My New Year’s resolution is to get better at naming five Atlanta Falcons. Yet I still hope to close out this calendar year by once again fulfilling the impossible task of finding intriguing Falcons to watch when they travel to face the Chicago Bears.
Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke likely will have to step up if the Falcons want to beat the Bears. Last week’s impressive win over the Indianapolis Colts involved a ton of check downs and screens from Heinicke. With the team’s ground game in the groove, that was all that was required from their quarterback, and Heinicke proved a very effective game manager.
However, the Falcons may not be able to rely on their ground game against the NFL’s best run defense. Instead, if the Falcons are going to move the ball consistently, Heinicke’s arm will have to do a lot more heavy lifting. Is the veteran quarterback up to the task?
If the Falcons run game does get going in Chicago, it’ll likely be thanks to a strong day from rookie running back Bijan Robinson. He’ll have to get the most out of every run against a tough Bears defensive front. Also, Robinson’s abilities as a pass-catcher will play a significant factor in this matchup.
Several other backs have produced this season against this Bears defense in the passing game including Austin Ekeler, Jahmyr Gibbs, and James Conner. Robinson has a chance to add his name to the list.
As of this writing, it’s unknown if right tackle Kaleb McGary will return to the lineup after missing three straight with a knee injury. But his potential return could be the boost the Falcons run game needs to get going against the Bears. It’ll also be an important part of the Falcons’ strategy to keep Bears defensive end Montez Sweat in check.
Sweat has six sacks over his last five games with the Bears, but had a relatively quiet game earlier this season when he faced McGary while still a member of the Washington Commanders squad. In that game, Sweat only had a single pressure, according to PFF.
No single individual will be responsible for keeping Bears quarterback Justin Fields’ running ability contained. But linebacker Kaden Elliss is as good a pick as any if focusing on players that will be integral if the Falcons succeed in doing so. Elliss has come on strong in recent games and last week’s win over the Colts marked the most involved he has been in the pass rush all year long.
Elliss responded with a season-high four pressures and tallied his third sack of the season. To keep Fields contained, Falcons pass rushers like Elliss will have to be disciplined in their rush lanes and not allow him to break outside the pocket.
Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell will have a critical matchup against Bears wideout D.J. Moore. The two haven’t faced each other since 2021, back when Moore was still with the Carolina Panthers due to Terrell missing both Panthers games in 2022 due to injury. But keeping Moore in check will be key to slowing down the Bears’ passing attack.
This year, Fields’ passer rating when targeting Moore is 130.4. But that rating falls to 68.8 when Fields targets literally anybody else on the Bears roster. If Terrell and the rest of the Falcons' secondary can keep Moore in check, then the Bears should have little to no success attacking the Falcons via the air.
Can you name any other Atlanta Falcons that intrigue you in this matchup?