Editor’s Note: Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down some key factors in tonight’s Eagles-Bears game.
When the Eagles have the ball:
Chicago plays a strict cover two base defense and rarely moves away from that. Their middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher, is great at getting a deep drop in the middle of the field and reading a quarterback’s eyes. Chicago doesn’t blitz very often and they play a “bend but don’t break” style, forcing teams into making plays in the red zone instead of giving up the big play.
Along their defensive line, the Bears have some very good athletes. Julius Peppers might be the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the NFL, and Israel Idonije is no slouch himself. The biggest problem for the Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick is how long these defenders are. Vick has had a big problem with getting his passes batted at the line of scrimmage. Going up against two defensive linemen that are 6’6, with backup Corey Wooten at 6’7, is a scary thought for the Eagles offense. While the Eagles offensive line has come together in recent weeks there are still concerns. Pass protection is still a work in progress and Eagles center Jason Kelce sometimes gets bullied around. Luckily, the Bears defense doesn’t blitz much. Therefore, communication won’t be as much of a concern and Philly can just concentrate on their assignments.
Chicago’s tendency to shy away from the blitz should help LeSean McCoy. One area of his game that is still sub-par is his blocking. This game should allow for him to get out of the backfield and be Michael Vick’s checkdown receiver. His rushing totals have been great but his receiving totals haven’t been what they were in the past. This is mainly because teams like to blitz the Eagles and get Vick out of his comfort zone. Look for the Bears’ great linebackers, Urlacher and Lance Briggs, to spy McCoy quite a bit.
Chicago’s secondary is the weakness of their team. Charles Tillman was once a very good corner, but he’s really fallen off this season. The bigger area of concern for the Bears is the two rookie safeties. Major Wright and Chris Conte were both given starting jobs after Brandon Meriweather and Chris Harris struggled. With Chicago’s cover two defense these rookies will be looked upon to cover both Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson deep. Look for Jackson to get behind one of these safeties early and break a big play.
When the Bears have the ball:
The Bears gave up a lot in the trade for Jay Cutler. While playing well at times, he hasn’t been the superstar a lot of experts projected. He has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, but tends to make mistakes, especially when hit early in the game. The Bears don’t have a particularly strong offensive line and their offensive coordinator Mike Martz tends to forget about pass protection at key junctures. The Eagles’ defensive line should have a field day teeing off on Cutler.
Before the Eagles get to Cutler, however, they are going to have to stop running back Matt Forte. This game creates a unique matchup between maybe the two best running backs in the NFL this season. Unlike McCoy, Forte is a between the tackles runner who can run you over. He’s had a contract dispute all year which seems to add more anger to his running style. The Eagles have cut down on their “wide nine” splits in recent weeks in an attempt to better stop the run. It has worked, but they haven’t faced a player like Forte. The Eagles need to concentrate more on gang tackling with Forte and having the first defender hold him up instead of trying to make a solo tackle. He doesn’t go down easily and is surprisingly slippery for a big back. Luckily for the Eagles, the Bears don’t have a tight end to worry about in this game. That means defensive coordinator Juan Castillo can commit more defenders to Forte in both the run and pass.
Outside of Forte, the worries for the Eagles are few. While receiver Roy Williams has been playing better, he still isn’t what he used to be. Cutler and Johnny Knox have a connection, but Knox isn’t someone who can take over a game. The only concern for the Eagles will be slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. He’s the kind of guy who just knows how to get open. He finds holes in the coverage and can take advantage of defenders not respecting his ability. He can keep drives going and make big catches in key moments.
Prediction: The Eagles sit at 3-4 on the season. After a blowout win against Dallas they should be feeling good about themselves. But they better not be too confident. Both the Giants and Cowboys got a win yesterday so the Eagles still sit behind both teams in the division race. Winning against the Bears at home is almost a must to keep pace. Turnovers will again be a key to this game but so will special teams. Rookie kickers Alex Henery and Chaz Henry need to keep the ball away from Bears returner Devin Hester. He can break a game open by himself and create a short field for the Bears to use Forte. Henery will also be called upon to maybe make a key field goal or two tonight. He’s been shaky this season and hasn’t looked comfortable. In a close game he could make all the difference. While the Bears can run the football, their passing attack and turnovers should be in Philly’s favor. Having two rookie safeties should have Vick and Jackson salivating about the possibility of huge plays. If the Eagles don’t give this game away and can neutralize Hester, it shouldn’t be as close as people predict. Chicago’s defense is getting old and Brian Urlacher can’t keep taking games over himself, can he? Eagles win 32-24.