Four Downs: Keys to beating the Eagles

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Win the turnover battle
By now, we’re all well aware of Jay Cutler’s struggles in prime time games. He’s thrown 11 of his league-high 17 interceptions in evening games this year. I would suggest that lopsided total is more a coincidence than a result of the actual time of the game, but we’ll get a better idea of that against Philadelphia. The Bears’ three prime time games this year have all been on the road, and Cutler has played much better at home this year. The Bears currently have a minus-5 turnover ratio, bad enough to be ranked No. 27 in the league in that department, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that they’re 4-5. Turnovers play a huge role in which team wins a game, so the Bears’ focus should be on protecting the ball on offense and taking it away on defense.

2. Get points in the red zone
Cutler has thrown five interceptions while in the red zone this year and that’s played a key factor in a couple of the team’s losses this season, most notably last week against the 49ers. If the Bears had kicked two field goals instead of Cutler forcing two red zone interceptions against San Francisco, the Bears would have won, 12-10. Then again, if the Bears’ were trailing 10-9 — if you substitute Cutler’s first interception with a field goal — then Cutler probably wouldn’t have thrown his last interception because the Bears would have been playing for a field goal at the end of the game, not a touchdown. The point is moot, but you can see how mistakes can compound like quicksand and quickly make things worse. Cutler needs to find some more restraint in the red zone and allow one of the most accurate kickers of all time to put points on the board.

3. Limit the Eagles to field goals
I’m still scratching my head that for as bad as the Bears’ pass defense has been this year, they’re only allowing 195.3 yards per game through the air, which is 8th-fewest in the NFL. I did a double take when I saw that statistic. Part of the reason that number is so low compared with last year — when the pass defense was ranked No. 30 — is because the Bears are having trouble stopping the run this year. Unlike in 2008, when the Bears were the No. 5-ranked run defense, the Bears are currently ranked No. 21 against the run, allowing 118.4 yards per game. Teams have been moving the ball at will against the Bears’ defense this year, and what’s worse is that they’re punching it into the end zone. The Bears are in the bottom half of the league while allowing 24 touchdowns this year. If the Bears can keep the Eagles out of the end zone and instead yield field goals, they’ll have a chance.

4. Exploit the Eagles’ secondary
Philadelphia likes to bring constant pressure with a variety of blitzes, and for as badly as the Bears have been in pass protection this year, I fear for Cutler’s safety. As a result of a breakdown up front, the Bears don’t have a lot of time to go deep down the field. Cutler is forced out of the pocket and has to get rid of the ball quicker than he’d like. If the Bears can somehow keep Cutler upright for the majority of the night and somehow manage to pick up the blitzes, Cutler should be able to pick apart the Eagles’ secondary, which is banged up and could be missing some key pieces. Of course, because the Bears can’t run the football and the Eagles are eighth in the league at defending it anyway, Cutler may have no choice but to throw all game.

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