Trying to change up the constant stream of pregame breakdowns, featured columnists Scott Ottersen and myself have teamed up to try and bring you a fair case for who should win this weekend when the Bears travel down to the Georgia Dome for the second year in a row to face the Falcons.
For this week, I will be taking the side of the Bears, while my esteemed colleague will be making a case that supports the Falcons.
We debate, you judge...
My case really boils down to five key points:
No. 1 is Jay Cutler. I realize it is early to be crowning him, but his ability to keep the Bears in games allows for the defense to eventually establish itself and his play at the end of games has been fantastic.
His numbers so far this season in the fourth quarter: 22/28 for 241 yards two TDs, one INT with 13 first downs and three plays longer than 20 yards. That gives him a 111.5 QB rating in the fourth quarter.
Even against the Packers, the Bears were winning with just over a minute to go because despite the three interception first half performance, Jay orchestrated a couple scoring drives to put us in a position to win the game.
No. 2 is the Chicago Bears wide receivers. Believe me, if I had to write this article before the start of the season, this group would have been one of the cases AGAINST betting on the Bears. But four games in, this unit has looked very, very dangerous.
The combination of speed and big play ability (Hester, Knox) coupled with the size and athleticism (Olsen) plus the sure handed, reliable secondary options (Forte, Clark, Bennett) has surprised Bear fans and opponents alike. While the Falcons have solid corners and do not give up a lot of touchdowns, they do rank 20th in passing yards allowed.
No. 3 is the Bears linebacker corps. Despite missing Brian Urlacher for the rest of the season, it looks like strong side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa will finally be back in the starting line up. This comes as a major boost for the Bears depleted unit.
Despite also having back up MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer on the injury report, Pisa's return will allow the Bears some more options on trying to defend Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez.
No. 4 is that fact the Bears are coming off their bye week. The Bears play some pretty impressive football under Lovie Smith when playing after week off, especially the defense.
As ESPN showed on NFL Live, in the past three seasons the Bears have gone 3-0 in the week following their bye and held opponents to an average of 13 points per game. Lovie has had two weeks to prep his guys for this big match up, so expect them to come out ready.
And No. 5 is the simple fact that the Chicago Bears special teams is…well, special. Under coordinator Dave Toub, this Bears unit has been one of the tops in the league. One testament to this fact is that in the three straight seasons, they have had three separate players return kicks for touchdowns. Plus, the Bears keep more players on their roster for strictly special team’s duty than anyone else in the league.
Eric Weems, the Falcons kick returner, currently has an average of 25.5 yards per kick return with a long of 41. That stat isn’t too shabby until you compare it to Johnny Knox’s average of 35.8 yards per kick return with a long of 102, which was a touchdown.
Falcon’s kicker Jason Elam has a strong leg but is only four for six on his field goal attempts while Robbie Gould has knocked in six out of seven field goals including the game winner in the final seconds to upset the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Falcons Punter Michael Koenen has punted 16 times for an average right near 41 yards and landing four inside the 20. Brad Maynard for the Bears has punted 18 times for an average of just under 44 yards per kick and dropped nine inside the 20 yard line.
So it is for these reasons I think the Bears will be able to pull out a win against a very tough NFC opponent.
Bears 34 Falcons 31
PAGE TWO: Scott's argument for why the FALCONS will win the game...
Okay, Max, well I have reviewed your five reasons, and while every bone in my body wants to attest to what you are saying, I am playing the role of devil’s advocate here, and will tell you why the Falcons are going to win this game. Since you broke your argument into points, I will do the same.
No. 1 is that Matt Ryan is coming into his own this season. He has all the tools. He has a strong arm, quick release, good footwork, good protection, great options to throw to, a good running game, and can read defenses well. He doesn’t make mistakes. Even as a rookie, he only threw 11 interceptions, and lost only one fumble.
This season, he is on pace for more of the same, only throwing two interceptions and not fumbling the ball yet. With his confidence building, he looks poised for a breakout, Pro Bowl-type year.
No. 2 is Roddy White. The Bears secondary trying to stop Roddy White…good luck. The Bears struggle against teams top receivers. Each week, they get torched by the main guy (Jennings 6-106 and a TD, Holmes 5-83, Burleson 9-109, Calvin 8-133). It doesn’t seem to matter if they are big and physical or small and fast, the Bears secondary can’t handle them. And, Roddy White is one of the premier wideouts in the NFL today, and with the confidence he has after last weeks standout performance, the Bears secondary are going to have their hands full. Peanut Tillman is just not up to the challenge.
No. 3 is Tony Gonzalez. Yes, the Bears will have Pisa Tinoisamoa back for this game, but are he, Briggs, and the safeties up to the challenge against Tony Gonzalez. The Bears defense allows one of the highest rate of pass attempts to tight ends, and that is saying something considering they haven’t faced a team with a decent tight end yet.
The Falcons don’t stretch Tony down the field that often, so he is going to occupy the middle of the field, which will keep the safeties honest and leave the outside open for the taking. And, if the safeties don’t remain honest, Matt Ryan is going to hit Tony Gonzalez down the middle every time, because Pisa and Lance aren’t going to be able to stay with him.
No. 4 is the Falcons special teams. I will combat your argument about the Bears having an advantage on the special teams’ side of the ball. Yes, the Bears have great return men and the Falcons don’t. But, in defense of Johnny Knox’s return average, it is greatly skewered by the 102 yard return against Detroit, which in all honesty should have been 101 yards and no TD, seeing as how he stupidly dropped the ball before he crossed the goal line.
But, I digress. In combatant to the Bears return teams is the highly ranked Falcons’ cover team. They rank fourth in average yards per kickoff return, and are tied for third in touchbacks. And, they are ninth in punt return yard average, allowing less than seven yards per return, with half of their punts being downed inside the 20 yard line or being fair caught. So, as good as the Bears return teams are, the Falcons will be able to put a stranglehold on that advantage.
One interesting stat is that the Falcons are first in the league in offensive AND defensive line of scrimmage for the start of drives. Their drives start (on average) at their own 36 yard line, while the opposing teams start (on average) at the 23 yard line.
No. 5 is the Falcons opportunistic defense. The stats are never what tell the true story of a game. But, the reason the Falcons are 3-1 despite allowing a lot of yardage is the fact that they make plays on defense. In the second half against Carolina, only up one score, the defense came up with a fumble and an INT to ice the game.
The Falcons are second in the league when it comes to recovering fumbles compared to the number of drives they’re opponent has had. And, they are sixth in overall turnovers caused per opponent drive. So, as much as everyone likes to think that the Bears have an opportunistic defense, the Falcons have an even more opportunistic defense, because the Bears aren’t even in the top 15 in those categories.
With all that said, it should be an easy win for the Falcons. If they play the way they have been playing so far this season, the Bears will stand no chance. The big plays are going to determine this game, and the Falcons are just going to make more of them.
I predict a 31-21 Falcons victory.