Atlanta looks to triumph after last week’s heartbreaking defeat. But should you bet on the Bears, instead?
Chicago Bears vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Bears Pass Attack vs. Falcons Pass Defense
I know that I have railed against Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Yet my dislike for him is not unconditional. For example, he played a large role Chicago’s fourth-quarter comeback against the Lions in Week 1.
It’s true that, when he began his comeback, the Lions were missing their top three cornerbacks. But Trubisky’s effort shows that he’s literally capable. He’s worth relying upon -- even to do very well -- when the opposing secondary is weak.
Trubisky is a big reason why Chicago is an underdog on the NFL oddsboard. But I like Trubisky in this match-up because the Falcons rank 28th per pass defense metrics and rank 31st in opposing pass yards per game.
They have offered zero resistance to opposing pass attacks. Atlanta’s pass defense has arguably been hurt by the departure of veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant. But it’s impossible to pin Atlanta’s issues on one player.
"Top" cornerback Isaiah Oliver will try to shadow Chicago’s top receiver Allen Robinson. Similar to last year, Oliver is yielding a 120 passer rating when targeted. Robinson, meanwhile, generated reasonable outrage when he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl last season.
Despite being relied upon relatively heavily by Trubisky, he caught 98 passes for 1,147 yards in 2019. Metrics define him as one of the most dangerous receivers in contested-catch situations.
So it’s deceptive when people point out the lack of cushion that he generates. Creating cushion isn’t his style. He isn’t going to win with his speed. Instead, he excels in contested-catch and other situations with his physicality when the ball in the air, with his body control, and with his excellent hands.
Oliver, besides being weak in general, can leverage his physicality against smaller and weaker receivers, but isn’t going to challenge a guy like Robinson physically.
Other Passing Game Mismatches
After Dallas’ back up tight end caught nine of 10 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown last week against Atlanta, Jimmy Graham and second-round pick Cole Kmet look promising. Both tight ends provide a reputed combination of size and athleticism that is helpful to Trubisky.
Moreover, after losing its leading tackler at linebacker, Atlanta looks worse against pass-catching running backs. Seattle’s Chris Carson, for example, caught six passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Tarik Cohen is much more of a receiving option for Chicago. He caught 79 passes last year and is an easy option for Trubisky to find out of the backfield.
Can Atlanta Keep Pace?
One may think that Atlanta’s high-scoring offense can surely outscore a Trubisky-led offense. A reason why one may have this thought is the success of Atlanta’s pass protection thus far. But the Falcons have benefitted from facing a non-existent Dallas pass rush plus a Seattle pass rush which was decimated during the offseason.
Personnel-wise, one can only expect the same Atlanta pass protection that allows over 40 sacks yearly. Matt Ryan will struggle to find time to throw against a Bear pass rush that features three-time All-Pro Khalil Mack.
The presence of Akiem Hicks is crucial to helping out Mack. Last year, Mack doubled his pressure rate when Hicks was playing. Hicks is a former Pro Bowler who reliably averages eight sacks per year and helps his defense produce stronger numbers against the run and against the pass when he’s on the field.
Chicago’s pass rush supports a secondary which ranks fifth per DVOA metrics in defending the pass. Repeat Pro Bowl defensive backs Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller still stack the Bears’ secondary.
Offensively, Atlanta is further hurt by its lack of versatility. The Falcons average about 50 fewer rush yards per game than the Bears do. This yearly inability to run makes it harder to keep opposing pass rushes honest.
Matt Nagy is notoriously brilliant at scripting plays for Trubisky. We saw this brilliance, again, in Chicago’s opening touchdown last Sunday. While I think Trubisky will have a solid game for himself overall, he’s likeliest to thrive in that first quarter filled with scripted plays.
So, the Bears’ first-quarter ATS will be a bonus NFL Pick for us. Chicago’s pass rush — going against Atlanta’s overrated pass protection — and high-caliber secondary will sufficiently limit Atlanta. For the above reasons, also take the Bears to cover the full-game spread.