Its plain and simple. If the Bears are to win against the Falcons, then it all starts in the trenches. Follow me after the jump to view the major battles that are to be fought on both sides of the line tomorrow.
Both teams coming to play in Chicago will feature both a new O-Line and a new D-Line. Lets look at the differances made from both teams.
This O-Line is anything but recognizable compared to last year's unit, as only 1 player on the entire line remains in their starting role, Chris Williams at LG. Otherwise outside of him, 4 new starters are in the line-up, with the veteran Roberto Garza now at Center, Lance Louis given another shot at RG following an up and down preseason, a rookie 1st rounder at RT, and finally 2nd year pro J'Marcus Webb now slotted at LT following his rookie season at RT. Now, change is good, right? Well in this case, we definitely have a real size advantage over the Falcons smaller and somewhat similar D-Line when compared to ours in terms of how personell are aligned. And to be fair, this unit at least based from preseason play looks like a much better unit. As long as it is serviceable, look for a big year in year 2 under Mike Martz as OC.
Unlike our group, 4 of 5 starters are returning with the only change coming at RG following Harvey Dahl's departure. This crew is lead by veteran RT Tyson Claybo, who in his own right is a solid if not an underated player that plays at a Pro-Bowl level. However, there is now a last minute change come Sunday as their starting Center is out with a minor knee injury. They share a similar advantage as their O-Line is a good size larger than our D-Line, but not to the same extreme as our advantage. But, with this group we have to be concerned with their run-blocking skills. Pass pro, not so much as Sam Baker doesn't have the best pass pro skills at LT, which Julius Peppers should be able to feast on.
3 of 4 starters are back with Anthony Adams finally returning from a calf injury which side-lined him for the entire preseason, and our bookends leading the charge with Julius Peppers paired with Israel Idonije. 1 big differance between last year and this year; no more Tommie Harris. After failing to improve under 2 years of having Hot Rod trying to lite a new fire in his belly, the management ultimately decided to part ways with the former 1st round pro-bowler and move forward with a bulked up Henry Melton at 3T. Not only that, another 1st rounder has been added to replace Tommie in the form of Amobi Okoye, who had a pretty good preseason if you ask me. Those two make for a rather formidable tandem/rotation at DT. We are looking for increased pressure being generated from this group, and they will have a real test throughout the 1st 3 weeks.
Like us, 3 of 4 starters(?) return with the new addition being former Vike Ray Edwards. This unit in particular is outsized significantly on the ends with both Webb and Carimi being at least 20-25 pounds heavier. But, both of those guys (John Abraham and Ray Edwards) are effective pass rushers at the least. Yet their main issue has been stopping the run, so look for lanes to be opened to where our RBs can get big gains on the ground.
The two biggest battles coming to tomorrow afternoon are:
LT J'Marcus Webb vs. DE John Abraham
What a way to start off your career at LT. Abraham is viewed by some as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, where Webb is viewed as.....well.....not very good in pass protection. Webb has shown promise, but he needs to play lights out literally from week 1 as now he protects Jay's blindside, and we can't afford to see Jay Cutler injured once again from poor pass pro. He can get the job done on the running game, now he needs to prove that Mike Tice is correct in his assessment of the O-Line.
Israel Idonije vs. Tyson Claybo
Both DEs will be playing at LE, but I figure it will be mostly Izzy we see at said position. Claybo is by far their best O-Lineman, and he has a real mean streak to go with it. Izzy showed if left alone last season, he can really shine. In pass pro, I feel our guy has an advantage. But against the run, thats where this match-up gets interesting as both players are stout in this department.
If we can win the battle on both sides of the trenches, then I feel we can pull off a W to start the year off right. If we lose at least 1 of the wars, then this gets a great deals tougher where we have to deal with a high powered offense led by Matt Ryan.