Michael Aprile is the editor-in-chief of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. Michael is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.
We made it.
Take a minute and pat yourself on the back for making it through one of the most brutal off-seasons in team history. Now, it’s time to focus on the games that count and officially ring in the new season, and there’s no better way to do that than to beat the brakes off of the first team on the schedule—sorry, Patriots, you’re not invited to this party.
Although the Bears finished at an atrocious 3-13 last season, taking a peek at this roster makes one wonder how they managed to perform so poorly. Injuries and terrible QB play plagued Chicago all year long, but they’ve returned healthy (for the most part) and have a couple of new faces at quarterback.
The Falcons are expected to come out firing—fast and physical, some might say—and beat down what is simply a lesser team, but the following matchups are ones in which Atlanta may find some resistance.
Falcons’ front seven vs. Bears’ running backs
If the Bears are going to have any shot at this thing, they’ve got to ride second-year stud Jordan Howard all day long. Howard is a bonafide star in the making who finished second in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards a season ago, making the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. Howard is a bigger back with excellent lateral quickness—the Falcons will need to tackle well to avoid getting gashed.
Coming in to spell Howard will be rookie Tarik Cohen, a Darren Sproles clone. As much speed and agility as he brings, the Falcons’ linebackers and ends should be able to bring more. As long as Howard doesn’t wear this defense out, the Falcons can minimize the damage Cohen hopes to do.
The Falcons have their own second-year studs taking the field in Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, who are both expected to make major leaps from their stellar rookie seasons. With Campbell now at SAM linebacker, he’ll need to set a strong edge to ensure the Bears’ running backs don’t get outside.
With Dontari Poe in the fold and Grady Jarrett expected to ascend to the game’s elite, Howard and Cohen will have their work cut out for them all day long against this stout front seven. “Stout front seven” and “Falcons” are words that may never have shared the same sentence before.
Falcons’ offensive line vs. Bears’ pass rush
The Bears actually do have a pretty talented pass rush. One guy that you may have heard of is Leonard Floyd, a former Georgia Bulldog that the Falcons were highly interested in drafting last year. Floyd is a long and supremely gifted athlete who had a strong rookie season, notching 7 sacks and a safety. Floyd is flanked by Willie Young, one of the more underrated pass rushers in the league.
After somewhat of a down year, Pernell McPhee adds more juice to a pass rush that also features former Saint Akiem Hicks, a guy who turned into a solid player after leaving New Orleans. But the best interior player the Bears have might actually be Eddie Goldman, who’s developed nicely out of Florida State and is expected to have a big year. Though they don’t pack much star power, this can be a dangerous pass rush collectively.
Wes Schweitzer will face a decent test against this pass rush, and how he holds up could be a strong indicator for how he’ll perform this season. Tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have spoken about the challenge Floyd presents in particular, as they’re both preparing to see the multidimensional Bear line up across from them.
Keeping Matt Ryan clean has always been of paramount importance for this offense, and Sunday will be no different if the Falcons want to open the 2017 season with a win.
Falcons’ running backs vs. Bears’ linebackers
Look for the Falcons to attempt to establish the run early and set up the play action pass against one of the weaker secondaries in the league. In order to do that, they’ll need to get past one of the league’s elite gatekeepers in Jerrell Freeman. Unofficially dubbed “The Freeman Family Feud”, Devonta faces a stiff test at Soldier Field.
Jerrell Freeman has quietly become one of the elite linebackers in the game, and with the once-coveted Danny Trevathan returning to the field, the Bears will field one of the most talented inside linebacker duos in all of football.
Thankfully for the Falcons, they’ll field the premier running back duo in the game as a counterpunch.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman would be wise to try and run around the older, slower Jerrell Freeman and Trevathan—trying to force their way through the middle could be like attempting to run through a brick wall. Jerrell Freeman recently turned 31 and Trevathan tore up his knee a year ago, so Atlanta’s backs should have the advantage in space, which should come as no surprise.
If the Falcons can establish the run and win the time of possession battle, it’ll be that much easier to start this season off with a win.
Which matchups are you looking forward to the most?