do just that.
4. Protect the football
When playing against a good team, the offense cannot afford to cough up the football. The Bears defense didn’t generate many turnovers in the preseason, but take that for what it’s worth. The Falcons’ defense had 22 interceptions last year, the fourth-most in the league in 2010, so we know that they’re capable of taking the ball away. If the Bears can’t win the turnover battle and they give Ryan and the Falcons offense more opportunities than necessary to score points, the Bears will have a hard time winning this game.