As is our custom, we turned to the opposing SB Nation blog for answers to five questions heading into Sunday's game. There seems to be widespread agreement that this game could go either way, and given that shrug and coin flip discussion, I figured it would be better to understand exactly how the Bears could hurt our beloved Falcons.
Enter Kev H., who will be our guide to Da Bears this afternoon.
Dave Choate: Looking at Jay Cutler's numbers and from the couple of games I've watched, he seems like he's heading for one of the better seasons of his career, but he's still turning the ball over quite a bit. What's your take on 2014 Cutler and where he's headed, and what should the Falcons expect from him Sunday afternoon?
Kev H.: Oddly, he's not really turning the ball over in a way that is unprecedented. There are 11 QBs who have thrown one or more interceptions, and of Cutler's six, two are tipped/deflected passes that jumped directly into the hands of defenders. He's still shown what seems to be a characteristic over-reliance on his arm, but generally speaking he is playing a lot better.
Cutler seems to have shown us what he is. A guy with a spectacular amount of confidence in himself & his talent who shows flashes of really great play. The offense has been fighting through injuries at the WR and OL positions, but they have been able to be consistent, though they're not producing at their 2013 levels.
On Sunday I'd expect to see the Bears try to push the field with Jeffery and Marshall, and use Forte as the outlet from the backfield. There are lingering questions at the LT position, so we may not see as much Bennett. The Falcons current lack of pass rush pressure should give Jay a lot of time, and as long as the wild throw stays away, you'll see a lot of Forte in movement in space.
Dave Choate: The Falcons saw small improvement in their run defense, but it's been a consistent Achilles heel for the team stretching back to last season. Does Matt Forte get on track in this one, and if the Falcons wanted to actually stop him-it would be a nice change of pace-how would you suggest they do so?
Kev H: Matt Forte has been a big part of the offense, though not necessarily on the ground. If the Falcons want to keep him from much of a rushing attack, the best plan is to keep him from getting outside. Forte is not as great when he's forced to work in tighter spaces through the o-lines interior gaps.
Expect, though, to see a lot of swing passes/short passes/screens to Forte to test what the linebackers and ends are going to do. If they can get that going it could be tough for the Falcons.
Dave Choate: How has the Chicago defense fared this season? The Falcons are working with a bit of a depleted line, so I'm specifically concerned with the strength of your pass rush.
Kev H: The pass rush has been struggling, much like Atlanta's. The biggest flashes have come from end Willie Young. Pressure, however, has been in fits and spurts. The hope would be that the Bears can squeeze the last little bits of greatness out of Jared Allen this year, but he just hasn't been able to get to the quarterback. (Having lost 15+ lbs to pneumonia over the last couple weeks probably didn't help.)
Sacks aren't really there, and the Bears blitz in fits and spurts. I'd expect Ryan to have a fair amount of time, and it'd be best to try and break the safeties by going over the top, something the Falcons seem well-suited to do.
Dave Choate: You're in your second season with Marc Trestman at the helm. How are Bears fans feeling about him as a coach, and what would you say have been his greatest strengths and weaknesses to this point?
Kev H: I posed this one to another of our writers, Lester (@WiltfongJr). Here's what he had to say:
I think some fans are souring on him because after his 3-0 start, the Bears have gone 7-11. Lovie Smith's last Bears team (2012) was 10-6, Trestman's first team (2013) was 8-8 and now the Bears are sitting at 2-3 this year. All three phases of the team has been inconsistent this year and the mental errors are maddening. Injuries can only be used as an excuse for so long, at some point you gotta coach up what you have and cut out the silly mistakes.
Even with the inconsistencies this season, Trestman still has a great offensive mind. Some of his play designs are very unique and I get the feeling that his offense is on the cusp of exploding to even greater heights than last year. A hobbled Jeffery and Marshall has the Bears' offense operating just a tick behind it seems. Then you factor in the o-line injuries and Trestman is forced to scheme around some problems.
He still has some clock management things that are questionable and some of his late game play calling is confounding, but then again, if his players are executing in those moments, we're all applauding his decisions. Then of course there's his choice to stick with Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator after a horrendous 2013 season on that side of the ball. The defense has played better this year, but we're still not seeing Tucker bring any creativity to his schemes. At the end of the day the head coach is responsible for the product on the field, so regardless of his expertise being solely on offense, he and his staff has to find a way to get the defense playing better.
Dave Choate: What are your expectations for this game, as well as the rest of the Bears' season?
Kev H: I honestly am not sure what to expect of this game. I'd imagine it turns into a bit of a shoot out, as neither team's defense is particularly impressive. Of course, every time I say that, it turns into a field goal battle.
I'm going to say someone wins this game by 10 points, but it's an honest toss up for me which team that is. As for the Bears season, I can see them right now anywhere between 7-9 and 10-6, but most likely right at 8-8. They have five division games in the last 7 weeks, and I'm not 100% sure they can come out of that well enough to do any better.