GAME DAY, Bears vs. Falcons: What to Watch 4
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1) KEY MATCHUP
The only way to truly shut down the Falcons’ offense is to fall behind 28-3 — and even then you have to have the fear of Tom Brady and the aura of the Patriots on the other sideline to discombobulate the offensive coordinator and compel the Falcons to disintegrate.
The Bears are perfectly capable of falling behind 28-3, but they’re years away from acquiring the second element of that equation. So with that in mind, the challenge is one that will be familiar this season. Their front seven not only has to pressure reigning league MVP Matt Ryan (38 touchdown passes, only seven interceptions and a 117.1 passer rating last season) but confuse him, keep the Falcons out of sync and take the ball away.
From Ryan to Julio Jones to Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman to big-play specialist Taylor Gabriel, the Falcons have too many weapons and too much versatility for the Bears to simply go toe-to-toe with them. A bend-but-don’t-break strategy favors the Falcons. The Bears have to go for it.
The Falcons led the NFL in scoring last season, averaging 33.8 points per game. They scored 28 or more points in nine consecutive games after their bye and in 15 of 19 games overall.
The Bears were 24th in the NFL in scoring defense last year, allowing 24.9 points per game. They allowed 27 or more points in five of their last eight games.
3) KEY PLAYER
The Bears’ revamped secondary — particularly rookie safety Eddie Jackson — will be tested by wide receiver Julio Jones, who averaged an NFL-best 100.6 yards per game last season (83 receptions for 1,409 yards, six touchdowns), with seven 100-yard games.
Super Bowl losers are 4-6 in openers of the next season in the last 10 years (2-8 against the spread) — a particularly notable statistic here because the Falcons are coming off a devastating defeat that even coach Dan Quinn acknowledged left a psychological scar he had to treat.
“It hurt like hell,” Quinn said, “and you wanted to make sure, No. 1, [that] your players are all right and good, and we knew that would take the offseason.
“So we had those uncomfortable conversations and owned our performances, both good and bad. And we learned a lot about ourselves. And at some point, you turn the page. That’s what competitors do. That’s what we have done. It probably took all the way to training camp, I would say. I found out the second day of camp. Was there any more work we had to do on our mindset? And when I saw that practice — the speed, the effort, the toughness we were trying to compete with — that’s when I knew we were ready to officially begin .’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash