On the surface, the Chicago Bears opening game of the 2017 season seems like a mismatch that makes it almost impossible for the team to overcome in spite of home field advantage. Their opponent the Atlanta Falcons are coming off an eleven win season and an appearance in the Super Bowl and only lost to the heavily favored New England Patriots, because their hot shot Offensive Coordinator forgot about the running game in spite of being up by 25 points as late as midway through the 3rd Quarter. We all know how it ended.
On the other side of the field await the challengers. The Chicago Bears. In 2016 they had a whopping 19 players grace the Injured Reserve heavily contributing to a 3 win season that followed a 6 win season giving them a total of 9 wins in two consecutive seasons. To add to the case against them they start the season with 9 players already on the Injured Reserve. Well, things on the surface don’t always tell the entire tale. Sometimes you’ve got to dig below the surface before coming to a conclusion. So I’m about to grab my excavation equipment and do that very thing.
FALCON PROS AND CONS:
The Falcons certainly have a lot going for them. They have a nice roster of top playmakers in this league on both sides of the ball. They have a speedy defense that is allowed to run around and make plays on the ball without being bogged down by following a complicated scheme and just letting them use their natural athletic abilities. They have stability on offense at the most important position in the game in Quarterback Matt Ryan and at the playmaker positions.
With that speed on Defense comes the sacrifice of size and strength and thus being open to getting gashed in the run game. Which is what happened last season to the tune of ranking 6th worst in the league in average yards per run at 4.5 a pop. They were mid tier in total run yards allowed, but that speaks more to their explosive passing game putting up a slew of points and thus forcing their opponents to throw more and run less. It’s very reminiscent of what used to happen to the Bears defense in the Lovie Smith era whenever they’d face an elite power run team with a nasty offensive line. While they provide problems in the passing game they aren’t all that stout against the run.
OFFENSIVE LINE WOES:
As I mentioned above the Falcons have an explosive passing attack and are complimented by a very good running attack with a formidable Running Back duo in the form of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They also have debatably the best Wide Receiver in the league in Julio Jones. He’s certainly the most physically gifted. That can’t be denied. However, they don’t have the best offensive line in the league. They ranked 21st according to NFL.com’s ranking system.
Alex Mack is one of the better Centers in the league and was a 2nd team All Pro selection in 2016, and Andy Levitre, while not special, is decent at Left Guard for them. However, they have question marks at the other three Offensive Line positions. To make matters worse their starting Right Guard Chris Chester retired this off season and he wasn’t anything to write home about as it is. Now the guy he beat out last season takes over as his replacement in the form of Wes Schweitzer. Jake Mathews was a highly Touted Left Tackle prospect 4 years ago but has fallen well short of the expectations Atlanta had for him when they drafted him as their first rounder. Their Right Tackle Ryan Schraeder is not nearly as talented as Mathews and is only serviceable when he’s at his best.
I’ve already mentioned their Average yards per run being ranked the 6th worst at 4.5 a crack, but they were equally as bad as that in pass protection. They ranked 6th in giving up Quarterback hits at 106 total. They also ranked just out of the top 10 by one sack at 11th worst giving up 37 total sacks. As a matter of fact, the two biggest plays in Super Bowl LI were two sacks. One, that was a strip sack deep in Atlanta territory which is where most think the moment changed in New England’s favor and woke them up. The other late in the game that took them out of field goal range and eventually forced a punt instead of the field goal which would’ve been the difference in winning the Super Bowl rather than losing it like they did. Sure, most of that is on Atlanta Head Coach Dan Quinn for even allowing former Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan to even have a choice and pass in those situations, however, the Offensive Line did fail them in the games two most important moments.
SUPER BOWL LOSERS CURSE:
In the past decade, the Super Bowl loser’s record on opening day is 4-6 and 1-5 on the road which ironically began with the 2007 Chicago Bears. This fun fact I have to give credit to Adam Hoge to who mentioned it on his Podcast that he co-hosts with Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for SuperBowl losers futility the season after losing the sports big showcase game. Just 7 teams have made it back to the big game and with only the 71′ Cowboys and the 72′ Dolphins winning it. Check out these figures of the Super Bowl Losers the past 23 years:
Missed playoffs: 43.5 percent.
Lost in wild-card round: 17.4 percent.
Lost in divisional round: 30.4 percent.
Lost in conference championship: 8.7 percent.
Reached Super Bowl again: 0 percent.
This information courtesy of www.thepostgame.com. Click on the link to read the detailed article breakdown.
HOW BEARS MATCH UP:
If you take all the information I compiled and match them against what you know the Chicago Bears strengths are you’ll see there are a great many matchup advantages going to the Bears. Number one, the Bears running game matches up well against the Atlanta run Defense. Especially inside as Atlanta isn’t really built to hold up against power running attacks. They are built to beat you off the snap with their athleticism and sideline to sideline. Even the Falcons one advantage of athleticism is neutralized by the Bears own athleticism along the offensive line particularly on the interior Guard to Guard. To add to that the Bears go Four deep in dangerous Running Backs and can come at you in waves play after play.
Another stat that favors the Bears versus the Falcons is receptions given up to Running backs. The Bears have some very dangerous running backs once given the ball in space. Even Howard will be an issue to deal with as he worked very hard on his pass catching this offseason. The Falcons just happened to be the team that allowed the most receptions to Running Backs in 2016. Another stat I have to credit to Adam Hoge. With Glennon figuring to stick to a conservative passing attack with lots of check downs and planned passes to the Running Backs it figures to be a huge part of this Sunday’s opening game’s game plan. Add the fact the Bears Tight Ends and Wide Receivers are very good and aggressive physical blockers which should add to the yardage total after the catch.
Next advantage is the Bears front 7 versus Atlanta’s run blockers and pass protectors. Even the most ardent of Bears disbelievers will admit the front 7 appears to be the Bears biggest strength and possibly one of the leagues very best units. Added with the fact the Falcons struggle against elite front 7’s and you have a recipe that can get the Soldier Field crowd lathered up in a frenzy and cause some communication issues and some missed assignments and thus some turnovers.
CODA: There are more than a few Bears critics out there and some even believe they are a dreadful team with among the leagues worst roster lead by a Head Coach who many believe the league has passed him by and he is on his way out after this season concludes. There are some cases for this logic, but there are equally as many compelling cases to support the Bears turnaround as well. Some of which I detailed in this very article. Point being the Bears have a chance until they don’t. They have many interesting players that a good coaching staff can use to exploit a lot of opponents weaknesses by isolating those matchups through clever scheming. If the players on this roster buy in and work hard on their craft I see no reason why the Bears won’t challenge for a playoffs spot this season. Admittedly a lot of if’s would have to come to fruition, but at least those if’s exist. My advice is to keep an open mind and wait and see. There’ll be plenty of doom and gloom should the season go the way most are predicting it will.