If you watched the Falcons-Bears game last night you were treated to one of the more exciting games of the weekend. You also saw a game which evoked a sense of deja-vu, at least when Chicago's offense was facing Atlanta's defense.
You also saw a matchup which offers an early preview of what we could see Sunday afternoon when the Cowboys host the Falcons.
On the first point, Chicago's offense bears many strong similarities to Dallas'. Norv Turner's brother Ron coordinates the Bears scheme and his playbook resembles his brothers, as does Jason Garrett. The younger Turner also has an offense which will remind you of Dallas; an all-purpose hammer of a running back in Matt Forte; a smaller, quicker change up back in Garrett Wolfe; two down-the-field tight ends in speedster Greg Olson and Desmond Clark,and an inexperienced, unsung receiving corps.
Like Garrett, Turner has a gunslinger quarterback who can rip off a series of professional throws and them cap them with a stunning mistake. Jay Cutler's M.O. looks similar to Tony Romo's, though Cutler's bad decision percentage has been higher; if fact it's been the highest in all of football the last two years.
Chicago's offensive line can also run pretty well, but has an aging left tackle (Orlando Pace) who committed two penalties which thwarted late Bears' drives. When he jumped offsides on 4th and one with Chicago at the Falcons five in the last 30 seconds, and the referee said, "offsides, number 76," you're excused if you felt a chill.
Chicago wanted to run but the Falcons succeeded in dictating the run/pass mix; Chicago finished with 43 passes and just 20 rushes by backs and receivers. The Falcons stacked the line of scrimmage with eight and nine men and run blitzed successfully early. They got Cutler to frequently check off to throws as the game progressed. Atlanta then played a lot of two deep zones, with a lot of four-man twists and stunts from their base line.
Atlanta's success should concern Cowboys fans because this is the type of defensive game plan the Cowboys have faced since the Giants game in week two. Teams have worked to keep safeties deep and deny Romo deep tosses. The Cowboys ran successfully against New York's and Carolina's versions of this plan but sputtered against Denver.
It will be interesting to see if Atlanta can game Dallas out of the run as effectively as they did Chicago. If you recall, the Redskins used a similar tactic last year in their 26-24 win at Texas Stadium, showing blitz, goading Romo to audible to passes, and then dropping into coverage at the snap. I'm sure Romo and Garrett remember that game. Can they avoid a similar fate this week?
Can Dallas also keep all its receiving targets involved, as it did in Kansas City? The Cowboys have been very good at racking up yards, but have their problems closing out drives. The Falcons surrender yards between the red zones but were very effective against the Bears, stopping three drives inside their ten, without allowing a point.
The Cowboys saw their bad selves Sunday night. Chicago's offense looked painfully similar to the Cowboys offense in the Broncos loss. They saw how to move against Atlanta. If they want to win, they'll have to prove they can run the ball and close drives better than their northern offensive cousins.