By Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) The preseason is over and it’s time to get down to business. Here are a few things that I’ll be looking for when the Bears host the Falcons Sunday on the lakefront:
Will Atlanta abandon the run?
They’ve got a shiny new toy in Julio Jones on the opposite side of one of the league’s best receivers, Roddy White. It may be tempting to throw the ball down the field. Especially since Michael Turner has struggled in games against the Bears.The Falcons have been a run first team recently, but do they throw that away? The Bears love to force teams to be one dimensional. They were the 2nd best defense against the run last year. Knowing that do the Falcons turn their usual gameplan on its head and put pressure on the Bears by passing to set up the run.
Offensive Line Communication
In the last 2 preseason games, the Bears offensive line has played well. They’ve kept Jay Cutler very clean, which has allowed him to make plays down the field. The Falcons have added Ray Edwards to their defensive line. He’s a formidable pass rusher. In the last 2 seasons with Minnesota he has 16.5 sacks. With John Abraham on the other side, that could spell problems for the Bears young tackles. I asked Roberto Garza how he’s seen J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi progress since the beginning of camp.
“They’re playing with more confidence, and they’re playing together with their guards and communicating every play. Their technique is getting better, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be,” Garza said.
Does that communication break down when the Falcons throw some blitzes and stunts at them?
Who wins the turnover battle?
The Bears defense is predicated on turnovers. It switches momentum and flips the field over. Lovie Smith wasn’t pleased with his team’s inability to do that in the preseason. Charles Tillman ratcheted up his ball-strip technique over the last few practices.
The Falcons were 3rd in the NFL last year with a +14 turnover ratio. Their cornerback tandem is very good. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson are undervalued in the NFL as a 1-2 punch on the corners. Grimes had five interceptions and went the Pro-Bowl last year. Robinson is solid, but he’s been nursing a hamstring injury the last couple of weeks. Atlanta is a bit concerned about their depth in the secondary, picking up Kelvin Hayden and James Sanders after cuts were made. Hayden looks to be poised to play the nickel position.
Bears Pass Rush
Anthony Adams spent most of the preseason injured. Is he going to be in game condition? Julius Peppers may be the best pass-rusher in the game, but Atlanta is quite aware of him. This is what Matt Ryan said about Peppers on the conference call.
“We know what he brings to the table. He’s an extremely talented player. Very good pass rusher, very good against the run. They can use him in a number of different areas,” Ryan said.
The Bears have experimented with Peppers moving inside against certain alignments. They need to get pressure up the middle. Henry Melton has had a very strong camp, but now he has to be as productive in games that matter. Amobi Okoye has physical traits that seem perfectly suited for this defense. If those guys don’t force Atlanta’s offensive line to double team them, then Peppers is going to see doubles and doubles with a chip from the running back. The Falcons lost their starting center, Todd McClure to a knee injury and have had to shuffle some pieces around on the line. The Bears need to take advantage of that.
Special Teams matchup
This is where you could see the back end of the roster be an issue. The Bears have 5 undrafted free agents on the roster. They’re going to be asked to make plays on special teams. Linebackers usually play a big role on special teams and the Bears are very thin at that spot. It was bumpy road in the preseason, but Dave Toub will now have Sam Hurd (special teams captain in Dallas) and Corey Graham (Bears leading special teams tackler) at the gunner spot. Expect to see Johnny Knox and Devin Hester back fielding kickoffs. The Bears have told both guys to be aggressive and if they see the right look, they’re allowed to take the ball out of the end zone now matter how deep the kick. Toub trusts both of those guys to make decisions. Falcons Coach Mike Smith feels as strongly about special teams as Lovie Smith does. The Falcons have a strong return game behind Eric Weems. He had 31 returns of over 20 yards last year and 5 over 30 yards, including a 102 yard touchdown. This could be where the game turns.
670TheScore.com and CBSChicago.com has you covered during all Bears games. Check out the site frequently Sunday for all your Bears-Falcons coverage. For live in-game updates and analysis from Soldier Field, be sure to follow Laurence Holmes (@LHolmes670) and Adam Hoge (@AdamHogeCBS) on Twitter.