"Da...Bearss, da Bearss, da Bearss, da Bearss..."
If you're not feeling my SNL reference, I hereby pronounce you clinically dead. There are no fans more super than Mike Myers and Chris Farley.
Anyway, that's who's coming to the Georgia Dome this weekend (not Myers and Farley, silly, the Chicago NFL franchise), and I'm gettin' pretty ready for some Sunday Night Football. We've got ourselves a couple of 3-1 teams, both second in their division, comprising two-thirds of the three-way tie for the two Wild Card spots.
I may or may not have just referred to the "Wild Cards" barely a quarter of the way into the season. Sorry, it's just the way my brain works. I hunger for success, especially that of the back-to-back winning seasons that has so eluded my Falcons.
Truth be told, the patient and cerebral pigskin spectator (they might exist, you never know) may have even more to enjoy from this game than biased boneheads like me. Jay Cutler versus Matt Ryan will be a glimpse into the crystal ball; a lot can be told about the future of NFL quarterbacks from these two. We're also bound to find out what happens when an upstart receiving corps faces an equally upstart secondary.
It's looking like I might have to miss my first Dirty Bird home game this season—darn you, national media and your crowding of our press box—but I'll savor this Sunday nonetheless.
Chicago Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
In his rookie season, it took Matt Forte a few weeks to catch people's attention. By the end of the year, though, most people had him ranked among the top five backs in the league, and even a homer like me is going to admit that 1,238 yards as a babe is pretty good.
Now, here in his second season, it has taken Matt Forte a few weeks to do anything at all of note. Two weeks ago was a beast of a game against the Lions (who I may no longer call the worst team in the league, records considered), but before that, he averaged 2.2 yards a carry in the first two games and not much better against the Seahawks in Week Three.
Whether or not that performance against Detroit was a reemergence, we won't know for a while, but I would definitely hesitate to say he'll replicate it versus Atlanta. Jonathan Babineaux is no creaky Grady Jackson, and while Detroit's linebackers are coming along, they don't swarm the way Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson do.
Chicago's offensive line has underachieved to this point in my opinion. Orlando Pace and Olin Kreutz are old, sure, but they're great players and should be opening up holes in more effective fashion than they are. Not to mention protecting Cutler a little better, but more on that in a bit.
I think it'll come down to Forte getting about 60 yards on the ground, but the Bears will rely on the pass, as they have in 75 percent of their games to this point.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Chicago Rush Defense
Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood looked like a mighty fine one-two punch last week, as Burner got close to triple digits and Norwood played the traditional change-of-pace back role well. I'll go ahead and say that's bad news for a Bears run stoppage that quite nearly succumbed to the Steelers' two-headed monster less than a month ago.
The Falcons will need to mix it up, though obviously Turner is still the heavy lifter. As in our San Francisco showdown, I see him having little trouble getting to the second level, but once he's there, he's got some hard-hitters to watch out for. It would be foolish to underestimate Lance Briggs and his 27 (24 solo!) tackles.
Chicago also struggled when faced with a single back in Seattle, though perhaps that was more Julius Jones' doing than their shortcoming. Still, they have not proven themselves particularly stout: 90 yards to the Lions?
The Bears have done a great job overcoming the loss of Brian Urlacher, but note that Hunter Hillenmeyer, who isn't as big of an in-game factor as Nick Roach but is increasingly becoming a field general, is still feeling some pain in his rib.
Blocking was solid for us last week; I would have expected Patrick Willis to make a few more plays. Needless to say, I want more of the same here.
I see Turner managing a first down on his own per drive. Obviously, that won't be enough to get us even in field goal range, but he'll do the necessary (keep the opponents honest) so Ryan can work some aerial magic.
Chicago Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
Give me a break, OK? It was two full months before the season, and I don't think even you Bears fans saw it coming.
Yes, in a previous DDDB from long ago I asked if anyone was "home" in the Chicago receiving corps, and the team has answered with five guys with double-digit receptions and three guys averaging 13 or more yards per catch. Hey, a lot of that has to do with Cutler, so cut me some slack...
But I'll fess up that Earl Bennett and definitely Johnny Knox are exceedingly impressive to date. The Bears have been led in receiving yards by three different guys (Devin Hester is of course that third), and Cutler is enjoying a situation quite similar to Matty Ice's in that he really can't go wrong when he puts it up.
What's a Falcon secondary to do? Focus on two guys, lock 'em down with Brian Williams and Chris Houston, and hope that "what's behind door no. 3" isn't a monster game from the one we don't stick. Erik Coleman has done a terrific job covering up mistakes to this point, but this air offense is likely to present even more trouble than the Pats' was in Week Three.
Then again, if we can hurry Jay with as much frequency as the teams before us, it won't be such an issue. He's made serious strides since that cringe-inducing debut against the Pack, but the fact remains that he's been sacked eight times already. Not the worst stat in the world until you realize that the team has faced a defense worth anything in only half its contests.
John Abraham had a big one on Shaun Hill, which was encouraging for us who have felt like he's been absent since the Dolphins game, but he still only had two total tackles. I continue to plead for more from him (earn that salary, man!) and more Kroy Biermann in general.
C'mon, D-line; Pace is aged, Chris Williams the opposite, and there's little depth at the other three spots. Not that y'all haven't performed at all to this point, but make the defensive backs' lives a little bit easier.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Chicago Pass Defense
The second straight matchup analysis in which I must open by swallowing my pride: Yes, I did indeed say that the "Bears' secondary is obviously the Achilles' heel of [their] D." Admit it, though: Everyone thought that before a few shifts were made and some young guys stepped it up huge.
Not sure enough can be said about Danieal Manning, who went from corner to safety to leading the team in tackles so far this year in just his fifth year out of Abilene Christian (same school as Knox! What're they feedin' 'em over there in Tex?). But it'd be a crime to overlook Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman, who are third and fourth on the team in takedowns, respectively.
And for you who think the tackle stat isn't all that counts (I know, I know, you're right...), let's just consider that Chicago shut up Aaron Rodgers pretty good (150 yards) and really has only looked bad against Seattle. No, Detroit does not count, considering the flow of that game.
As the Bears' passcatchers may well be the best we've had to face, their pass defenders might be too, but I am still just as high on my Falcons wideouts (and Godly tight end) as I was after the Panthers game. How could I not be after Roddy White broke a franchise record last week and Tony Gonzalez got 55 while really only be targeting in two quarters?
One thing the Bears don't do is make plays on the ball; their three interceptions speak to their tendency to tackle after the catch. Plays into our strengths, doesn't it, considering Gonzo's build and Roddy's 80-something-yard run after a 12-yarder against the Niners?
On the line, it's a no-brainer that we've got to watch out for Adewale Ogunleye. He's making my words from that infamous earlier column iteration look mighty appetizing...as in, I might have to "eat" them. Four-and-a-half sacks already? Al Aflava and Alex Brown are clearly doing more than I thought they could in terms of occupying blockers.
That being said, Matt's not going to fall but maybe two times, and I don't think anyone can completely shut down our attack through the skies. This will be the key, though.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Bears 28
Gonna be a nailbiter, though maybe not quite to the extreme that last year's matchup was. Let me say this: That third team who's contending for the theoretical "fourth-of-a-season-Wild Cards," the Eagles, they don't have an ice cube's chance in...
Oh, wait, it's the Eagles. Nevermind.
More killer NFC football coming right up!