- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler found humor in pondering the first three weeks of the team's schedule, which includes three 2010 playoff participants in the Falcons, Saints and Packers, which combined last season for a winning percentage of .708.
Laughing at the initial question, Cutler cracked a joke of his own.
"There's no D-II schools in the NFL," said the quarterback, still laughing. "So we don't have a lot of options. We've got to take it for what it is. We've got Atlanta, and we've got to deal with it."
In attempting to "deal with" Atlanta on Sunday, the Bears' inexperienced offense faces an experienced Falcons defense; virtually the same unit as last season that added a veteran presence on the edge this offseason in former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards.
Having studied the Falcons on film, Cutler noticed the unit's veteran presence allows it to play a variety of schemes -- which are often confusing to offenses; especially inexperienced ones -- without the Falcons making a plethora of mistakes. The situation could lead to struggles for the Bears' offense, which is anchored by an offensive line with only one member (left guard Chris Williams) returning to the same spot in 2011 that he played last season.
Cutler rightfully called the situation one in which "we've got our hands full."
"Usually if you do a lot of different stuff and a lot of different looks [with] coverages and blitzes, you're gonna have some busts out there," Cutler said. "They've had a few. But as much as they do, they're really solid and fundamentally sound."
They're also somewhat unpredictable, but developed a pattern of successfully pressuring opposing quarterbacks with blitzes from defensive backs.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Falcons were the seventh-most successful defense in the league at bringing pressure off the edge with cornerbacks and safeties. Opposing defenses completed 78-of-132 passes against such looks for 789 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. When bringing heat with the secondary, the Falcons forced opponents into a combined completion percentage of 59.1 and a passer rating of 70.5.
Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder declined to admit the team's pattern of success with blitzing members of the secondary.
"Every game is different," VanGorder said. "People can talk about last year and the playoff game last year against Green Bay where we basically had four free runners at the quarterback and we didn't tackle him. So those things look good on paper, but every game brings a different personality; plays out differently."
That's what Cutler is hoping for Sunday against the Falcons at Soldier Field.
"There's stuff out there to be had. There's no doubt there are creases in that defense," Cutler said. "They just don't have a lot of weaknesses. They don't give you a lot of openings. But when it does happen, we've got to make sure that we make them count."
Most of the openings for Cutler to capitalize on no doubt should come when the Falcons blitz; whether it's linebackers coming off the edge or defensive backs.
Against pressure from defensive backs last year, Cutler completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 599 yards, but tossed just two touchdowns and three interceptions to go with a passer rating of 72.4. Those statistics ranked Cutler 27th of the 38 quarterbacks last season with a minimum of 20 passing attempts.
The Falcons hope to neutralize Chicago's speed at the skill positions by disrupting the timing of the Bears' passing game, which features a multitude of seven-step drops.
"Anytime you have the speed they have, that's a concern for us," VanGorder said. "Hopefully, you push the pocket, affect the quarterback and hurry some of those types of concepts in the passing game. At the same time, we've got to be solid in the back end understanding that receivers can't get behind us."
Cutler admitted that the Falcons own the edge in experience for the upcoming chess battle between the teams, and expects the Bears to fight through some early hiccups along the offensive line.
"We're gonna have a few bumps in the road I'm sure with those guys, probably the first game [with] just getting them settled down and comfortable," Cutler said. "But I've got all the faith in the world in them. They're a very talented group; got some older guys and some younger guys. They're gonna have to learn as they go. But they're all we've got. So we've got to go with them."
"We're still figuring things out," Cutler added. "We're still learning by experience. We're gonna mess up some plays. We're gonna have some mental [errors] out there."
Cutler just hopes the expected struggles don't lead to catastrophic results considering it's not out of the question to recognize the Bears could easily start off the season with three consecutive losses, given the strength of the upcoming competition.
Cutler plans to do his part in helping the team to avoid that, by keeping "the interceptions down, [keeping] the completion percentage high."
As for the team's three-game gauntlet to start the 2011 regular season, Cutler recognizes the challenge and appears poised to embrace it.
"We've got a tough schedule out the gate. Atlanta [has] an experienced offense, experienced defense. I don't think the guys in this building are really worried about what's happening outside," Cutler said. "There's a lot of distractions. We've got to take care of our jobs first. Everything else will fall into place."