Bears-Falcons: Five Keys to the Game

In order to take another step toward an NFC North crown and keeping the hopes of a first bye alive, the Bears are in a need of a victory over the Falcons. Here are five keys to watch for in tonight's game.

1. Establish an identity
The Bears are a running team and need to establish the ground game early against the 22nd rush defense in the league.

Last week in Pittsburgh, the Bears tied a season low with 18 rushes. The reason Chicago abandoned the run was a double-digit deficit. Getting ahead early is vital for the lifeblood of the offense.

If the opposition knows the Bears have to pass on a consistent basis that's when Kyle Orton's inexperience and accuracy issues become a problem.

2. Move the Chains
The Bears are the worst third down offense in football. They have converted just 28.3 percent of their attempts. Three and outs limit what offensive coordinator Ron Turner can do over the course of a game.

The Bears have had just 51 and 56 offensive plays in their last two games. A game plan has to be trimmed down when you fail to have more than three plays on a drive.

It's also important for the third down attempts to be less than 7 yards. The Bears convert a paltry 16.7 percent of chances over 6 yards. Meaning the unit has to be better on first and second down as well.

In turn it will keep the defense rested so they can be at full strength when they have to chase down Michael Vick. The Steelers held the ball for more than 37 minutes, which wore on the defense over the course of the game.

3. Contain Vick
The Chicago defense has the athleticism to matchup with Michael Vick. While few will be able to take him down in a one-on-one situation, the collective group must keep him the pocket. He's most dangerous when he can run or pass.

If he's forced to sit back in the pocket and beat a defense solely with his arm that's when the turnovers will come. He's thrown ten interceptions and fumbled 10 times.

Despite his freakish ability, Vick has been sacked 23 times or once every 13.2 pass attempts. Comparatively speaking Orton has been sacked 26 times and has thrown the ball 39 more times.

4. Exploit a Weakness
There is concern about the rash of injuries at safety, but the Falcons have a major problem on their defensive line.

If you haven't heard of Constantin Ritzmann, you might have by Sunday night. The Germany native was signed off Buffalo's practice squad this week because RE Brady Smith and DL Antwan Lake are injured and are highly unlikely to play against the Bears.

Lake's dislocated left shoulder could sideline him for two weeks and Smith might not take another snap with Atlanta, all of which means rookie right end Jonathan Babineaux will start outside but also swing inside and join Darrell Shropshire as the backup tackle tandem for Rod Coleman and Chad Lavalais.

The Bears would be wise to run Thomas Jones and Adrian Peterson off left guard and tackle all night.

Chauncey Davis, a rookie like Babineaux and Shropshire, will take the bulk of the snaps as the backup right end, but his responsibilities are also to provide support for left end Patrick Kerney.

5. Time to Shine
The Bears have their chance to show they are a legitimate NFC contender on national television. Even though a win keeps the No. 2 seed in the conference, the sentiment around the country seems to be that the Bears are pretenders.

A win over the Falcons would give a sweep over the NFC South, which had a combined 29-23 record heading into Week 15.

There's little doubt the defense is Super Bowl caliber. Many have seen highlights of the unit making a big hit or forcing a turnover, but this will be their first chance to see a game from start to finish.

Still there are obvious questions about what the offense will be able to provide down the stretch and more importantly in the playoffs. One bad game in the postseason means you'll be watching the game on TV the following week.

A poor showing by Orton will once again open up the quarterback debate. Something the Bears would prefer to lay to rest, but it won't go away until the passing game brings some kind of balance to the offense.

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