Fans of old-school football are in for a treat this Sunday when two of the NFL’s most dominant rushing offenses face off. The Atlanta Falcons (4-6) host the Chicago Bears (3-7) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 11.
The Falcons are favored by 3.5 points, but they will have a tough time slowing down a Chicago team that’s averaging 201.7 rushing yards per game this season. Bears quarterback Justin Fields is coming into his own, while fans in Atlanta are calling for the team to bench Marcus Mariota.
So which team has the edge on Sunday? We went behind enemy lines with Bears Wire managing editor Alyssa Barbieri for the inside scoop on Chicago.
Where has Bears QB Justin Fields improved most this season?
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Barbieri: It was a rough start to this season for Fields, but the Bears’ mini-bye week after a Week 6 loss to the Commanders jumpstarted everything. Chicago adapted the offense to fit Fields’ strengths, which included more designed QB runs. It’s been a game changer for the offense and Fields’ confidence.
While he looked uncomfortable in the first six weeks, Fields has become more decisive in his play, whether that’s in his throws or knowing when to tuck the ball and run. The Bears are letting him play football, utilizing his athleticism, and he’s been sensational. And it’s been in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s fun to imagine what he’ll look like when Chicago gives him a solid supporting cast.
With Khalil Herbert injured, will David Montgomery get the full workload at RB?
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Barbieri: Running back is the deepest position group the Bears have on their roster. So while losing Herbert hurts, Montgomery is more than capable of carrying the workload. In fact, he’s been the workhorse since arriving in Chicago. But Herbert has had more success than Montgomery this season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry compared to Montgomery’s 3.8 YPC, which makes sense given Herbert is a better fit for this scheme.
With Herbert out, Montgomery will get the bulk of the reps while rookie Trestan Ebner should also see some action. Not to mention, Fields will have plenty of involvement in the run game, where he’s been at his most dangerous.
Where is Chicago’s defense most vulnerable?
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Barbieri: Well, the Bears defense has been brutal all around since trading Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn. Given their lack of a pass rush, the secondary has had a tough time defending the pass. So, the Falcons can certainly attack them through the air. But they’re at their most vulnerable against the run. Chicago is allowing an average 142 rushing yards per game, which is 28th in the NFL. And considering Atlanta has the fourth-best rushing attack, it’s a recipe for success for the Falcons and could be disastrous for the Bears.
Who is Chicago's most underrated player on either side of the ball?
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Barbieri: On offense, right guard Teven Jenkins has been arguably Chicago’s best offensive lineman. Jenkins, a second-round pick from last season, was moved from tackle to guard this offseason, and he’s found new life on the interior. Jenkins brings a nastiness and intensity to the position. While he missed last week with a hip injury, he’s poised to make his return this week. On defense, undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn has been standing out.
Ever since Roquan Smith was traded, Sanborn has gotten two starts at middle linebacker, where his instincts have been impressive. Sanborn made his second start last week, where he had 12 tackles, two sacks and a negated interception. He’s someone to watch out for.
Who wins on Sunday/Final score prediction?
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Barbieri: The fun thing about having a quarterback like Justin Fields is that he gives Chicago a chance to win in every game, which is a strange feeling for Bears fans. Chicago’s offense has been rolling over the last month, averaging 31 points, and Fields is a legitimate game-changer. Considering the Bears’ defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody, I expect this to be another close game down the stretch. But I have Chicago finally being able to close out a game as Fields makes his Georgia homecoming. Bears 30, Falcons 27