The Chicago Bears (3-7) will face the Atlanta Falcons (4-6) on Sunday, where Chicago is looking to get back in the win column.
The Bears are coming off a 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions (3-6), where quarterback Justin Fields had another impressive outing and continues to ascend into one of the NFL’s most exciting players. Chicago’s offense has been rolling, averaging 31 points per game over the last four games. But can they continue that success against Atlanta?
Before the game, we caught up with managing editor Matt Urben of Falcons Wire to get the scoop on the Bears’ Week 11 opponent.
Here are six questions with Falcons Wire:
Marcus Mariota has been inconsistent this season. How close are the Falcons to handing the reins over to rookie Desmond Ridder?
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Matt Urben: Despite fans calling for Atlanta to bench Mariota, head coach Arthur Smith is unwilling to make a move while the team is contending for the NFC South title. Mariota’s running ability has added a dimension the Falcons didn’t have with Matt Ryan under center.
The problem is that Mariota has been wildly inconsistent throwing the ball this season. This was highlighted during Atlanta’s Week 11 loss to the Panthers in which the Falcons QB made some truly questionable decisions. There’s no guarantee Ridder will be any better, but if Mariota keeps making rookie mistakes, the Falcons might as well see what their actual rookie QB can do.
Like the Bears, the Falcons are committed to running the ball (and do a great job of it). Who’s been carrying the load, and has this rushing attack shown any weaknesses?
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MU: Cordarrelle Patterson gets a lot of the credit, and deservedly so, but Atlanta’s success on the ground has been a group effort. Rookie Tyler Allgeier actually leads the team in rushing with 443 yards. Mariota has 347 rushing yards and Caleb Huntley is also over the 300-yard mark.
The Falcons are averaging 4.9 yards per carry this season and the ground game has truly become the backbone of this football team. When healthy, this group has a great mix of speed, power and vision, which makes it hard for defenses to account for. The only real issue is how one-dimensional the offense has become in recent weeks.
Justin Fields has emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous run threats. How have the Falcons fared against running QBs this season?
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MU: Honestly, the Falcons haven’t played against many mobile quarterbacks this season — at least no one on the level of Justin Fields. In terms of pass-rushing ability, Atlanta has done a decent job of getting pressure but the team ranks 31st in the NFL with 13 sacks.
The Falcons have plenty of athleticism at linebacker, particularly on the outside with Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie. Still, I expect Atlanta to struggle containing Fields on Sunday. The Bears QB could have a big day passing the ball against a struggling Falcons secondary.
The Falcons have the worst passing defense, statistically. Is that a fair assessment of how this unit has performed? Can Fields find success in the passing game?
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MU: Yes and yes. Fields can, and likely will, have success against Atlanta’s abysmal secondary. Even if CB A.J. Terrell makes his return after missing the past three games, this unit just hasn’t played well at any point in 2022. Casey Hayward is still out, and Atlanta is starting two first-year safeties in Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant.
If Fields is patient, there will be some major holes on the back end that the Bears can take advantage of. If Chicago can hit on a few deep balls early in the game, it will soften up Atlanta’s front seven and open up bigger rushing lanes for Fields. The Falcons are allowing 281 yards per game through air, the most of any team in 2022.
Who are some under-the-radar Falcons that Bears fans should keep an eye on?
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MU: Running back Caleb Huntley has averaged nearly five yards per carry this season and his contributions have been largely overlooked due to the success of Patterson and Allgeier. Second-year defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham, a former fifth-round pick out of Texas, has stood out and could be a part of the team’s long-term plans.
Safety Richie Grant has been one of the few bright spots in the secondary. After getting off to a slow start during his rookie year, Grant is playing with more confidence this season. Lastly, wide receiver Damiere Byrd has become a favorite target of Marcus Mariota.
What’s your score prediction?
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MU: I’m predicting a low-scoring game with lots of three-and-outs for both offenses. I think Fields will get loose once or twice, but the Falcons keep the game close enough to find a way at the end. Falcons 17, Bears 16.