Bears face toughest test to date in Atlanta

  • Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) catches a 15-yard touchdown pass against the New York Giants last Sunday. Mooney is a bit of a wild card heading into Sunday's game vs. the Falcons.

    Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) catches a 15-yard touchdown pass against the New York Giants last Sunday. Mooney is a bit of a wild card heading into Sunday's game vs. the Falcons. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/27/2020 8:19 AM

The Bears are one of 11 undefeated teams in the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons are one of 10 winless teams, yet the Falcons are 3-point favorites over the Bears in Atlanta on Sunday.

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Beyond the fact that the Bears victims, the 0-2 Lions and 0-2 Giants are less than mediocre teams going nowhere this year, each had the ball deep in the Bears red zone and were one play away from beating the Bears at the final gun.

The Falcons on the other hand fell to the 2-0 Seahawks in their home opener in spite of putting up 506 yards of offense, and blew a nine-point lead with less than three minutes to play last Sunday in Dallas after scoring 39 points.

If you guessed turnovers are the problem and the story here you'd be wrong as both clubs are plus-1 and each has turned the ball over just twice.

The Bears are 2-0 because they've made just enough big plays on each side of the ball to win.

The Falcons are 0-2 because they've yet to make a play on defense this season.

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Matchup to watch

Falcons WR's Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley vs. Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson

Ridley is the hottest wideout in the league right now with 4 TDs in the first two weeks and Jones is on a clear path to Canton as one of the best of his generation.

What makes this matchup so fascinating though is Kyle Fuller is an All Pro playing as well as any corner in the league and that will put a spotlight on the rookie Johnson in just his third NFL game.

Johnson has been impressive to date but this will be a next level challenge.

If the Bears corners hold up Atlanta is in trouble but if both receivers are able to contribute the Bears will have a big problem, assuming Jones is healthy enough to play and be effective.

Coach decision to watch

Will Matt Nagy lean harder on run game or open up areal attack?

The Bears temptation has to be to ride their new found running prowess both to shorten the game and keep the Falcons offense on the bench, but 17 points aren't going to win this one and the Bears will almost certainly have to put the ball in the air to score more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Nagy's game plan and play calling could be every bit as important as how the players execute it.

Player(s) to watch

ILB's Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan

The Falcons won't win this game running the football but the Bears are going to have to find pressure from somewhere in addition to Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks. Beyond needing to take away Todd Gurley on Sunday, both Smith and Trevathan were successful when Chuck Pagano blitzed with them inside last year and it may be time to crank that rush up again.

It is also time for both of these two to play to their full potential, particularly Trevathan who has really struggled early. If he has gone over the hill the Bears need to know soon as they are dangerously thin behind him.

X-factor

Falcons injury list

Dante Fowler, Takkarist McKinley, Ricardo Allen and Jones all missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with injuries, OLT Jake Matthews was out Wednesday and Center Alex Mack missed Thursday. Should more than one or two of that group be unable to go Sunday it would dramatically impact the competitive balance of this game.

Jones' hamstring in particular is the injury to keep an eye on. No Julio would create a huge advantage for the Bears.

Wild-card player

Bears WR Darnell Mooney

Mooney has excited so far and the Falcons pass defense has been a sieve. With Atlanta forced to focus on Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery and Jimmy Graham, Cordarrelle Patterson and Mooney become the guys to watch.

Key stats

Falcons 443 offensive yards per game, 350.5 yards passing/game, 32 points/game.

The only thing the Falcons aren't doing particularly well on offense is running the football and that may only be because they haven't had to.

We know the Bears defense is a unit that can put the brakes on them, but they haven't played to that level yet this season.

Final word

Falcons 29, Bears 27

There would be nothing surprising about the Bears going into Atlanta and pulling off a minor upset here. We're not even sure they should be the underdog.

But the Falcons are in a must-win situation, they've proven they can score points in bundles and the Bears just haven't shown enough the first two weeks to argue they're ready to shut Atlanta down, or score enough points to win a shootout.

• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush

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