The Bears couldn't have drawn a tougher opening day match-up than last year's #1 seed, the Atlanta Falcons. After the Falcons got shellacked by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs, they made upgrades on offense and defense. They traded up from the 27th pick in this year's draft to snag Julio Jones to pair with the aerial weapons they already have on the roster in receivers Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and TE Tony Gonzalez. They added to their pass rushers of John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux with former Vikings LE Ray Edwards.
The moves that fly under the radar for the Falcons are them bringing back 2 of their 3 best offensive linemen in RT Tyson Clabo and LG Justin Blalock. Both guys along with the rest of that offensive line do a great job in keeping QB Matt Ryan upright, and creating running lanes for RB Michael Turner. Simply put, the Falcons offensive line is pretty much the engine that makes that offense go, and it's going to be up to the Defensive Line to create havoc in their backfield in order to stop them. The 2011 WCG Key Match-Up series for the 2011 season kicks off with the Bears DL vs. Falcons OL.
RE Julius Peppers vs. LT Sam Baker
Peppers needs to simply dominate this match-up against Sam Baker this Sunday, as Baker is the Falcons weakest link on the line. Baker will see a dose of both Peppers and Izzy as DC Rod Maranelli loves to give Peppers the option to rush from either DE position on the line. I'm expecting the Bears to get consistent pressure from the RE position no matter who is lined up at that spot. Baker's strength at LT might be as a run blocker and it will be up to Peppers to have containment on the strong side of that line.
Most intriguing Match-Up
NT Anthony Adams/Matt Toeaina/Amobi Okoye (passing situations) vs. C Joe Hawley and LG Justin Blalock
Because usually the NT in the Tampa-2 is lined up on the opposing C outside shoulder, both Adams and Toeaina draw the match-up against 1st time starting C Joe Hawley with LG Justin Blalock who will be helping him out Sunday. This might be a good opportunity for established veterans like Adams and Toeaina to expose Hawley's lack of experience when the Bears are in their base 4-3 look. When the Bears are in Nickel or Dime formation, Okoye will come in and draw the match-up of LG Blalock. Blalock is a solid starting LG in the NFL and it won't be a walk in the park for Okoye. Okoye should be able to use his quickness and athleticism to get past Blalock in pursuit of the QB at times in the game.
DT Henry Melton vs. RG Garrett Reynolds
Reynolds has the size over Melton at 6-7 310, but Melton has more in-game experience and his quickness and power when shooting through the B gap could cause concern for the first year starting RG. For the Bears to slow down the Falcons high powered offense, yes the line has to play well, but I feel Pep needs to dominate outside and Melton needs to make his presence felt at the 3 technique all afternoon. If this doesn't happen then Matt Ryan is more than capable of craving up the secondary and Turner will start wearing down the Bears entire front 7. Melton has a favorable match-up and needs to take advantage of it this Sunday.
LE Israel Idonije vs. RT Tyson Clabo
This match-up concerns me a bit because Clabo is more than capable of shutting down Idonije for most of the game. Clabo might see a good dose of Peppers at LE on passing downs with Idonije getting a more favorable match-up at RE against Baker. In running situations though I expect Izzy to stay pat at LE and try to penetrate/hold containment on the weak side against a very solid run blocker in Clabo. If Izzy can create pressure against Clabo I wouldn't be that surprise; he's a very talented and relentless DE that's going to make the OT work hard to keep him off his QB.
The Bears have some favorable match-ups on the line against the Falcons. If they can exploit those match-ups, it could be a long day for Ryan and Turner, but if they struggle you are counting on a secondary to stop some great receivers that can open up the running game for Turner. The Bears defensive line needs to play well in order for this team to have a good shot to win this Sunday.