Does it get much bigger than this early in the season? Well, technically the answer could be yes since both teams have a loss on their schedule, but the Falcons and Bears have rebounded from their lone loss. The Bears have won three straight after losing the first game of the season to the Packers, and the Falcons certainly found their stride against one of the best defenses, and upstart teams in the 49ers last week. Both teams stand at 3-1 and really want this one because the Bears have the Bengals, 49ers, Eagles, and Vikings, and the Falcons have the Cowboys, Saints, Giants, and Eagles on the horizon. Add in the element of last year’s well-known, heart-stopping game where Matt Ryan and the Falcons showed some serious moxie in winning the game with 8 seconds left on the clock, and you get the making for a huge battle. As much as it was an amazing experience at the Terror-Dome for the Falcons and our fans, it was also a pretty bitter pill for the Bears and their fans. Revenge may not be the first order of the day, but it surely is in the back of several coaches and players minds. One more element is Jay Cutler returning with a different team after single-handedly leading his old team the Broncos down the field to win the game (check out DOL’s new blog), handing the Falcons their only home loss. This one has all the makings for a classic powerhouse, knock-down, drag-out streetfight in the Dome on the national stage of Sunday Night Football. Neither team can afford a loss, at least while their respective rivals, Vikings in the NFC North and Saints in the NFC South, haven’t lost a game to date. A look at the match-up between two teams hoping to make a statement in the extremely crowded NFC:
Falcons Defense (Rushing – 24th, Passing – 21st, Total – 20th, Points – 4th)
Bears Offense (Rushing – 27th, Passing – 19th, Points – 7th)
Reshuffled, Resurgent D-Line vs. Bears O-Line
DE – John Abraham vs. LT – Orlando Pace
DT – Jonathan Babineaux vs. LG – Frank Omiyale
DT – Jamaal Anderson? vs. C-Olin Kreutz/RG – Roberto Garza
DE – Kroy Biermann vs. RT – Chris Williams
After being roundly criticized and disparaged by fans and media types, John Abraham sent a strong message to his line mates over the bye week, heading out to San Francisco, “Man Up!” And they certainly took note, registering 3 sacks in one game, after failing to notch one in the last two games. The D-Line set the tone for the entire game, stuffing the run and putting pressure on Shaun Hill all day, refusing to let him get comfortable in the pocket. The line’s excellent play also allowed the linebackers, defensive backs, and play-calling to be much more aggressive, which certainly helped. The big news on Jamaal Anderson moving inside to D-Tackle was met with rave reviews as he had one of the better games of his career, which also allowed him to be on the field with Abraham, Babineaux, and Biermann all at the same time. The resulting product worked very well. Although the defensive line is coming off a huge week and the Bears line isn’t what it used to be, Roberto Garza and Orlando Pace are wily vets who have both been to Pro-Bowls and know how to play the game. Kreutz is solid at center, and Omiyale is good at guard as well. Although Biermann won’t have a cakewalk with Williams, he has faced tougher tackles to date. Edge – Birds
Soul of the Defense vs. Bears Backs and Tight Ends
SLB – Stephen Nicholas vs. TE – Greg Olsen
MLB – Curtis Lofton vs. FB – Jason McKie
WLB – Mike Peterson vs. RB – Matt Forte
The complete heart and soul of the defense has been the linebackers for the Falcons so far this season. Even though the defensive line and secondary have had their ups and downs, the linebackers have been pretty rock solid in every game they’ve played. Curtis Lofton is tied for 6th in the NFL with 47 total tackles. Peterson has been a definitive upgrade at weakside linebacker in terms of athletic ability and striking capacity. Nicholas hasn’t had a ton of statistics, but has played much better in pass coverage and been flying all over the field. Matt Forte is quickly becoming one of the best young running backs in the league and has certainly seemed to hit his stride again in the run game after a couple of slow outings. Even though Greg Olsen is no Tony Gonzalez, he is a great red-zone threat who has two touchdowns. The Bears look to pound the rock early and often, but the Falcons linebackers have been playing at a very high level. Edge – Birds
Falcons Improved Secondary vs. Cutler and Bears WRs
CB – Brian Williams vs. WR – Devin Hester
CB – Chris Houston vs. WR – Earl Bennett
Nickel – Brent Grimes vs. Slot – Johnny Knox
SS – Erik Coleman vs. TE – Greg Olsen
FS – Thomas DeCoud vs. QB – Jay Cutler
The Falcons highly criticized secondary got off the mat last week and had an excellent game against the 49ers wide receivers, Shaun Hill, and Vernon Davis. Although, the Niners receiving threats strike fear in no one, they still played their parts and played aggressive and tough when the ball was in the air. Erik Coleman kept a lid on Vernon Davis who was on a serious hot streak and corners Williams, Grimes, and Houston had a very productive day in the defensive backfield. The Bears bring a very young receiving corps into the Terror-Dome on Sunday night, but extremely talented and athletic. Jay Cutler’s new arsenal may not be quite as good as his WR corps in Denver, but they bring some of the most pure speed in the NFL. Cutler drove his former team down the field in the raucous Dome last year for the game-winning drive, giving the Birds their only loss at home. Save the last second heroics, Kyle Orton did everything needed last year to beat the Falcons with a much less talented receiving corps. Even though the Falcons secondary have played great in two out of four games, the Bears get a slight nod due to Cutler’s performance in the Dome last year. Edge – Forest Dwellers
Falcons Offense (Rushing – 15th, Passing – 14th, Total – 13th, Points – 9th)
Bears Defense (Rushing – 9th, Passing – 20th, Total – 13th, Points – 13th)
The Burn Unit vs. Bears D-Line
LT – Sam Baker vs. DE – Adewale Ogunleye
LG – Justin Blalock vs. DT – Anthony Adams
C – Todd McClure/RG – Harvey Dahl vs. DT – Tommie Harris
RT – Tyson Clabo vs. DE – Alex Brown
Much like their defensive counterparts, the Falcons offensive line took the criticism about their inability to run the ball and all the talk about the greatest defense in the NFL very personally. The Burn Unit got back to what they do best against the 49ers, playing tough, hard-nosed football with an edge. Baker, Blalock, McClure, Dahl, and Clabo got the nasty mentality back and imposed their will the way they did last season leading Turner to the Pro-Bowl and the second leading rushing offense in the NFL. They run up against one of the better defensive lines they’ll see all season in Pro-Bowlers Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris, with Alex Brown being a solid D-End anchoring the other side. As with pretty much all games, this one will definitely be won in the trenches and the Burn Unit has to wear down this tough D-Line. Too tough to call this one. Edge – Tie
Burner, Norwood, and Gonzo vs. Bears Linebackers
TE – Tony Gonzalez vs. SLB – Lance Briggs
FB – Jason Snelling vs. MLB – Hunter Hillenmeyer
RB – Michael Turner vs. WLB – Pisa Tinoisamoa
Michael Turner got going in a big way with almost 100 yards, 3 touchdowns and Norwood chipped another near 50 yards rushing, with most everything back in order. The Burn Unit helped blow some bigger holes and the vertical passing game was clicking on all cylinders, but Turner and Norwood also deserve some serious credit for hitting the holes hard and running with purpose. Having the combination of Turner’s power and Norwood’s speed was surely a big help as well. The Falcons running backs will have to get going early and often to produce the same momentum and result that occurred in San Francisco last week. The big loss of Brian Urlacher has expectedly had an effect on the Bears linebacking corps, but not quite as big as one might think. Even though the Bears lost their leader of the defense and team and general, they still have Lance Briggs who has made the Pro-Bowl four years running. Hillenmeyer has shown to be a solid fill-in for Urlacher, but the real match-up may come down to Tinoisamoa and how well he plays in the run game and dropping into coverage. The battle of Tony Gonzalez and Lance Briggs/SS Kevin Payne may be a huge battle that could decided the game. The Patriots and Niners seemed intent on stopping Gonzalez, which opened up huge days for Jenkins against the Pats, and White/Turner against the Niners. If Urlacher’s in the line-up, this one may be closer. Edge – Birds
Matty Ice, Superstar Roddy, & WRs vs. Bears Secondary
WR – Roddy White vs. CB – Charles Tillman
WR – Michael Jenkins vs. CB – Nathan Vasher
Slot – Marty Booker vs. Nickel – Craig Steltz?
TE – Tony Gonzalez vs. SS – Kevin Payne
QB – Matt Ryan vs. FS – Danieal Manning
Many fans wanted the Falcons to break out the vertical passing attack, and they delivered with an emphatic blast. Ryan threw for a career high 329 yards, two touchdowns, and added a rushing td as well. Roddy White had a game for the books, going over 200 yards receiving with two touchdowns, including an amazing 90 yard touchdown reception, in which he raced 80 yards like he was at a track meet. Matt Ryan came out looking sharp as usual, but the running game helped to highlight the aerial attack. Although White and Ryan looked particularly on their game, it also seemed that Coach Mularkey opened up the playbook a little more. The offensive passing attack also got Gonzalez involved early in the game. Ryan spread the ball around extremely well, getting the ball to White, Gonzalez, Finneran, Jenkins, and Justin Peelle. The passing attack hit on all cylinders and gave the fans a glimpse of the vast potential in the air assault. The Falcons draw another tough match-up in one of the better cornerback tandems in Pro-Bowler Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman. Daniel Manning and Kevin Payne may not be the Super Bowl contending safety combination of a couple years ago, but they definitely have excellent skills and ability. This would be a toss-up, but Tony Gonzalez barely puts this one in the Birds column. Edge – Barely Birds
Huge NFC Powerhouse Game
Although both teams have a notch in the loss column, it is certainly easy to argue that this is a momentous game for both teams. A win in this one on a national stage would go a long way towards trying to establish some force in a very tough NFC. If either team wants to go to the playoffs, they will have to win games like this one. Bright lights, big city, last second electricity from last year, and on a national stage: it doesn’t get much better than this! If you’re headed -down to the Terror-Dome, get down there early, get revved up and ready to get loud!
-Who takes the Falcons-Bears game?
-Huge game or too early in the season?
-Cutler work his magic again or secondary steps up again?
-Another multiple sack day for Falcons D-Line or one-time shot?
-Burn Unit enforce their will again or Bears D-Line too tough?
-Roddy White and WRs huge day or one of the better cornerback tandems too much?
-Matt Ryan’s progression too much for Bears or a slight step back?
-How raucous and rockin’ will Terror-Dome be?
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