Here's a look at a key matchup heading into Sunday's Week One battle between the Falcons and Bears:
Falcons DEs John Abraham and Ray Edwards vs. Bears' pass protection on the edges
The Bears' struggle to keep opposing pass rushers from driving Jay Cutler into the turf was an issue throughout last season, as Cutler was sacked a league-high 52 times. Chicago has a new starting tackle duo in 2011 — second-year veteran J'Marcus Webb has shifted to left tackle after starting 12 games at right tackle in 2010, and rookie first-round pick Gabe Carimi will start on the right side. They face a tough test right off the bat, especially in one-on-one pass-rushing matchups.
The Falcons signed Edwards, a former Viking, this offseason to help them become more explosive off the edge and provide Abraham, an All-Pro in two of the past three seasons, with a more capable complement. Edwards missed a good chunk of time in August as he recovered from offseason knee surgery, but he returned to play in the final two preseason games, and the Falcons are expecting him to make an immediate impact. Kroy Biermann will also be involved in the rotation at defensive end.
The key for the Bears will be making sure their two young tackles have help when it's needed.
Chicago's coaching staff has had plenty of time to prepare a plan for containing the pressure off the edge, and Abraham told me last month he expects that keeping him in check will be a top priority. Abraham deserves to have more attention paid to him — he's one of the league's elite pass rushers. Focusing on him, however, could free up Edwards. The Bears will use their tight ends to help the tackles if necessary, and RBs Matt Forté and Marion Barber are both capable of chipping pass rushers to keep Cutler upright.
It's possible Webb and Carimi will not find themselves matched up one-on-one against Abraham or Edwards all that often, but good footwork will be essential for the tackles to keep up with Atlanta's athletic pass rushers. Webb's technique has been a bit inconsistent, and Abraham will look to use his speed and collection of pass-rush moves to keep Webb off balance.