Bears

Chicago Bears vs. Atlanta Falcons: 5 things to watch in Week 11

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields is stopped by the Lions just short of the end zone during their game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

LAKE FOREST – Justin Fields is heading home.

The Bears quarterback will visit his hometown of Atlanta for his first career matchup against the Falcons. Fields grew up rooting for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons, attending games with his dad when he was younger. His parents still live in the area, and he spent part of his offseason in Atlanta.

The Bears and Falcons haven’t squared off since Week 3 of 2020, when former coach Matt Nagy benched quarterback Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles. Foles then led a dramatic 16-point comeback victory over Atlanta.

This time, the Bears (3-7) and Falcons (4-6) kick off from Mercedes-Benz Stadium at noon on Fox. Here’s what to watch for in the matchup.

1. Will Fields steal spotlight again?

Playing in front of friends and family, Sunday will be another chance for Fields to shine. The QB has been running at a historic level. He rushed for 325 yards in the past two games, more than any QB ever has in back-to-back games.

Playing indoors at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the conditions should be ripe for Fields to have another great game. The Falcons’ defense is one of the worst in the NFL. They’re allowing a league-worst 280.1 passing yards per game. They rank 31st in first downs allowed and in sack rate.

Although Fields’ passing volume has remained low in the past three games, he has had his most efficient passing stretch of the season, throwing for 147 yards per game with seven touchdowns and one interception.

2. Can Kmet keep up the pace? And will Claypool be more involved?

Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet prepares for contact with Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard during their game Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Tight end Cole Kmet has caught five touchdowns in three weeks. It has been the best three-game stretch of his career. That included a 50-yard touchdown pass from Fields last week against the Lions.

That touchdown pace is not sustainable. The bigger question will be: Can the Bears continue to keep Kmet involved in the passing game? He doesn’t have to be scoring touchdowns to be effective.

Fans also will be curious to see more out of new receiver Chase Claypool. He played fewer snaps in his second game in a Bears uniform than he did in his first. He had only one catch for 8 yards against the Lions. The Bears traded a second-round draft pick for him. Many fans are ready to see more.

3. Atlanta’s power running attack

The Bears rank No. 1 in the NFL with 201.7 rushing yards per game. They’re on pace to challenge the 2019 Ravens for the most rushing yards in a season. The Bears are rushing for more than 30 yards per game more than any other team in the NFL.

The Falcons aren’t too far behind, however, ranking No. 4 in the league with 160.4 rushing yards per game. Running backs Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley, along with quarterback Marcus Mariota, all have more than 300 rushing yards this season. Allgeier is leading the way with 443 yards on 102 attempts.

The Bears’ defense ranks 28th against the run, allowing 142 yards per game, so Sunday should be a tough test. The defensive line has been disappointing all season. It could have a tough time creating a push against the Falcons.

4. Who is on kick-return duty?

Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower wouldn’t say this week who will return kicks for the Bears. Running back Khalil Herbert, who had been returning kicks, has been moved to injured reserve and must miss at least four games.

Running back Trestan Ebner and receiver Velus Jones Jr. are the likely candidates to return kicks. They are listed first and second, respectively, on the Bears’ official depth chart at kick returner. Receiver Byron Pringle is listed third.

Jones has been inactive the past two games, despite being healthy. An opportunity at kick return might be the best chance for him to return to the field. He has returned six kicks this season. His two back-breaking fumbles came on punt returns, not kickoffs.

“I’ve seen nothing but positives from the kid,” Hightower said. “The good thing is his demeanor hasn’t changed in a negative way.”

5. Familiar faces

Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson is tackled by Carolina Panthers linebacker Cory Littleton during the first half, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.

Patterson is far from the only familiar face in Atlanta. He played two seasons with the Bears in 2019 and 2020, but so did many of his teammates. Former Bears general managers Ryan Pace and Phil Emery both work in the front office in Atlanta.

The Falcons brought in numerous players that Pace signed in the past. Defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson, receiver Damiere Byrd, offensive lineman Germain Ifedi, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and Patterson are all on the active roster. Tackle Elijah Wilkinson and running back Damien Williams are on IR, and defensive tackle Eddie Goldman signed with the team over the offseason before retiring.

Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, quarterbacks coach Charles London, running backs coach Michael Pitre and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino all coached with the Bears under former head coach Matt Nagy.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.