The Chicago Bears, after three straight last-place finishes in the NFC North, elected to part ways with enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler.
When the Falcons face the Bears at 1 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field, Mike Glennon, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, will be at the controls of the offense. He’s quickly earned the respect of his new teammates and was voted one of the five captains.
“He’s a pro,” Bears coach John Fox said of Glennon to the team’s website. “He works at it. He’s in here very early. He’s in here very late. I think his teammates see that. I think they responded to that.”
The Bears signed Glennon in free agency and then drafted former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick. The Bears plan to develop Trubisky while Glennon and backup Mark Sanchez direct the offense.
The Falcons, the defending NFC champions, are seven-point favorites over the Bears, who already have nine players on injured reserve.
While Glennon will direct the offense, the unit is powered by second-year running back Jordan Howard, who rushed for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Slowing down Howard, who followed Falcons running back Tevin Coleman at Indiana, will be the focal point of the Falcons’ defensive game plan.
“He can really run downhill,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “In some ways, they’re similar to our zone scheme where you can press the line of scrimmage, make one cut, and then really get downhill.”
Howard ran well in the exhibition season.
“It’s the strength as a big back where he can lower his pads, and then the contact,” Quinn said. “He can get yards after contact, so that’s one of the things that impressed us about him.”
One of the weapons Glennon will be without is wide receiver Cameron Meredith, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a left knee injury in the third exhibition game.
Glennon has faced the Falcons four times in his career with two starts in Tampa Bay. In those four games, he completed 71.6 percent of his passes (73 of 102) for 683 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions and a 109.2 passer rating.
“This is a very good offensive line,” Quinn said. “That’s the first thing that jumps out when you put their tape on, especially the inside three. The guards, centers and tackles are good too. They’ll be one of the better lines that we’ll see.”
The Bears are high on second-year outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the former Georgia standout.
“Defensively, they are really strong and stout against the run,” Quinn said. “When you study their stuff from last year and even into the preseason, they are very square at the line of scrimmage and strong.”
The Bears are hoping to have cornerback Prince Amukamara, who suffered a right ankle injury against Tennessee in the third exhibition game. Veteran Kyle Fuller replaced him in that game. The Bears also have cornerback Bryce Callahan.
The Falcons also respect the Bears special teams.
“From the cover side of things, they’ve got speed as return men,” Quinn said. “We know that. Those are kind of the things that jumped out offensively with the line, defensively with how square and strong they can play against the run game, which is one of the areas for us that’s an important one, and then the speed at returners.”
The Falcons’ revamped defensive line is looking forward to its first challenge.
“We are going to play relentless,” defensive tackle Jack Crawford said. “We don’t really change our style up too much. We kind of stick to what we know.”
Free safety Ricardo Allen believes the Bears will present a stiff challenge.
“They have a lot of talent,” Allen said. “They have a lot of speed guys. They can run the ball. Their offensive line is really good. They are very balanced. “With the quarterbacks, I feel like both of them can get in and play. Trubisky can move a little better than (Glennon), but (Glennon) can stand in the pocket and throw it because he’s a big guy.”
The Falcons are 1-1 in season openers under Quinn, who enters his third season as head coach.
“We really try to stress to the guys to stay right in the moment and stay in the process of us getting ready,” Quinn said. “We know what that pocket looks like and feels like for us. We really trust it. Especially for the new players that are here, stay within the system, and we trust it a lot.”