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Eagles-Bears Preview: One Bear of a Challenge
The Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears meet at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night in a game between very similar, yet different teams. Both teams are leading their divisions with 8-6 records and control their own playoff destiny. Both teams also have high-powered offenses and horrible defenses, but they go about it in different ways. The Eagles are a great running team, but can't stop the pass. The Bears are a great passing team, but can't stop the run. This should be interesting.
Eagles Offense Versus Bears Defense
The Eagles have the No. 2 offense in the NFL (414.0 yards per game) and the Bears have the No. 27th ranked defense (380.4 ypg). So it makes sense that the Eagles have the No. 7 scoring offense (26 points per game), while the Bears have the No. 28 scoring defense (27.9 ppg). That should lead to plenty of points for the Eagles, unless Chip Kelly goes all Andy Reid on us again.
Last week, Kelly only called 10 running plays, as he got enamored with the matchup advantages he thought he had over the Vikings injury-depleted secondary. As a result, Nick Foles threw for a career-high 428 yards in a gut-wrenching loss. Those stats actually improved the Eagles passing offense to No. 10 in the NFL (261.1 ypg). The problem was that he got a ton of those yards in garbage time and he was off-target early in the game. Foles still leads the NFL in passer rating (117.0), completing 62% of his passes for 2,390 yards, 23 TDs and only 2 INTs in 8 1/2 games. Still, he needs to be more accurate on Sunday against a Bears pass defense ranked No. 11 in the NFL (228.0 ypg).
DeSean Jackson is coming off one of the best games of his career last week, when he caught 10 passes for 195 yards and a TD. The Eagles will look to exploit the Bears cornerbacks, Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman, now that ball-hawk Chris Tillman is out. Also expect Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz to get involved near the goal line since Jennings is only 5-foot-8 and Bowman is 6-foot-1. Foles will need to continue to be careful with the ball though, since the Bears are 6th in the NFL with 17 interceptions.
Another thing the Eagles will need to do is protect Foles. They didn't do a good job of that last week and LT Jason Peters was the main culprit. It won't get any easier for Peters this week, as he has to face Julius Peppers. Luckily for the Eagles, the rest of the Bears defense isn't very adept at getting to the quarterback. The Bears rank last in the NFL with 26 sacks.
That's all fine and good, but what we all expect Chip Kelly to do this week is run the ball right at the Bears all game long. The Eagles No. 1 ranked rushing offense (152.9 ypg) is led by the NFL's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy (1,343 yards). Since that wasn't enough reason for Chipper to give McCoy the damn ball more than 8 times last week, maybe the fact that the Bears are dead last in the NFL against the run (152.4 ypg - 20 ypg worse than any other team) will convince him to run the ball. The Bears have had a few injuries along their defensive front seven this season. Defensive linemen Henry Melton and Nate Collins are out, along with linebacker D.J. Williams. Luckily for Chicago, linebacker Lance Briggs is expected back on Sunday. Briggs will make a difference for a team that is sorely lacking in defensive leaders after Brian Urlacher retired, but he hasn't played in almost two months so conditioning may be an issue.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Should the Eagles play their starters even if the Cowboys win?
Bears Offense Versus Eagles Defense
These aren't the Bears we're used to seeing. The Bears always won with a punishing defense and an offense that just didn't screw up. Well, this team is the exact opposite of that. Their offense is ranked No. 7 overall (393.4 ypg). Jay Cutler has a strong arm and he isn't afraid to take chances. He just came back last week after missing four games and led the team to a win. Cutler has completed 63.9% of his passes for 2,173 yards, 16 TDs and 10 INTs, for a passer rating of 89.8 in nine games. The 10 interceptions might lead you to think that the Eagles' best chance at a win is by creating turnovers since they are 7th in the NFL with 26 takeaways, but the Bears have only turned the ball over 19 times all season.
Cutler leads the NFL's No. 5 passing offense (275.8 ypg) against an Eagles pass defense that is ranked a lowly 31st in the NFL (291.6 ypg). Most of that can be attributed to the fact that the Bears have the best receiving duo in the NFL. Brandon Marshall (80-1,265-7) and Alshon Jeffery (90-1,185-10) are the only two teammates with over 1,000 yards receiving in the NFL. And if that isn't scary enough against an Eagles defense that couldn't stop the Vikings average passing game last week, the Bears also have TE Martellus Bennett, with 59 receptions for 659 yards and 5 TDs. Marshall (6-4, 230 pounds) and Jeffery (6-3, 216 pounds) are huge, so even the Eagles big CBs, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher could have problems with their size. The last time the Eagles faced such an imposing duo, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd combined for 10 catches for 171 yards and 2 TDs. Of course, these guys are better than the Arizona duo. LB Mychal Kendricks or safety Nate Allen will most likely be covering Bennett. Luckily for the Eagles, Brandon Boykin should be cleared to play after a concussion, so he can cover slot receiver Earl Bennett. And Earl Wolff is due back, so Patrick Chung can stay on the bench and not get burned consistently. The Eagles defensive backs will also need to work on not committing penalties, since they lead the NFL with 14 pass interference penalties.
Cutler isn't fast, but he has enough mobility to avoid the pass rush. That helps explain why the Bears have given up the second fewest sacks in the NFL (24), in spite of the fact that they are starting rookies on the right side of their line. NT Bennie Logan gets better every game, but he'll be facing nine-year veteran center Roberto Garza. And Trent Cole will have to deal with LT Jermon Bushrod. I don't expect the Eagles to get much pressure on Cutler in this game.
The Bears are only 13th in rushing offense (117.6 ypg) and the Eagles are a respectable 16th against the run (110.8 ypg), but that doesn't mean that they won't give the ball to Matt Forte on the ground. Forte has carried the ball 258 times for 1,200 yards (3rd in NFL) and 7 TDs. He's also added 66 receptions for 522 yards and another 2 TDs out of the backfield. He is a legitimate weapon that the Eagles will need to contain during the game. I know Chip Kelly doesn't think that time of possession matters, but his fast-paced offense is dead last in time of possession and has only run the 12th most plays in the NFL, which isn't what he wants. That has caused the defense to be on the field for 1,023 snaps, which is the most in the NFL. It's no wonder the defense is so low in the rankings. Of course, the Eagles defense doesn't make it any easier on themselves by ranking 26th in 3rd down defense, allowing a 41.3% conversion rate. The one thing they did do, before allowing 5 red zone TDs last week, was keep teams out of the endzone. The Eagles No. 17 ranking in points against isn't bad for the 30th ranked defense in yardage (402.4 ypg). But they need to prove that last week was an aberration and not the norm.
Last week, Chip Kelly squib kicked every single time the Eagles kicked off to avoid Cordarrelle Patterson. While Patterson is dangerous, with two kicks returned for touchdowns in his rookie season, he can't be considered as good as the guy the Eagles will face this week. Devin Hester holds the all-time NFL record for return TDs (18), so I can only assume that Chipper will have Henery and Jones kick the ball directly out of bounds every single time they kick off or punt, so Hester doesn't have a chance at a return. If you think I'm being ridiculous, then perhaps you missed the part where Kelly squib kicked the ball every single time last week and gave the Vikings an average starting field position of their own 39 on kickoffs. Did I mention that the Eagles best special teams player, Colt Anderson is out? Heck, Kelly may just go for it on fourth down every time to avoid punting.....even on his own 24.....again.
Kelly not only coached his worst game ever, but quite possibly the worst game of any coach at any level of football last week. He single-handed lost the game against the Vikings with his stupid and gutless gameplan. I can only assume he realizes the error of his ways and pray that he is not really as stubborn (and stupid and arrogant) as Andy Reid. We'll see. Marc Trestman is living up to his reputation as an offensive guru in Chicago. Some may have questioned hiring a guy from the CFL, but he had plenty of experience as an NFL assistant before going north of the border. He's got his team in first place in the NFC North and on the brink of the playoffs.
The game will be a battle of mismatches. The best rushing offense against the worst rushing defense. A great passing offense against a horrible pass defense. Normally the difference in games like that is turnovers, but neither of these teams turn the ball over very much. The special teams would seem to favor Chicago, but Kelly probably won't let Hester touch the ball all game. That leaves me worried about how bad this Eagles defense really is. No matter how bad the Chicago defense might be, this Eagles defense is worse. I just don't see them being able to shut down the Bears offense and I don't see Kelly changing his style to play ball-control offense. That all adds up to a loss for the home team.
Bears 34 - Eagles 31