Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down the Week 9 matchup between the Bears and Eagles.
Matt Forte (RB/Bears) – After a standout rookie season Forte looked like he was on the brink of becoming one of the best young running backs in the league. But his production soon tailed off and people thought of him as a “one-year wonder”. That perception is quickly changing again, though, as Forte is back and better than ever. Martz has made Forte the centerpiece of his offense, much like Marshall Faulk was for the potents Rams teams at the turn of the century.
He’s a big runner who can get yards between the tackles, but can bounce it outside when needed. But Forte has become more dangerous because he’s blossomed in the passing game. The running back needs to catch the ball in a Mike Martz offense and Forte is one of the best in the league at doing it. He can take any screen to the house and he’s tough to bring down in the open field.
The Eagles’ tackling has dramatically improved over the past two games, but that’s going to need to continue against Forte. If it doesn’t, he has the ability to control the entire football game.
Julius Peppers (DE/Bears)– The Eagles have been challenged by elite pass rushers all season–Chris Long, John Abraham, Demarcus Ware, etc., and they have done reasonably well (so what if Ware had four sacks?) against all of them. Peppers, like Forte, is just a different type of player. He is to date the most physically gifted defender the Eagles have faced. He’s big, strong, fast, and if he’s motivated he can take over a game.
But the biggest problem for the Eagles in this game might be Peppers’ wing-span. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has had problems this year with passing being batted at the line of scrimmage. Tipped passes mean chances for interceptions and the Bears are an especially opportunistic defense. Israel Idonije and Corey Wooten, the Bears other defensive ends, also have size. The Eagles offensive line needs to get their arms into the stomachs of these defensive linemen to neutralize this size. Keep in mind that the Bears were the first team to really “confuse” Vick last season, and much of that had to do with the disruption caused by Chicago’s front four.
Dane Sanzenbacher (WR/Bears) – Roy Williams is coming on a bit for the Bears, Forte can catch the ball out of the backfield, and quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Johnny Knox have good chemistry. But despite almost never being the primary option, Sanzenbacher still finds a way to make plays. He’s the type of receiver that has given Philly fits this year. He’s smart, runs great routes, has good hands, and no one knows who he is. He lines up in the slot for the Bears and gets open in the middle of the field.
I don’t expect him to have the type of day Victor Cruz had against the Eagles earlier this season, or even have a big play like Laurant Robinson did last week. But with Martz rarely using a tight end, Sanzenbacher is a safety blanket for Cutler on third downs. The Bears have more talented wide outs but Sanzenbacher might be the one that causes the Eagles the most trouble.
Brian Rolle/Moise Fokou (OLB/Eagles) – Whether it is Rolle or Fokou, they will have the unenviable task of covering Forte out of the backfield. Rolle has been assigned running back coverage and has had some success in that role. Fokou has consistently demonstrated above average speed, too. That speed and physicality is going to come in handy against a back like Forte. First, they’re going to worry about flowing to the football and not letting Forte get around the corner. If that wasn’t enough, they have to worry about a screen or dump off to Forte at any moment, on any down. Getting off blocks and getting bodies (not just hands and arms) on Forte is the only way to stop him. Luckily, Eagles defenders have had to defend a similar slippery back who can catch in LeSean McCoy. But McCoy doesn’t possess the power Forte has. Tackling well and holding Forte up for other defenders to come help make the tackle should be priority number one.
Alex Henery/Chaz Henry (PK,P/Eagles) – Think special teams aren’t that important? If you’re going up against Devin Hester they are. Hester is statistically (and maybe physically) the best return man of all time. His speed is tremendous and his agility is amazing. If you didn’t know, he was the first player to ever have a 100 speed rating on Madden…(which means EVERYTHING). In a close game like I believe this will be, field position is going to be critical. The Eagles have done a good job this season on special teams but Hester can make any team look bad. Chas Henry and Alex Henery will have to focus on Kicking the ball away from Hester and force the Bears offense to score points. Kickoff returns for touchdowns aren’t just six points for your opponent. They are demoralizing to a team, the quickest way to score if you’re down big, and the number one way to turn momentum.