By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) There’s a lot of football left to be played, but Sunday’s matchup in Atlanta between the Bears and Falcons sure seems like a must-win situation for both teams. Both teams boast high-powered passing attacks and suspect defenses, which could result in a shootout.
Here are five matchups to follow during Sunday’s action.
Bears left defensive end Willie Young vs. Falcons right tackle Gabe Carimi — A foot injury to Lamar Holmes thrust Carimi into full-time service on the right side. Young has been the Bears’ most effective pass rusher, using leverage and length to win. While Carimi has improved in his pass-protection sets, he still has a tendency to get off balance when trying to counter sudden movements back across his face.
Bears right defensive end Jared Allen vs. Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews — Allen is still working his way back to full strength after a bout of pneumonia. This week, he draws the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, who struggled to hold the edge last week against the Giants. Allen’s get-off speed isn’t what it once was, but against rookie Matthews, he should be able to use his technique to bend the edge for his first sack of the season. Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice uses a lot of max protection, so keep an eye on how often tight ends stay in to help Matthews on the blind side.
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller vs. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones — Last week against the Panthers, Fuller matched up against Kelvin Benjamin all game, so he may mirror Jones this Sunday. Physically, the two receivers are similar, but Jones has an extra gear. Fuller had trouble with double moves in college, so he must stay disciplined at the top of routes and not drive on them too early against the explosive Jones.
Bears slot cornerbacks against Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester — Earlier this week, the Bears waived Isaiah Frey, who was their starting slot cornerback last Sunday, and his replacement hasn’t been identified. Hester has found a niche in the Falcons’ offense. He’s third on the team in targets and receptions, working bubble screens, shallow crossers and stop-and-go routes. The Bears’ pass defense has given up 10 explosive pass plays the past two weeks in the intermediate zones, which is Matt Ryan’s favorite target area on the field.
Bears running back Matt Forte vs. Falcons inside linebacker Paul Worrilow — Forte had a lot of success last week in the passing game but was shut down on the ground by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Worrilow is nowhere near the athlete Kuechly is and struggles to shed blocks. Look for the a Bears to attack Worrilow with inside and outside zone runs to make him track the play and work through the trash. Forte could be in line for a huge game.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.