The Chicago Bears travel to the city of brotherly love on Sunday night to face an Eagles team also in the midst of a playoff push. While the Bears are coming off of consecutive victories, Philadelphia is licking its wounds following a 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
With the Lions’ loss to Baltimore, the Bears are all alone atop the NFC North and in full control of their destiny.
Here are my keys to the game:
Battle of extremes
In a battle of extremes, the worst run defense in the league (Chicago) faces the top rushing team in the league (Philadelphia). Also, one of the lowest ranked pass defenses in the NFL (Eagles) go up against one of the top scoring offenses in football (Bears).
Look, something’s got to give.
The Bears rank fourth in the NFL in passing offense while Pro Football Focus ranks the Eagles 26th in passing defense. Last week, Vikings’ QB Matt Cassel put up almost 400 yards passing vs. the Eagles’ defense.
The Eagles also rank sixth in run defense, so Matt Forte will face a tough challenge.
The return of Lance Briggs, and Eagles on the run
Lance Briggs has been medically cleared to play on Sunday night, and although he will be a game-time decision, I’m betting he will play. If he does, it will be a huge morale boost for the team, as well as potentially helping the Bears stop one of the best running teams in the NFL.
Briggs has missed the last seven games with a fractured shoulder. Since his injury, the Bears’ run defense has gone from shaky to the worst in the league. Briggs also had taken over signal calling duties following the departure of Brian Urlacher, so his return means a lot on many different levels.
The Bears’ run defense has begun to show some signs of life lately, as Jeremiah Ratliff has started to get more reps. This is important, because one of the lessons the Eagles learned last week against Minnesota is that they need to run the ball more.
Philly inexplicably ran the ball just 13 times (counting Nick Foles’ scrambles), and although they were behind early, I’m sure they will try and exploit the Bears’ run defense this week.
Meanwhile, the Bears will need to watch out for Foles, because he has shown that he can run. He averaged 8.2 yards on five scrambles.
LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing and has rushed for over 1,300 yards this season, so he presents the Bears with a very stiff test.
Stephen Paea played better last week, so he along with Ratliff and hopefully Briggs will help the Bears control McCoy.
Start quickly and score points
Now that Jay Cutler has shaken off his rust, one can expect the Bears to strike quickly and take an early lead, as opposed to last week when Cutler started by throwing two picks.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are a high-flying offensive team, so the Bears will need to put up some points to beat them.
The Eagles are ranked sixth in run defense, so they will be tough to run against, but as previously mentioned, you can pile up the yards throwing the ball against them.
Last week, the Vikings averaged just 2.4 yards per carry against the Eagles, though they chose to run the ball 35 times to eat up the clock.
Also, if the Bears get ahead early, the Eagles will not be able to rely on their top-rated running game quite as much.
Limit the big plays
The Eagles’ average drive is only 2:24, more than a minute faster than the league average. But once they get to the red zone, they struggle to score. So, if the Bears can limit their quick strike capability and force them to run full drives, they have a chance to limit the damage.
The Eagles score in less than seven plays on average, and outside of the red zone, they are the best in the NFL in scoring.
Philly sucks at controlling the time of possession, so if the Bears can let long drives chew up the clock, the Eagles will be even more motivated to go for the big play downfield.
The Bears’ defense isn’t likely to hold the Eagles down, as it’s going to be a shootout, but as long as they don’t allow more than three passing TDs, the Bears will win the game.
Foles won’t fold under pressure
For Cutler, pressure will be all around him. If he thought last week was pressure-filled, given the sentiment that McCown should be starting, wait until he goes to Philly.
The Eagles at home play in a noisy stadium, so Cutler and the Bears’ offense will need to know what plays they will be running ahead of time, and will need to use signals other than verbal to change up when needed.
Further, this is an Eagles’ defense that likes to blitz. They don’t always get to the QB, but they pressure opposing QBs to throw off-balanced and make hasty decisions.
To adjust, the Bears on offense need Cutler to target more than just Marshall. When targeting Marshall, Cutler was just 6/13 but when targeting others, he was 15/17.
Speaking of pressure, while the Bears still lack a solid pass rush, Foles has been great since taking over the QB duties from Michael Vick, especially when throwing the ball hot (extra rusher coming). He slides away from pressure, reads the defense well and gets the ball out quickly.
For example, Arizona runs an aggressive defense — they like to blitz — and Foles tossed three TDs with no picks and finished with a passer rating of 112 against them, so he can take the heat. In fact, blitzing may not be a good idea because it leaves the corners and safeties vulnerable in coverage.
Meanwhile, Foles seems to know how to take any frustration out on opposing defenses. Just ask his wallet, which is $10,000 lighter following an illegal peel-back block against the Vikings.
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Filed under: Game Preview