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Five things to watch when Falcons host Chicago Bears in Week 11 contest

Battle of two of the league's best rushing offenses commences in Atlanta. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The battle of two of the league's best rushing offenses commences in Atlanta on Sunday with the Bears traveling south to face the Falcons.

It's also the battle between two defenses that have struggled recently to stop the run.

What does this mean? We dissect it all below.

1. A.J. Terrell's potential return...?

For almost a month, the Falcons have been without Terrell as he worked through a hamstring injury.

On Monday, Arthur Smith said the team was hopeful that Terrell would return to practice this week, and he did, though he was limited. The Falcons announced on Friday that Terrell was questionable to play on Sunday against the Bears.


Also listed as questionable ahead of Sunday's game is fellow defensive back Erik Harris. Harris has missed time with a foot injury. It's likely Terrell and Harris will be game-day decisions.

If they return, it would get this secondary as close to full strength as it has been since Casey Hayward went on injured reserve last month. Whether or not Terrell or Harris actually gets the all-clear to play, though, is still up in the air.

Keep an eye out for the Falcons inactives list, which comes out 90 minutes before kickoff on Sunday.

2. Containing Justin Fields

The Falcons have played their fair share of elite quarterbacks in 2022. Heck, they've faced Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert already this year (just to name a few). However, not a one of them has the specific skillset that Fields has as a physical runner.

In the last two games he's played, Fields has amassed over 300 rushing yards on 28 carries, which is good enough for an average that sits well over 11 yards a carry through both games.

"This isn't like (Tom) Brady or (Peyton) Manning or somebody like that who's going to sit in the pocket all day and going to be a statue. He's not. He's going to take off," Dean Pees said on Thursday. "The problem with him, too, is not only when he takes off – he's a 230-pound guy that can run the ball. He'd probably be a good running back if he was a running back."

It's because of this that the Falcons defense has to be at their best on Sunday.

If given space, Fields isn't afraid to take off nor will the damage he causes when he does be minute. The last two games have shown what type of weapon he is on the move, with the ball in his hands. The Bears have lost their last two games, but Fields' performance in both games should not be overlooked.

The Falcons defensive front has quite the challenge ahead, and how they face said challenge will be something to take note of.

"I don't think we've seen a QB get north and south like that, yet," Ta'Quon Graham said. "I feel like we have to stay in those rush lanes, squeeze a lot of those gaps down so he has to stutter his feet and slow himself down."

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) runs with the football during an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Chicago. The Lions defeated the Bears 31-30. (Scott Boehm via AP)

3. Bears offensive plan not unlike that of Carolina's last week

This is actually a notion that Smith brought up during his Wednesday press conference. He was asked about what he sees from Fields, but the answer divulged into what he sees when he watches the Bears play. It's not unlike what the Falcons saw last Thursday against Carolina, he said.

The common denominator? Both teams want to run it more than they throw it.

Sound familiar? It should. The Falcons want to do this, too.

"I know they haven't won them, but they've been in games late because they've been able to hold the ball and make enough plays and shorten it down from the other side," Smith said of Chicago. "It's kind of what Carolina did since (Steve) Wilks took over... Get the first and ten, sometimes it's second and seven, and then there's third and two, and then everything is on the table, direct run with the quarterback."

In summary, Smith said what the Bears like to do offensively is "probably more similar to Carolina than any other recent opponent."

And we all saw what happened against Carolina: The Panthers ran the ball 47 times for a 232-yard rushing total. That's an average of 4.9 yards a carry. For the Falcons defense to be where it needs to be, Pees said that number needs to be in the low 3s. The Falcons run defense has to be better against the Bears than it was against the Panthers.

Graham said on Wednesday that there are lessons learned from that Carolina loss. They are lessons the Falcons have to take with them into Sunday in order to win the line of scrimmage, which they did not do in Charlotte (on either side of the ball).

"It sucked that we lost the game," Graham said. "But I do think it was important that we had that game back then. Now we're coming in against another rushing offense and I feel like we're going to have a better game."

4. A chance to run again?

The Falcons have not been very productive offensively in the last few weeks. Against Carolina, the Panthers loaded the box and forced the Falcons to throw the ball. And stats show that the Falcons are not nearly as productive in obvious passing situations as they need to be.

However, that may not be too big of a problem against the Bears.

While Chicago has one the best rushing offense in the league at the current moment, the Bears defense is near the bottom of the league in stopping the run.

The problem, though? So are the Falcons.

Both Chicago and Atlanta have given up over 2,000 rushing yards this year. So far through 2022, Chicago has given up - on average - 4.4 yards a carry. Meanwhile, Atlanta has given up - on average - 4.3 yards a carry.

Want to take it a step further? The Chargers defense has given up the third-most rushing yards through the first 10 weeks of the season. When the Falcons faced the Chargers two weeks ago, they ran the ball 35 times for just over 200 rushing yards. And yet, they still lost the game.

So, yes, the Falcons have found that they can run the ball and run the ball effectively. But what happens when the run is taken away? The second Carolina game happens. What happens when the run is established, but nothing else (offensively) is? The loss to the Chargers happens.

For the Falcons to be at their best, their offensive stat line should look as similar to the 49ers win in Week 6 as it can. Yes, the Falcons ran the ball 40 times against San Francisco, but the run was supplemented by a very efficient day through the air by Marcus Mariota and the Falcons receivers.

If Atlanta wants to win on Sunday, it has to do so by adding an efficient pass game. It doesn't have to be spectacular. But it does need to be efficient.

5. Could this be the world's fastest game?

This is a joke... well... kinda.

Seriously, though, this game could be one in which you need to buckle up to hang with. It's going to be moving. Why? Well, if you've made it this far in this article you are already well aware that the Falcons and Bears plan to try their might to run the ball on Sunday.

You know what that means? The clock is going to run, and run quickly.

You're talking about two teams that love nothing more than to string together 13-play drives that eat up more than seven or eight minutes of clock.

What if both teams run the ball over 30 times?! It'll be a pretty quick game don't ya think?


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