While several Atlanta Falcons will suit up against their former team the Chicago Bears this weekend, none merit intrigue, or at least not enough intrigue to attain a place in this weekly pantheon preserved for naming five Falcons.
Let’s proceed with the nominations.
After an abysmal performance last week in terms of decision-making, Marcus Mariota desperately needs a bounce-back game. It won’t fully restore confidence in him within the Falcons fanbase, but it’ll at least affirm head coach Arthur Smith’s decision to stick with him as the starter. Calls for rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder to take over are unlikely to end, but they will at least go quiet for another week, or however long it is until the next poor Mariota performance.
A suspect Bears defense offers a good opportunity for Mariota to rebound. But he’ll need to be more consistent and reliable putting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
One such playmaker that could benefit from a good outing from Mariota is Olamide Zaccheaus. If the Falcons are to take the next steps as a passing offense, it’ll depend on their ability to move the chains. Zaccheaus factors into that because while he’s not the team’s most oft-targeted option on third and fourth downs, he is the most reliable.
He has converted 67 percent of his nine third and fourth-down targets into first downs. That compares very well against both Kyle Pitts (18 targets, 39 percent conversion rate) and Drake London (14 targets, 43 percent).
Zaccheaus can flex those chain-moving abilities versus the Bears thanks to playing primarily in the slot. There he is set to face Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Gordon. According to Pro Football Focus, Gordon has given up a league-high 579 yards in coverage this year, 396 of which has come while playing in the slot. Gordon’s play has improved over the course of the season after a rough start. However, Zaccheaus has an opportunity to wreck Gordon’s progress due to his quickness and separation skills on critical downs.
Despite his struggles to break out this season, Pitts is another potential benefactor of a good day from Mariota. Given the presence of potential would-be Falcons 2021 NFL Draft selection in Bears quarterback Justin Fields on the opposite sideline, frankly, it’s important for Pitts to impact this Sunday.
Pitts’ lack of reliable production this year is mainly a byproduct of Mariota’s inconsistency as a passer. But if the Falcons can’t find a way to get him more consistently involved in the offense on a weekly basis, their unlikely playoff hopes will evaporate. Continuing to keep Pitts engaged via red-zone targets should be an effective method. If both Smith and Mariota can create and execute, respectively, ways to get him the ball, Pitts can impact this one even if he’s not seeing a ton of targets.
Defensively, the Falcons will face challenges containing Fields’ capable running abilities. If the defense is going to rise up to meet that challenge, it will take quite a bit of effort from outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter.
A Norcross native, Carter signed with his hometown team in part to bolster his stock on a one-year “prove it” deal. Carter certainly has had some impressive moments this year, but hasn’t consistently shined as a pass-rusher. PFF tallied 18 total pressures from Carter in the team’s first five games this year, but only four in their last five. Carter’s early-season success includes a late-game sack beating rookie Charles Cross with a bull rush to help seal a win against the Seattle Seahawks. Carter getting back on track against the Bears will benefit both the team and himself when it comes to offseason contract negotiations.
The Bears present a favorable matchup since Carter can use his power to bully another rookie left tackle in Braxton Jones. Jones has struggled to handle powerful bull-rushers at times this season. Containing Fields will be easier if Falcons defenders can harass him in the pocket. Carter rushing from the blindside is perfectly positioned to provide that pressure.
Pressuring Fields is one thing, getting him on the ground is another. If the Falcons’ pass rush can flush him, it’ll be up to the linebackers to take him down. That requires one of them to act as spy to shadow Fields all over the field.
Rookie Troy Andersen is the Falcon best equipped to hold his own against the sturdy 230-pound Bears quarterback with 4.46 speed. With comparable measurables, Andersen will be critical in preventing Fields from getting explosive gains with his legs. It’s a huge test for Andersen, who will likely earn the opportunity next season to take over as a full-time starter. But he needs to continually prove he is disciplined and assignment-sound before he can graduate. Successfully keeping Fields in check will go a long way to show he’s worthy of promotion.
Can you name other Falcons that intrigue you in this Bears matchup?