So can the Atlanta Falcons stop anybody? Well, they first need to stop the Chicago Bears, the team they play Sunday at 4:25 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
As always, the worry is whether anyone on the Falcons defense can get to the opposing quarterback. Chicago has Jay Cutler, the modern-day Jeff George. He can be brilliant at times and maddening in the next minute. The talent is there, but you often wonder if he has both oars in the water.
Cutler has completed 68.1% of his passes thus far this season, fourth-best in the NFL with at least 175 attempts. He’s 7th in the NFL with 1,295 yards and tied for 2nd with 12 touchdowns. Cutler has been sacked 12 times, which is surprisingly twice the number of times Atlanta’s quarterback Matt Ryan has been brought down.
The Falcons must find someone to put pressure on Cutler, but who? Who can step up on that Atlanta defense and become the premier player? There doesn’t seem to be a good candidate.
Some believe Sean Weatherspoon would have been that player, but he’s never emerged as a star. Weatherspoon has been solid, but recently he’s been hurt so how do we know how great he can be as a leader?
William Moore is a very good player, but now he’s hurt too and will miss a significant portion of this season. Desmond Trufant has a great chance to be that star player, but he’s still just in his second year, so it’s hard to ask much from such a young player.
Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson seem to be doing a decent job in the middle, but the Falcons are still fifth-worst in rush defense. So they haven’t really helped that situation much, at least not yet.
The coaches have said all week they'd like to see rookie Prince Shembo pressure the quarterback more. That's why he might start instead of Joplo Bartu at middle linebacker. But Shembo is in his first year, so how much can we really expect from him when the game is on the line? We're not talking about Jadeveon Clowney here, but instead a fifth-round draft pick.
The Falcons beleaguered secondary will be tested by four solid targets for Cutler. Alshon Jeffery is his favorite receiver so far, with 359 yards and 13.8 yards per catch. Next is tight end Martellus Bennett, who has 312 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Matt Forte is a favorite target in Marc Trestman’s offense, as he has 36 catches in five games with 299 yards.
The most heralded receiver is Brandon Marshall, the highly-paid veteran who has 188 yards on 19 catches. Don’t forget Santonio Holmes, who is in his first year with the Bears after four seasons with the Jets.
The Bears are 16th in the NFL in scoring with 23.2 points per game. But the Falcons are giving up the third-most points per game in the NFL with 28.6 points per game allowed.
With questions on the offense with a number of injuries, the defense will have to stop Chicago to give the Falcons a chance to win. Perhaps playing at home will help. The Falcons have played much better at the Georgia Dome (2-0) compared to on the road (0-3).
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Falcons must pressure Jay Cutler
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