Look, I took the Chicago Bears too lightly. I thought the Falcons would come out firing, the Bears would sort of keel over and wither because of their lackluster offense and so-so secondary. Instead, the Bears stayed in the game via an effective ground game, a terrific effort from the front seven, and just enough from Mike Glennon and the passing game to make it a truly close game.
The fact that the Falcons walked out of a sloppy, penalty-ridden game where they were five yards and a few seconds away from losing with the victory tells you a lot about their skill. They were able to sack Mike Glennon four times, largely hold the passing game into check until late, and fight tooth-and-nail for 23 points against a Bears defense that put forth a pretty heroic effort. They hung in there, something that we’ve criticized the Falcons for being unable to do in the past.
But they also, objectively got lucky to win this one, and a little unlucky to be in that position in the first place. After all, the refs did miss a false start or two from Chicago at the end. That doesn’t mean Atlanta was any less lucky to win, given the number of drops on that final drive before Brooks Reed got his hands on Glennon. Luck does not invalidate a win, however, and if it were solely about that the Falcons never would have come away with the victory in the first place. Atlanta outplayed Chicago and got that little extra push at the end, which is quite frequently how it goes.
The big concerns here, the concerns that matter, are how Chicago’s offense functioned against Atlanta’s defense—particularly the ground game—and how much trouble the offensive line had for the Falcons. Those are the concerns that will matter a week from now, when the Packers bring a solid set of running backs and a couple of capable pass rushers to town, and into the future from there. With Dontari Poe in the middle of the defensive line, you would expect that side of the equation to get better, but Wes Schweitzer is young and learning and the offensive line may not be what it was a year ago. After a one game sample size against a tougher-than-expected opponent, though, the things we don’t know significantly outnumbers what we do know.
But for now, there’s the outline of a great team here, one that needs real work with two new coordinators in place and a couple of legitimate roster holes. So it wasn’t the game we wanted. For a Falcons team that needs to rack up the wins and find a way to be even better in 2017 than they were in 2016, though, it was a win they very much needed. Our ultimate satisfaction is beside the point, though certainly I hope we have fewer nail-biters this season.
On to the full recap.
- Matt Ryan got more pressure in his face than he is accustomed to, and he missed some short throws he probably should have made. That aside, he had a very good game, showing quality mobility in the pocket, scrambling well, and good accuracy. The line wasn’t always up to the task, and Ryan didn’t do anything truly spectacular, but it was a good start to a new season.
- Devonta Freeman didn’t have his most impressive game, either, but he bulled in a five yard touchdown and should be in for a much better game a week from now. Out of all the things I underestimated from the Bears, the defensive line was probably the most significant, and they did a nice job of bottling up both Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
- Playing against Marcus Cooper and a largely lackluster Bears secondary, Julio Jones predictably went off early. He finished the first half with three receptions for 62 yards, all of them relatively easy catches, and then didn’t do much the rest of the way.
- Many of us wondered about Austin Hooper’s lack of involvement in the offense, but then he took a Matt Ryan pass 88 yards for a touchdown, following that up with another long fourth quarter gain and a key third down reception. He’s going to score a lot this season—and he may already be one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL—and that was a glorious start to the festivities.
- Vic Beasley got awfully close early on before he got his first sack of the 2017 NFL season, a third down drop of Mike Glennon that capped off the first quarter and stalled out Chicago’s most initimidating drive to that point. Beasley is no lock to once again lead the entire league in quarterback takedowns, but he’s good enough to do so and is certainly on pace to do so after one week.
- Brooks Reed drove Mike Glennon back about 12 yards on his second quarter sack, putting the Falcons in a favorable position and essentially stalling the drive for Chicago. Then he essentially won the game for Atlanta with time running out in the fourth quarter by sacking Glennon again on a critical fourth down inside the 10 yard line, where a touchdown would have meant a Bears win. This was Reed’s finest effort in a Falcons uniform, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
- Then there was Brian Poole. Over the offseason, we talked about him being a truly effective cornerback when rushing the passer, and he showed us why again against the Bears with a huge sack and forced fumble (that wasn’t recovered) on Chicago’s first drive of the third quarter.
- Generally speaking, even against a so-so offense, this was a solid defensive effort. I love the speed and physicality from the entire defense, with De’Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal in particular embodying that combination. Against a team as good as the Packers, they’re going to need that, without the lapses that marked this effort.
- Matt Bryant is still money, hitting from 48 yards out and nailing three field goals in all. The man is an ageless wonder.
- Wes Schweitzer predictably suffered from some growing pains against a quality Bears defensive line, and Akiem Hicks beat him for a sack of Matt Ryan in the second quarter, and Hicks came in hot again in the third quarter. Many were asking if he should even be starting, and to those of you who asked, I would say be patient. You can’t expect a sixth-round pick to be amazing in his first NFL start.
That said, there’s no point in denying that Schweitzer struggled mightily. I cautioned in preseason that the winner of the battle might be a bit of a liability initially, and that hasn’t changed. I’m still a big believer in his talent.
- The Bears have a good ground game, but I don’t think any of us expected Tarik Cohen to fare as well as he did. The pint-sized back broke off some huge runs and showed an ability to steer past contact, and the Falcons looked to have familiar issues stopping the run. Time will tell if this was a fluke or a sign of things to come, but speedy backs of Cohen’s ilk have been a thorn in the side of Atlanta for a very long time.
- You almost never have occasion to hear me criticize Desmond Trufant, a phenomenal cornerback and a player I genuinely love, but this is one such occasion. Trufant looked downright rusty against the Bears, getting blocked out of a play by Mike Glennon and have uncharacteristic lapses in coverage a handful of times in the game. It’s nothing to be worried about—it’s Desmond Trufant—but it merits notice simply because Trufant virtually never has a cluster of bad plays in a single game.
- The Falcons made things more difficult with untimely penalties, like Deion Jones’ third quarter unnecessary roughness, or Jake Matthews and Andy Levitre’s holding calls. Those pumped the brakes on some quality drives or proved costly for a Chicago team that really did struggle to move the ball most of the game, and I expect discipline will be a talking point around Flowery Branch this week.
I’m going to split it between Austin Hooper and Brooks Reed, because Hooper accounted but about a third of the team’s offense by himself and a key touchdown, and Reed had two sacks, one of them a game-saving play. You can’t go wrong with either.
The Falcons are a work in progress, as they figured to be. They just may need to do a little more work than we’d hoped on offense.
It’s time for the Packers game next, and the first regular season home game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Check out Acme Packing Company this week for more.