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What to know about Falcons - Bears heading into Week 2

The Bears present a different test for a reeling Falcons team that simply can’t afford a loss.

NFL: SEP 10 Falcons at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Falcons - Bears 2020 head-to-head

Last year, the Falcons scored 32 points and allowed 54 in their first two games, with one close win over the Eagles and one blowout loss to the Vikings. This year, they’ve scored 64 points, which is double their 2019 total...but they’ve also allowed 78 points and are 0-2. The offense certainly looks sharper under Dirk Koetter minus hiccups and frustrations, but the defense somehow looks even worse.

Some of that is on the caliber of opponent, as the Seahawks are obviously in for a terrific year and Dak Prescott is far more talented than his so-so week against the Rams would’ve suggested. Still, the Falcons are reeling and badly need to not face a terrific passing offense.

Enter the Bears.

Falcons - Bears 2020

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 0-2 5 4 2 28 32 31 31 9 7 10
Bears 2-0 21 23 29 9 3 16 19 11 10 7

The Bears are certainly the best defense the Falcons have faced thus far, a stingy red zone team that’s at least solid against both the pass and the run. They’ve edged out both the Lions and the Giants, two teams that look downright awful, but they’ve done so with quality offensive performances and an effective ground game, with Mitch Trubisky chiming in with some timely touchdowns.

That makes them a good test. The Falcons have largely not faced serious challenges to their downfield marching beyond their own ineptitude at times, and the Bears will provide them their stiffest challenge yet. At the same time, the Bears offense doesn’t appear to be good enough to dig them out of a hole if Atlanta gets a significant lead, which makes this one of the more readily winnable games to this point.

Still, you shouldn’t bet on Chicago struggling on offense here. If they can put up major points on Atlanta, it might be time to pack this thing in. As it stands, the Falcons are easily one of the best offenses and worst defenses in the league...again.

How the Bears have changed since the last time

Significantly! It’s been three seasons.

Mike Glennon was the quarterback in 2017 when these two teams last met, Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard were splitting carries, and Zach Miller, Kevin White, and Kendall Wright were receiving options they were expected to lean on. Despite the significant personnel differences on both sides of the ball—they’ve added Khalil Mack since then, for example—they are still fundamentally the same kind of team they were in 2017.

Chicago would like to beat you by grinding through drives on the ground, with Trubisky making the throws given to him and the defense making enough stops to win the game. They don’t play in many blowouts, if not by design then still by build, and their mission against the Falcons is the same as it was in 2017: Avoid letting a great offense (on paper) blow by them and make enough pays against an inferior defense to win.

In other words, you’ve seen this Bears team before, no matter how different it might look now.

What you need to know

Let’s get the stakes out of the way first.

A win here puts Chicago in a strong position for the rest of the season, because they’ll be 3-0 and well ahead of Detroit and Minnesota, if not also ahead of Green Bay. An 0-3 start, meanwhile, is probably the acknowledged point of no return for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020, given that they have to travel to Green Bay on the road the next week and have no shortage of difficult games in the second half. Only six teams since 1980 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3, and my bet would be on the Falcons not becoming the seventh.

Those are the stakes. What to say about the actual game? The first thing is that for the first time this season, the Falcons are not facing off against a quarterback capable of consistently putting up elite performances. Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson combined for absolutely bonkers performances against this scuffling Atlanta defense, but Mitch Trubisky has completed 59% of his passes thus far in 2020 for 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and remains Mitch Trubisky, even if he looks like a slightly improved version of himself. The danger here is that David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and the gang will prove to be more effective running the ball and Trubisky will make better use of his opportunities, but that can’t happen if Atlanta opens up a big lead and Chicago has to pass their way back into it. That’s an ideal outcome here, even if the defense is still a big question mark.

Defensively, Chicago is going to give the Falcons a rougher go of things. The Bears have two picks and 5 sacks thus far, but their defensive backs are good-to-excellent and their defensive front includes Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Akiem Hicks. They are dangerous and will test this defensive line, especially an apparently resurgent James Carpenter and Matt Gono at right tackle. There won’t be so many opportunities to waste early downs on draws in this one, especially not if Julio Jones remains hobbled and the Bears can focus more of their attention on Calvin Ridley.

In other words, it’s a winnable game, but one that comes with a different set of challenges than the Falcons have faced in 2020. They simply can’t afford to lose this game.