59-28 was fun, no doubt about it. However, as fun as it was, I think this past weekend’s victory over the New York Giants was more encouraging. When was the last time the Eagles had fought back against a tough divisional opponent to take the lead? Admit it, when the Giants took a 17-16 lead there was a feeling in your stomach of “here we go again.” Yet the Eagles continued fighting and the rest is now history. Now the Eagles travel to the Windy City to take on the Chicago (Da) Bears.
I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time and there’s one specific reason. There is a man who plays for the Bears that I love to play against. We’ll get to him later. When I look at the Bears, I see a team that is very similar to the Giants. I see a team that has a stout defense but an offense that has the same turnover issues that the Giants have without any offensive spark to offset it.
The Bears’ offensive line unit has gotten steadily better over the past few weeks, but I’m not buying them. While watching the Chicago at Miami game last Thursday, I saw the Dolphins’ defenders getting through and getting pressure. They sacked Jay Cutler three times, bringing the season total for sacks let up to a league worst 37 to go along with 64 quarterback hits, which is second worst in the league. The Eagles’ defense was getting pressure on Eli Manning all game though they never sacked him at all. A good deal of that is due to the ridiculous amount of holding I saw, specifically on Trent Cole. They never even registered a quarterback hit. That will change this week. The Bears are letting up a ton of sacks, quarterback hits, and among the league leaders in letting up tackles for a loss. The Eagles’ defensive line is going to attack this line early and often and find success.
Behind the offensive line, the Bears’ rushing attack is headed by Matt Forte. Forte had a decent week against the Dolphins, putting up 97 yards on 25 carries (for a 3.9 YPC average). However, his true strength is not a rusher, but as a pass catcher. For the season, he has caught 32 passes for 331 yards and 3 TDs. As a rusher, he’s put up 567 yards on 150 carries and 4 TDs. However, those rushing statistics are padded by a monster game he had against Carolina. For the rest of the season, his numbers have been pedestrian at best on the ground. The biggest issue with him is his inability to grind it out for an extra yard or two. His season average for yards per carry is 3.8, which is simply not that good. The Eagles’ defense clamped down on a very potent rushing attack last week, only allowing the Giants to gain 71 yards on the ground. The Giants had previously been averaging well over 100 yards rushing per game and they still are. However, the Eagles’ defense is proving to be very stout against the run and they thrive on shutting down quick and elusive backs like Matt Forte.
At tight end, the Bears have a former first round draft pick in Greg Olsen, who is very dangerous. His style of play is similar to that of Jason Witten, and I often find that he uses his body in a similar fashion. In short, he is a guy that the Eagles will need to keep in check. He can overtake the game if the Eagles’ defense allows him to, and you know how we generally matchup against tight ends. Last week, the Eagles defense surprised me (or maybe it was the Giants offense) in letting up only 2 receptions to Kevin Boss for 22 yards. I was almost certain he’d be used more. Greg Olsen has brought in 28 passes for 322 yards and a team high 4 receiving TDs. Olsen was targeted 6 times and caught 4 passes for 40 yards against the Dolphins. I expect Jay Cutler to be looking his way early and often due to the pressure that the Eagles will be bringing. As it is, I like this matchup in favor of the Bears. I just can’t shake the feeling that at some point this season a tight end will light it up against the Eagles and I think this might be the week.
At wide receiver, the Bears have a lot of speed. Jonny Knox, their leading man, has a good speed. Devin Hester has incredible speed. Earl Bennett is a solid third receiver. However, the thing that separates them from another speed team (the Eagles for instance) is that they do not have the route running or catching ability to make them into elite players. No one in this receiving core really scares me, but obviously the Eagles need to keep them in check. The Bears leading receiver, Knox, has caught 37 passes for 672 yards and 1 TD. Devin Hester has caught 28 passes for 284 yards and 2 TDs. Earl Bennet’s numbers are almost identical to Hester’s. The Eagles secondary meanwhile is only improving with each week when Dimitri Patterson starts at cornerback. Opposite Patterson, Asante Samuel is having what might be his best year yet as a pro- not just as an Eagle, but for his entire career. He is becoming more physical, is shutting down every receiver that he covers, and leads the league in INTs. Speaking of INTs, that brings me to the next Bears player.
Earlier I said that there’s a player on the Bears that I love to see the Eagles play. That man is Jay Cutler, the Bears’ quarterback. I never bought into Cutler, not when he was in college, not when he was in Denver, and certainly not as a Bear. Cutler is a careless football player who makes very poor reads. In all honesty, he might be the worst long term starting quarterback in the league. By that I mean he’s the worst player at his position for having all the experience that he has. He’s better than some inexperienced players and is certainly better than many backups but as a starter he is okay at best. Cutler has thrown 10 INTs and lost a fumble this season. He also has a wonderful tendency to hold into the ball a little too long at times and takes sacks he doesn’t need to take. The Eagles’ secondary leads the league in picking off passes and I expect that lead to be built this weekend. The Eagles’ defensive front is among the top in sacks and I expect them to improve even more this week with Cutler under center. All in all, I love the Eagles defense against the Bears offense.
However, the Bears defense is certainly a different story. The defense is the reason that the Bears are 7-3 right now. They are first in points allowed (14.6), third in yards per game (290.4), twelfth in passing yards (212.4), and second in rushing yards (78). Those numbers are very similar to a defense that the Eagles just faced in the Giants. Quite honestly, the defenses are very similar overall. It’s very hard to run on them, but if given enough time you can throw on their secondary.
The Eagles’ offensive line had a rough week against the Giants and it’s to be expected. I undersold the Giants’ defensive front seven last week but I won’t make the same mistakes this week. The Bears have not gotten a lot of sacks (19) but they are getting after the quarterback, led by defensive tackle Israel Idonije. He contributed one sack to the Bears’ assault on the Dolphins last week. All in all, they sacked the Dolphins’ quarterback 6 times. However, the Dolphins were playing with a banged up offensive line and a very immobile quarterback. The Eagles will not be doing quite that but the Bears will be able to get pressure on the right side. Nick Cole at right guard is simply not working and I pray that Max Jean-Gilles starts this weekend. Winston Justice at right tackle is doing okay but he could certainly be doing better. The Bears will be getting in the backfield; I have no doubt of that.
Behind the Eagles’ line stands that man, LeSean McCoy. He was the hero of Sunday Night’s victory over the Giants as he raced for a 50 yard TD with a few minutes remaining to give the Eagles the lead. Now he returns to Chicago to face the Bears where he last put up 99 yards and a TD. However, it won’t be so easy this time as the Bears’ defense has improved mightily from last year. As I mentioned earlier, they are allowing only 78 yards per game. At the same time, the Giants were only allowing 83.3 yards per game on the ground last week and the Eagles ended up rushing for 148. The Bears’ run defense has done a good job most of the season, but they have struggled against rushers from the NFC East. In the previous three match ups with NFC East teams this season, the runner from the Bears’ opponent led the game in rushing. I do not expect McCoy to have a statistically great game, but I do expect him to have a decent or good game.
Do I even need to say it anymore? The Eagles are simply not using the tight end this season. Brent Celek continues to kill fantasy owners who drafted him high (like myself) with his two catches per game. He didn’t even register a single catch against the Giants. As I’ve said, he is being used heavily in run blocking and pass protection and I expect more of the same. Plus the Bears are, along with many teams, simply not giving up much to tight ends this season. This seems to be a pattern throughout the league.
However, the Eagles’ wide receivers remain an entirely different story. They had a rough game with drops last week, but that was an anomaly and nothing more. 99 times out of 100 Jason Avant will catch that pass in the end zone in which he was wide open and the ball was perfectly thrown. DeSean Jackson will catch the pass in the end zone most of the time. Jeremy Maclin is making a career out of making body stretching high catches. But all of those guys dropped crucial passes this past weekend that made the game far closer than it ever should’ve been. I do not believe the same will happen this weekend. This is a game in which Jeremy Maclin should be able to take over. The Bears struggle to defend receivers of his style and it’s clear that Michael Vick enjoys throwing to him. DeSean Jackson is constantly drawing double teams but he did have the Giants beat a few times last week, but Vick either missed him long (hard to do mind you) or he dropped the pass. All in all, I love this matchup as I often do. The Eagles’ receiving core is simply too strong.
Michael Vick had a rough outing against the Giants from a statistical standpoint. However, from a quality standpoint he made plays when he needed to. As I mentioned, it was not his fault that the receivers dropped great passes, two of which would have been TDs. Vick is playing at a ridiculously high level right now. Should he continue playing this way you will not be able to shut him down. You’ll be able to slow him down sometimes, as is the case with all quarterbacks, but completely stopping him will be darn near impossible. The Bears’ defense has picked off 15 passes with cornerback D.J. Moore leading the team with 4. Those 15 INTs are tied for second in the league. Vick is going to have to continue to be careful with the football. He has thrown zero INTs this season and has only fumbled and lost the ball once. It’s astounding really. The most telling statistic about Vick is that in games in which he’s started and finished, the Eagles are 5-0. It’s not out of the question to think that had he started against Green Bay and finished against Washington the Eagles could be 9-1. However, there’s no way of truly knowing. The fact is that he is playing at such a high level that stopping him will be difficult. I don’t think he’ll put up huge numbers against this stout Bears defense, but I do believe he’ll make the plays when he needs to. The Bears are a very physical team, but they don’t have the quickest defense. The advantage goes to Vick in that instance.
On special teams, the advantage goes to the Bears without question. Devin Hester is one of the best return men in NFL history. Hester is primarily the punt returner, though he has been brought in to return kicks twice. The Eagles special teams are average and they are again looking for a kick returner now that Ellis Hobbs is out for the season after sustaining a neck injury against the Giants. I can only assume that Jorrick Calvin will be the return man on kick and that DeSean Jackson will continue to be the primary punt returner. The Eagles must do what Keith Olbermann instructed other teams to do: “Do not kick to Hester! Do not kick to Hester!”
From a coaching standpoint, I can’t believe it but Andy Reid is shutting me up. He dialed up the perfect game plan in the final few minutes that gave the Eagles the win against the Giants. The Giants were blitzing with the safeties a lot and as a result he called pitch to LeSean McCoy and he was able to get by the blitz and run into the end zone. Reid’s been doing this all season. He notices the patterns and exploits them when it counts. Dare I say it that he might be having his finest overall year as a coach yet. Yeah, he still drives me nuts at times, but for the most part he is excelling. The Bears are led by Lovie Smith, a coach I’ve never had much faith in. He was part of the move to bring in Jay Cutler and I think he doomed his organization for a long time with the move. Smith’s defense is fierce but his offense is weak. I don’t know that I trust him to coach on the fly in the way that Reid has this season. The advantage goes to Reid.
HOW I SEE IT:
The Eagles are the vastly superior team. Both teams are 7-3 but records can be tricky. The Eagles have beaten teams that have a combined record of 36-34 and have beaten 4 teams with winning records (Jacksonville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and New York). The Bears have beaten by teams with a combined record of 23-47 and beaten only one winning team (the Packers). In that game the Packers self imploded with 18 penalties for 152 lost yards and the Bears just barely beat them. I do not buy the Bears at all and I see the Eagles proving just why this weekend. It will not be a total blowout but the Eagles will win this game on the road.