NFL football is back. We begin by previewing the Week 1 games and will start with the matchup at Soldier Field (1 EST) between the Chicago Bears hosting the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
Falcons Passing Game versus Bears Defense
Atlanta has a high powered passing attack led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Atlanta scored 33.8 PPG (top 10 in NFL history) and couldn’t be stopped until the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan was the league MVP with an incredible 117.1 QB rating tossing 38 TDs with 7 interceptions on 534 attempts.
Ryan should still have plenty of weapons with Julio Jones (1,409 yards and 6 TDs), 2016 free agent signing Mohammed Sanu (653 yards and 4 TDs), deep threat Taylor Gabriel (579 yards and 6 TDs) and second year tight end Austin Hooper (271 yards and 3 TDs in limited action due to injury). Devonta Freeman (462 yards and 2 TDs) and Tevin Coleman (421 yards and 3 TDs) can both be weapons as receiving running backs. The Falcons are loaded to test the Bears secondary and linebackers.
The Bears upgraded their secondary after allowing a 93.5 rating in 2016 (23rd). The Bears get 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller back and added free agents Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper (nickel) to the corner back group. Bryce Callahan was solid in 2016 as well and will get some playing time at nickel too. These corners have some talent but have been beaten plenty of times in the past. They all must step up their game or the Bears will continue to struggle in pass defense, despite the sweeping changes.
Strong safety Quentin Demps was a good player for the Texans added in free agency and will pair with free safety Adrian Amos. The Bears have a better secondary than previous seasons but the Falcons may still have too much firepower. Fuller, Amukamara and Cooper will be under heavy fire.
Bears Pass Rush
The Bears must generate pass rush to have even a chance to slow down the Falcons. Second year player Leonard Floyd, veteran Willie Young, Eddie Goldman (NT), Akiem Hicks (DE with 7 sacks) and Pernell McPhee must be up to the task. They have the talent to be good pass rushers but didn’t execute at all times in 2016 due to inexperience and injury (McPhee). Trevathan and Freeman can blitz well from ILB too. The Bears need sacks and consistent pressure to help their secondary. Floyd must take the next step and provide double digit sacks with consistent pressure in year 2.
The Falcons have good offensive tackles in Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder to limit the Bears OLB/DE pass rush. Alex Mack is a good center as well and Andy Levitre is a solid left guard. Wes Schweitzer is the weak link as the new right guard. Chicago must figure out a way to beat Matthews and Schraeder and focus on beating Schweitzer in his first game.
Bears Run Defense
Chicago allowed 4.4 YPC in 2016 and Atlanta ran the ball well with Freeman (4.8 YPC for 1,079 yards and 11 TDs) and Coleman (520 yards at 4.4 YPC with 8 TDs). Chicago needs to limit the run game or Atlanta will blow the game wide open. Goldman (NT) returning from injury along with Trevathan and Freeman at ILB should be good news for the Bears run defense. Hicks and Unrein must hold their two gaps at 3-4 DE. If the Falcons get their running game firing on all cylinders, Atlanta should score 28 or more points though.
Bears Rushing Attack
The Bears have firepower in the run game to match Atlanta. Jordan Howard had a great rookie season with 1,313 yards at 5.2 YPC with 6 TDS. Howard is a beast and very underrated. The Bears have a good interior line with Sitton, Whitehair and Long but average tackles in Leno Jr. and Massie.
The Falcons allowed 4.5 YPC which is a weakness. However, Atlanta added nose tackle Dontari Poe (KC) to shore up this problem in the offseason to team with Grady Jarrett at DT. Poe at nose with Beasley (DE/LB), Deion Jones and Campbell at LB will be tough to run against. Keanu Neal will be in the box in his second year at strong safety.
Howard should have a nice day despite the addition of Poe but Atlanta is improved in run defense. Rookie 4th round pick Tarik Cohen is a nice change of pace back with good moves and speed to make people miss. Cohen should be a nice weapon for Chicago to compliment Howard. We’ll see if the Bears can execute in the run game. They need the run game to open things up for new QB Mike Glennon or it will be a very long day for the Bears new offense.
Bears Passing Attack versus Falcons Coverage
Chicago’s big weakness will be its passing attack. The Bears lost Alshon Jeffrey to free agency and leading WR Cameron Meredith to a knee injury. First round pick from 2015 Kevin White must finally be worth that top 10 pick. If he doesn’t live up to expectations and stay healthy, the Bears will be in big trouble on offense. It’s now or never for Kevin White.
Mike Glennon is the Bears starting QB after being the backup the last two seasons for Tampa Bay. Glennon must prove why the Bears gave him starter money or fans will be calling for first round pick Mitch Trubisky pretty quickly. Glennon made some questionable decisions and must avoid turnovers. Turnovers are what killed the Bears offense and ended the Jay Cutler era. We’ll see if Glennon avoids the same fate.
Chicago has solid tight ends in Zach Miller, Dion Sims and rookie Adam Sheehan. The Bears will rely heavily on tight ends with Meredith hurt. Kendall Wright won the slot job and has had success in the past with the Titans. Markus Wheaton is a deep threat so maybe the Bears take a few shots if they can get time for Glennon.
Desmond Trufant returns for Atlanta and Robert Alford is a solid number 2 CB. They shouldn’t have trouble with the Bears wide outs. The Bears will need the tight ends to have good games against Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and rookie Duke Riley at LB. Howard running well and the tight ends picking up first downs will be how the Bears move the ball. Brian Poole takes over for the suspended Jalen Collins so Kendall Wright has a chance for a good game in the slot.
Falcons Pass Rush
This will be how the Falcons win the game. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and rookie Takk McKinley will provide a pass rush. They shouldn’t have trouble beating Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. If Glennon is under pressure, he will have a poor day.
Falcons have just too much firepower. The Bears hang around with some defense and Jordan Howard but the Falcons offense gets it going in the second half with the aid of a crucial Mike Glennon interception.