A month ago, the Falcons had just put a bow on a brutal loss to the Bengals, but one where they held an opposing ground game under 80 yards for the third consecutive week. While the Falcons were embarrassed in that game by Joe Burrow and company, the run defense appeared to be turning a corner, as they had rattled off three straight quality performances after the Browns predictably ran all over them.
Unfortunately, like so many other facets of this team, the run defense has regressed since then. Atlanta has now allowed over 90 yards in three straight games, and over 150 in two of them, both coming against the Panthers and D’Onta Foreman. Atlanta’s just getting gashed on the ground at the moment, and the timing for that run of bad luck and poor play could not be worse.
That’s because after their 10 day break, the Falcons will have to face the Chicago Bears. The Bears are not exactly good yet, but they’ve scored at least 29 points in each of their last three games and have been the league’s most productive team on the ground this season, with Justin Fields running for an eye-popping 602 yards, Khalil Herbert for 586 yards, and David Montgomery for 397 yards. The trio has also combined for 10 rushing touchdowns, and when firing on all cylinders, they’re extremely tough to stop.
You can put the pieces together here. Atlanta has been getting pushed around a bit by opposing offensive lines, and the linebacker group in particular has struggled to make stops. If Foreman and Carolina can do this to to the Falcons, it feels like a very strong bet that Chicago and their lethal quarterback and talented backs will do the same, and it might be even more gruesome.
That’s why the biggest question mark facing this team over the next week-plus really isn’t who will be under center or whether A.J. Terrell will be coming back—those are major questions, and the first one in particular is going to get a lot of run here and elsewhere—but whether the Falcons’ run defense will find its footing against Chicago. The Bears are unlikely to pass their way to victory—though Fields is getting scarier—and Atlanta’s offense shouldn’t be anywhere near as inept as they were against Los Angeles and Carolina with some time to re-think and re-tool. If Chicago can punch in two or three touchdowns and manage 200 yards on the ground, none of that may matter all that much, because they are one of the few teams in football capable of beating Atlanta at their own game, even if they’re not all that great of a team.
I’ll be eager to see what Dean Pees has to say about Chicago—I can’t even imagine what he’s going to say about Carolina, but it’ll likely involve some frustration—and equal parts apprehensive and eager to see how the Falcons actually fare against the Bears. With capable running teams like the Commanders, Ravens, and Saints on deck after the Bears game, there’s no time like the present for the Falcons to show that their awful performances against the Panthers were more of a fluke than a sign of things to come.