It’s Week 3 of the 2020 NFL season, and the Falcons (0-2) are already facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Sure, the rest of the division hasn’t fared particularly well—the team is technically just one game back at this point—but Atlanta has failed to impress anyone through a putrid start to the year. The Falcons are now facing a must-win situation against the Bears (2-0), who have had a solid start to the year but haven’t been particularly impressive either.
Despite Atlanta’s...uninspiring start to the season, the team has a chance to start turning things around on Sunday. Here are some of the players and matchups I’m most interested in watching as Chicago and Atlanta clash in Week 3.
The run defense
The Bears offense is decidedly below-average in just about every area but one: the rushing attack. Second-year RB David Montgomery has had an excellent start to the season, and Chicago is currently 9th in rushing yards and 11th in yards per carry. While the Falcons have been a total disaster on defense, they’ve actually been solid against the run. Atlanta is currently 9th in rushing yardage allowed and is allowing only 4.1 yards per carry (T-9th). With the Bears struggling in the passing game, the best way for the Falcons to limit Chicago’s offense might be by continuing to play above-average run defense.
Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage
With Julio Jones ailing from a hamstring injury, it’ll be up to the rest of the receiving corps to carry the load. Luckily, Atlanta has been faring just fine with Calvin Ridley as the primary target for Matt Ryan—and Russell Gage has been one of the NFL’s best WR3s through two games. I’d be surprised if Julio ultimately sits out of Sunday’s game, but he’ll be limited in terms of snaps and health. Strong games from Ridley and Gage would help take some of the pressure off of the defense in Week 3.
I keep putting Todd Gurley in here and expecting the former All-Pro to be a major force in a game, but he really hasn’t done much through the first two weeks. Part of that is due to the anemic rushing attack under Dirk Koetter, but Gurley himself has mostly been outshined by fellow RBs Brian Hill and Ito Smith. Chicago is currently allowing 4.5 yards per carry and has been fairly vulnerable on the ground. Could this be the week that we see Todd Gurley have a breakout game?
Defensive line depth
The Falcons have been hit hard by injuries on the defensive line. Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley, Atlanta’s starters on the edge, have both failed to practice thus far in Week 3. Atlanta’s pass rush completely disappeared after Takk left the game early in Week 2, and Fowler was noticeably hobbled—and ineffective—as well. The team is lacking proven depth in this area, and it will be tested against the Bears. The good news is that rookie DT Marlon Davidson and former first-round EDGE Charles Harris both could be on track to make their Falcons’ debuts on Sunday, which could help things if both Fowler and Takk miss the game.
The Falcons lost both Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen at one point during the loss to the Cowboys, leaving them in a very vulnerable place at safety. That could force rookie fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins into the lineup if one or both are unable to suit up. Hawkins was known in college for his versatility and intelligence—he played both FS and SS—and should be someone who can acclimate quickly to the NFL. He may be called upon to play significant snaps on Sunday for the first time in his career, though in positive news, Kazee was able to return to practice in a limited fashion on Thursday.