ATLANTA — Kyle Orton’s gaudy passing day last week didn’t distract the Atlanta Falcons.
They still say their top defensive challenge against Chicago today will be containing Matt Forte and the Bears’ running game.
Orton had a career-high 334 yards passing with two touchdowns in the Bears’ 34-7 win at Detroit. Forte was held to a season-low 36 yards rushing, but the rookie ran for a touchdown and had a touchdown catch.
“They’re going to try to establish the running game,” said Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking. “The rookie, it’s amazing how many touches he gets. He’s a physical runner. He’s got some speed and he’s good at catching the ball out of the backfield. It’s a big test for us.”
Forte leads NFL rookies with 383 yards rushing. He also leads the Bears (3-2) with 22 catches and ranks fourth in the league with 555 total yards from scrimmage.
The Falcons (3-2) will counter with NFL rushing leader Michael Turner, the former backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
A native of North Chicago who played for Northern Illinois, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent but acknowledged this week he dreamed of playing for the Bears.
Turner said he received no interest from the Bears, who instead drafted Forte in the second round from Tulane.
“They didn’t make a call or anything or put an offer on the table,” Turner said. “I was looking to go anywhere, but it would have been great to be in Chicago. I’m here in Atlanta now and I do what I can control.”
Turner said he expects to have more than three dozen friends and relatives from Chicago at the Georgia Dome.
“I had love for them,” said Turner of the Bears. “It’s going to be something to see them on the other side of the line.”
Turner’s only previous game against the Bears came in last year’s opener with San Diego, when he had 10 carries for 41 yards.
Turner, who has 543 yards rushing, has been a force in his first chance to be a full-time starter. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the Falcons’ three wins, including a franchise-record 220 yards rushing against Detroit in his Atlanta debut.
Another speed back, Jerious Norwood, and Turner have combined for 22 runs of 10 yards or longer.
Just like Orton, Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan is coming off his career high with 194 yards passing in last week’s 27-24 win at Green Bay. And just like the Falcons, the Chicago defense is expected to focus first on Atlanta’s running game.
“He’s a great running back,” said Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher of Turner. “He gives us problems.”
The Bears had a fumble recovery and an interception in the win over the Lions and already have 10 takeaways this season. The Bears had four sacks in the game.
Defense has not been Atlanta’s strength. The Falcons have given up 21 or more points in four of their five games, but have relied on big plays from Turner, Norwood and receiver Roddy White.
White had eight receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown — all in the first half — against Green Bay last week.
“They have two great running backs,” said Vasher, who is trying to return from a wrist injury. “They have some versatile threats, wide receivers. They’re a good football team.”
Few dared to call the Falcons a good team before the season. New general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith cleaned house, cutting or trading veterans like Warrick Dunn, Rod Coleman, Joe Horn, Joey Harrington and DeAngelo Hall.
Ryan beat out Chris Redman to land the starting job. He’s passed for only four touchdowns in five games, but two came at Green Bay when the Packers’ defense focused on stopping the run.
“He makes great reads with the ball and gets it out, has a very smooth delivery, and I think he is doing everything he can as a rookie quarterback to help that team be successful,” Vasher said.
Orton, who helped lead the Bears to a playoff spot as a rookie in 2005, said Ryan’s early success shows he has relied on help from the running game and the defense.
“I don’t think a rookie can come in and do it on his own,” Orton said. “I don’t think any quarterback can do it on his own. But if you’ve got good guys around you — good defense, a good running team, which they do — that’s the story for success whether you’re in your first year or 10th year. That’s what you need to have around you.”
The Bears used an assist from the Falcons’ win at Green Bay to move into first place in the NFC North last week. The Bears already have two road wins.
“It’s good to be in first place,” said Vasher, “but it’s even harder to stay there.”