Week 11 is here, and the Atlanta Falcons have fallen two games below .500 to 4-6 after a deflating Thursday Night Football loss to the Carolina Panthers. Atlanta is falling behind Tampa Bay in the division title race and desperately needs to start stacking up some wins. Luckily, they’re entering a three-game stretch that should be the easiest on the schedule. That stretch kicks off on Sunday with a home game against the Chicago Bears.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you all incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Bears, so I’ve enlisted the help of a Chicago expert: Patti Curl. Patti is a writer over at Windy City Gridiron, SB Nation’s site for all things Chicago Bears.
I brought five questions to Patti to try to get a better read on on the Bears recent offensive success and the electric rushing attack, the limitations of the passing game, the massive fall-off on defense after the trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, and more.
Q1. The Bears have reinvigorated their offense, particularly the ground game, by finally utilizing Justin Fields incredible talents as a runner. Just how important has Fields been to Chicago’s offensive resurgence, and how significant is the loss of Khalil Herbert to the team’s rushing attack?
Patti Curl: Fields has been central to the resurgence of the Bears offense, assuming you’re referring to the last 4 games where they’re averaging over 30 points and not the recurrent surges of incompetence the Bears have been putting out as their offenses for years. Beyond being their top rusher over the last two weeks, the change they made in the New England game to incorporate more designed quarterback runs has forced defenses to account for Fields run potential even more and consequently given slight advantages to the other skill players on the plays where he isn’t running. This offense runs through Fields. It runs hard. And it’s run for over 230 yards 5 weeks in a row.
Q2. Despite Chicago’s success on the ground, the passing game has continued to languish. The Bears are currently last in the league in passing attempts and yardage. Have there been any improvements to the passing attack over the course of the season, and how impactful has the addition of Chase Claypool been so far?
Patti: The passing game has improved in terms of efficiency over the season, but not in terms of attempts. This may sound familiar to Falcons fan, but the run game is working, so the Bears are relying heavily on that run game. Chase Claypool has been a minimal factor on limited snaps as he hasn’t been fully up to speed on the Bears offense, but the hope is he’ll be a full contributor for some big bird hunting this weekend.
Q3. Chicago’s defense, which was once one of the most consistent units in the NFL, has seemingly fallen off a cliff recently. What has caused the dramatic fall off for the Bears, who have allowed 30+ points in each of their previous three games?
Patti: I don’t think there’s a single factor, but trading away Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith in back to back weeks certainly didn’t help things. Both those Bears were important leaders on that defense and that has to have an effect on both morale and overall cohesiveness. Quinn was also the only perceived threat on the defensive line, even though he wasn’t having a great year, he was at least taking up more attention than Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson, the young guys trying to replace him. The biggest difference last week was probably that Jaylon Johnson, the Bears best corner, was playing hurt and the Lions took advantage of him as a mismatch against their healthy receivers.
Q4. This looks to be a matchup of two of the NFL’s premier rushing attacks. Defensively, however, the Falcons have been solid at stopping the run (18th in yardage, 11th in YPA) while the Bears have struggled (28th in yardage, 23rd in YPA). How concerned are you about Atlanta’s ability to run the ball in this matchup?
Patti: I’m somewhere between very concerned and so certain it will happen that it’s really nothing to concern myself over. I’ve been enjoying the last weeks of Bears shootouts after years of close games and offensive embarrassment. I could certainly go for one more.
Q5. 5. The Falcons are small home favorites (-3) for the matchup against the Bears. What are your predictions for Sunday’s game?
Patti: Justin Fields starts the game with a 99 yard touchdown run and silences the crowd. The Falcons lose their home field advantage and the Bears win by 3.
Many thanks to Patti Curl for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow her at @OpinionBear, and if you’re in the mood for a Panthers perspective on things, follow Windy City Gridiron at @WCGridiron.