Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears preview: Must-win territory


The skeptics are out in full force surrounding the Atlanta Falcons, and with good reason. The team is seemingly spiraling on the heels of back-to-back defeats, and with a 2-3 record, this Sunday’s home match-up against the Chicago Bears seems to be a virtual must-win situation for Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and company. Let’s take a look at what to expect when these two teams take the field in the Georgia Dome in Week 6.

Opponent: Chicago Bears

Time/TV: 4:25 pm ET, FOX

Falcons Offense vs. Bears Defense

I feel like a broken record, but this is the side of the ball where there are far fewer worries. The Falcons are still second in the NFL in passing offense, averaging 319.2 yards per game through the air, and even with the offensive line challenges, the offense certainly wasn’t the problem in New York. Yes, it would be very nice to see Matt Ryan with some additional time, and that should be helped by the assumed return of left guard Justin Blalock. However, it will be crucial for the newly-appointed starters (i.e. Peter Konz and Gabe Carimi) to have solid performances against a Bears defensive front that isn’t littered with All-Pro talent.

On the outside, the Falcons should have the advantage with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Chicago is middle-of-the-pack in pass defense this season, averaging 246.4 yards allowed per game, but they have been torched in some high-profile spots (i.e. last Thursday against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers), and on an individual basis, the Bears should have some issues covering Atlanta’s duo. However, Harry Douglas is a significant question mark for this game, and Devin Hester (who matches up against his former team) will be asked to carry the load despite some injury issues of his own.

The running game has been, shockingly, competent for Atlanta this season, and there is no reason to think that won’t continue here. The Falcons have put together league-average production (17th in the NFL) out of their quartet of running backs, and both Steven Jackson and Antone Smith have exceeded any rational expectation. On the Chicago side, the Bears have actually been far better than many expected, allowing only 116 rushing yards per game, but this is still far from a dominant front.

Falcons Defense vs. Bears Offense

Chicago’s offense has been disappointing this season, and that provides a glimmer of hope for Mike Nolan’s defensive group. The Bears have arguably the best skill personnel in the league, pairing both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside with Matt Forte as the primary ball-carrier, but the results haven’t been outstanding behind Jay Cutler and company. However, we know and understand the defensive limitations put forth by this Falcons defense, and there is cause for concern.

Robert Alford was unceremoniously torched by the Giants last week, and while that was quite possibly a blip on the radar, things won’t get easier for the Falcons cornerbacks against Marshall and Jeffery. On the bright side, both have been limited with injuries that have taken away some of their productivity, but even if Desmond Trufant “wins” the battle on one side, some combination of Alford and Josh Wilson will need to play solidly on the other half of the field.

We knew that the Falcons would have issues in pass defense, simply because they do not have adequate personnel in rushing the passer, but the run defense was supposed to be a strength this season. It hasn’t been.

Atlanta is 28th in the NFL in rush defense, and the high-profile acquisitions along the defensive line haven’t done much to improve the gaping holes. Matt Forte, like most of the offense, has had a “down” year in averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, but he is a highly talented player who can beat you in the passing game as well, and keeping Forte under control while forcing Cutler to win a road game on his own is likely the best chance to escape with a home win.


It doesn’t get much bigger than this. At 2-3, the season is far from over thanks to a weak division, but the Atlanta Falcons do not play another game in the Georgia Dome until November 23rd (as a result of the London game), and that magnifies the importance of holding serve in this spot. The Bears are a talented group that is definitely capable of stealing a game, even in hostile territory, but this could be a “loser leaves town” match for both teams, and Atlanta simply can’t afford to fall to 2-4.

Stay tuned for post-game coverage, and a live game thread that will post on Sunday morning. In addition, be sure to follow ATL All Day for the latest on the Atlanta Falcons.