I’ll try to post a handful of matchups that favor the Falcons as well as their opponents for each game they play this year. The Falcons open the season against the Chicago Bears, a team that has a similar style and mentality as they do, which is to run the football and play good defense. While the Falcons want to be a more explosive team, they still aren’t likely to veer to far from that sort of identity.
Despite having eccentric Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator, the Bears in the latter half of the season began to play to their strengths, which is one of the reasons why they won their division and finished as the NFC’s second seed behind the Falcons. That strength is their defense, and offensively they decided to be more conservative and not put the turnover-prone Cutler in situations where he had to bear the load.The Falcons will want to get into a position where the Bears will be forced to throw the ball frequently, that way the Falcons defense can potentially create turnovers by preying on the Bears inexperienced offensive line and Cutler’s propensity to make mistakes.
Defensively, the Bears biggest weakness is their secondary, and if this game becomes an aerial battle, the matchups favor the Falcons.
Matchups I Like
Falcons pass rush vs. Bears O-line
As I wrote in August, I think the Falcons pass rushers should be licking their chops to face this Chicago Bears front. While the Bears did show some improvement over the course of the preseason as their new unit tried to gel together, it’s probably not enough where this matchup tilts anywhere close to the Bears favor. John Abraham will be facing J’Marcus Webb, a player that he should give major fits due to his ability to go right past him with speed or through him with power. On the opposite side is Ray Edwards, and he’ll face rookie Gabe Carimi. Edwards should have some veteran savvy to throw his way, being able to use his speed to get around the edge as well. Throw in Kroy Biermann getting some looks as well on either side of the line and you have a lot of heat coming off the corner for the Falcons all day to get pressure on Jay Cutler.
And a player that should not be forgotten in this matchup is Jonathan Babineaux. At left defensive tackle, he’ll be matched up against new right guard Lance Louis, who struggled in a handful of starts last year. Back in 2009, Babineaux routinely dominated replacement level guards, and if he intends to get back to that sort of level this year, then doing the same against Louis can be a very good tone setter for this season.
The average NFL offensive line gives up slightly more than 2 sacks per game. It should not be surprising if the Falcons are able to double or even triple the average production against the Bears defensive line.
Roddy White vs. Tim Jennings
The Bears have one really good corner in Charles Tillman, and his lining up on the right side of that defense means that he’ll likely draw most of his matchups against Falcons rookie wideout Julio Jones. From the Bears perspective, that’s a good matchup since Tillman’s size and physical style matches up well with Jones. But what that also means is that it leaves their other corner against the Falcons best receiver in Roddy White. And that other corner is Tim Jennings. Jennings isn’t terrible, but he’s by no means the type of corner you want matching wits with a Top 5 NFL receiver like Roddy White.
White should see plenty of targets much like he did early last year. He probably won’t see 23 like he did in last year’s opener against the Steelers, but I’m sure the Falcons will try to get him the ball at least in the double digits. And don’t be surprised if Roddy’s catch total approaches double digits itself.
Matchups I Do Not Like
Sam Baker vs. Julius Peppers
While the Falcons as a unit is one of the better ones around the league, individually many of their pieces could bring a lot more to the table. One of those pieces is Sam Baker, who is in a critical crossroads season.
If Baker wants to prove himself to be a long-term fixture at the position, he’ll be tested often this year, and the first one may be arguably his toughest against Julius Peppers. One positive is that Baker has at least seen Peppers before due to his past in Carolina.
If Peppers is able to win this matchup frequently, it’s capable of slanting things in the Bears favor since Peppers can wreak havoc in the Falcons pocket and potentially force turnovers. Peppers is fourth in the league over the past four seasons in creating fumbles with 16. In a tight ballgame, a sack-strip could flip momentum in the Bears favor.
Falcons Rushing Attack vs. Bears front
This is not a concern built on individual matchups, but based simply on the fact that the last two outings against the Bears, the Falcons running game had little to no impact on the final score.
In 2008, the Falcons ground game put up 75 rushing yards against the Bears, their lowest total that season until their playoff loss to Arizona. The following year it was a 68-yard performance, which was tied for their third weakest outing of the year. In both games, it was Michael Turner’s lowest yards per carry average of each season. In fact, Turner has posted YPC’s under 2.5 only four times since joining the Falcons, and two of them have come against the Bears.
With the Falcons losing their best run blocker in Harvey Dahl and Todd McClure nursing an injury, fortunes don’t seem likely to change even with the Bears being without Tommie Harris in the middle. Henry Melton is their new starter, but he’ll likely rotate frequently with Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye.
As mentioned earlier, the Bears biggest defensive weakness is their secondary, while their greatest strength is their run defense. That does not mean that the Falcons should abandon the run completely in their game plan, but it should not be something that they marry themselves to early on in trying to establish.
Both defenses do their best work when defending the run, so I do not expect Michael Turner or Matt Forte to swing this game in either of their respective teams’ favor. This game will likely come down to a duel between Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler, and which quarterback can make the most plays and subsequently which secondary can prevent that.
I like the Falcons chances more than I like the Bears in that realm. The Falcons should be able to put more pressure on Cutler than the Bears on Ryan. Although, I mention again, if Julius Peppers is at his best, he alone can wreak mucho havoc on the Falcons quarterback. But the turnover battle will be critical to deciding the victor of this game. And right now, I trust the Falcons O-line and Matt Ryan much more than I would their Bears counterparts.
But I do like the Roddy White matchup on the outside against the Bears weaker corners. While the Bears receivers are no slouches, I do not expect Devin Hester, Roy Williams, Johnny Knox, or Earl Bennett to cause the Falcons corners too many problems. The Bears essentially don’t have a receiving tight end, so they will not be able to exploit the biggest weakness of the Falcons pass defense, which is their linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field.
So in that sense, the Falcons have the most favorable matchups when it comes to how this game is likely to play out, which is through the air. If the Bears have a trump card in their back pocket it is Hester, by what he can provide on special teams. The Falcons kicking game and kickoff coverage was very suspect this preseason, and that is another matchup that could favor the Bears if the Falcons special teams aren’t ready to play.
It’s definitely a concern, and could have been its own matchup that I dislike, but I’m hopeful and optimistic that Keith Armstrong and Mike Smith will have that unit ready to play. But the flaw in the plan maybe their reliance on a rookie punter in his first NFL game. This game will set the tone for what sort of future Matt Bosher has in Atlanta.