With a four-headed running attack and a potent passing game, the Atlanta Falcons are going to pose an interesting challenge for the Chicago Bears on Sunday, but fortunately for the Monsters of the Midway, they could be getting back an important player for the contest.
That’s because Jeremiah Ratliff, who has missed the team’s last three games with a concussion, has participated in the team’s practices this week and is optimistic that he will be back in the starting lineup against the Falcons. One of the team’s best run defenders in the first few weeks, Ratliff made a big impact early, and his loss was one that filled some fans with fear as the Bears went into games against the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers.
One thing that came out of Ratliff’s absences has been the emergence of Ego Ferguson. The rookie defensive tackle, who was labeled a "project" by many scouts because of the raw talent and lack of polish he possessed coming out of LSU, has looked pretty freaking polished by most accounts. He fills the gap on runs, can get pressure up the middle on passes, and has been routinely difficult to block for teams all season long.
One sequence in the Bears’ last game against the Carolina Panthers stands out. With the Bears up 21-7 in the game, Ferguson came onto the field on first down and made a gorgeous step inside off a block and stopped a run. On second down, Ferguson came in on pass rush, but unable to get to Cam Newton he threw his hands up and batted down a pass. On the very next play, he batted another pass, and this time it was picked off by Lance Briggs.
That kind of playmaking ability was lost on this Bears team last season from the defensive tackle spot, but they now possess it in spades. Ferguson and Ratliff are generating plenty of attention, but Stephen Paea, who has 11 tackles and three sacks so far this season, and Will Sutton, who has 11 tackles and a stuff, have been on their games as well. Add Lamarr Houston to the mix when he kicks inside in the team’s NASCAR package (with Jared Allen and Willie Young at the end spots), and one of the Bears’ biggest weaknesses has become a real strength this year.
Going up against the Falcons on Sunday, the Bears will have to make sure to continue that solid line play against the run, but they’ll also have to do better in getting pressure on the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers had all day to throw against the Bears in Week 4, with only Ferguson getting a sack in the game (which came when Rodgers ran out of bounds on a play). They did a better job against Cam Newton, sacking him twice, but he also passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears’ line sputtered to a halt in the second half.
With Matt Ryan throwing the ball as well as he is, the Bears will have to really buckle down on the pass rush if they’re going to be successful in this game. Ferguson, Ratliff and company have been really effective in the run game, but they’re going to have to step up their game on the pass rush. If they can draw the attention in blocking schemes, it should free up Allen, Houston and Young to get pressure on the quarterback, and that will be a winning formula against this team.