Bears offense vs. Eagles defense
Since the bye week, the Bears have called 108 run plays out of 204 plays from scrimmage. That’s a 52-48 run-to-pass ratio. The offense can’t get much more balanced than that and major credit needs to go to Lovie Smith and Mike Martz for organizing such a successful game plan in the Bears’ last three victories. The players are not without their due, either. It’s one thing to call a smart play but it’s another to be able to execute it. The truth is that the offensive line, while far from great, has been playing much better the past three weeks. While the duo of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor is averaging an anemic 2.9 yards per carry, the more important statistic is that the line has allowed just six sacks in those three games, which is three less than they allowed in the first half of the Giants game alone. If the Bears are going to make a playoff push, they need Jay Cutler to be healthy and Martz and the offensive line are doing a good job of that since the bye week. This week the Bears will face an Eagles team that is ninth in the league with 26 sacks, so protection is vital. The Eagles also lead the league with 19 interceptions, four more than the Bears’ opportunistic defense has recorded. They’ve forced eight fumbles and have recovered seven of them. The Eagles defense has also scored two touchdowns off turnovers. One of the things Philadelphia does not do well is keep opponents off the scoreboard. They are ranked 19th with 22.6 points per game allowed, which is one of the reasons why their offense needs to put up so many points. The Bears offense, however, does not score many points as they rank 25th with just 19.1 points per game scored. The biggest challenge the Bears face is protecting Cutler against Trent Cole, the Eagles defensive end who leads the team with seven sacks. They’ve got a talented linebacking corps in middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, and outside linebackers Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou. I’m probably most impressed with their safeties, though. Strong safety Quintin Mikell leads the team with 57 tackles and has a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception. Rookie free safety Nate Allen — whom I wanted the Bears to trade up to get in this year’s draft — is fourth on the team in tackles and has a sack and three interceptions. The Bears got a big break — they’ve been getting a lot of those this year — when it was reported that Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, who is a ballhawk with seven interceptions on the year and 42 throughout his eight-year career, will not play because of a knee injury.
Bears defense vs. Eagles offense
It doesn’t matter who has been on the field opposite the Bears, the defense has locked down opponents this year. The Bears have the No. 3 defense in the league and the No. 1 scoring defense. Would you like to see more sacks? Absolutely. The Bears are only 23rd in that department with just 19 on the season — less than two per game on average. But you can’t argue with success. You can try, but it would be a futile fight. With an offense that doesn’t score much and a quarterback that still has turnover issues, the defense is the main cog responsible for the 7-3 record up to this point. The defense leads the league with an astounding six touchdown passes allowed. The pass defense is ranked 13th in the league, which is impressive for a Lovie Smith defense which is known for allowing lots of yards but few points. The run defense is second in the league and is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, third-best in the league. The Cover 2 defense is frustrating to watch, absolutely. It’s discouraging to watch opponents methodically move down the field with small chunks of yards. But it’s also working now that Smith has the horses he needs in place. They have a pass rush that is getting to the quarterback, even if it’s not causing high sack totals. They have a trio of linebackers among the best in the business, perhaps the best of any 4-3 defense in the league. Charles Tillman gives up passing plays here and there but is still the most valuable turnover maker in the league — from a forced fumble perspective; not so much from interceptions. And most impressive of all is the play of the safeties. It was a big concern heading into the season but Danieal Manning appears to have finally found a home at strong safety and is playing really well. Chris Harris makes his fair share of mistakes but is a force as a blitzer and is strong in run support. It’s a good thing the defense is working as it should because the Bears will need it to do just that this week against Michael Vick and the explosive Eagles offense. The Eagles have the second-highest scoring offense in the league and it’ll be interesting to see what they can do against the Bears’ league-best scoring defense. Once upon a time before he went to prison, Vick was an average passer who could do damage with his legs. Now he seems to have improved his accuracy and has once again become one of the most dangerous players in the league. It’ll be incumbent on the defense to keep him contained in the pocket. Once he leaves the pocket, he can make plays while on the move, either throwing downfield to his speedy receivers, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, or tucking away the ball and picking up yards with his legs. If Vick does leave the pocket, it’s important that he is funneled to his right. Being a left-handed quarterback, it’s more difficult for him to throw when he’s moving to his right and he more often than not will not throw it. The key to the defensive effort will be to avoid mental mistakes and the secondary needs to wait until Vick crosses the line of scrimmage before breaking coverage, otherwise they could get beat deep. Because the Bears have such great speed at linebacker, and an athletic freak in Julius Peppers who can keep containment and not let Vick get outside of him, they have the edge in this matchup.
This game figures to be a close battle and in tight games there is perhaps no more important phase than the special teams. Field position will be a critical component to the outcome of the game and the Bears are well equipped to win this battle. Devin Hester did not get an opportunity to return a kickoff last week because Miami was held scoreless. Their one kickoff attempt last week — to open the second half — was kicked away from Hester and fielded by Rashied Davis, who took it out to the 30-yard-line. If the Eagles want to kick away from Hester — which they’ll probably do with a smart coach like Andy Reid — that’s fine, because the Bears will end up with good field position. If they do make the mistake of kicking to Hester, on either kickoffs or punts, they’re in for a world of hurt. The Eagles have not had great success returning kicks this year. Their top kick returner, Ellis Hobbs, is out for the season with a neck injury, but he only averaged 21.6 yards per return, which is near the bottom of the league. His replacement, Jorrick Calvin, averages slightly better at 22.1 yards per return. Calvin and the speedy Jackson have split punt return duties this year but neither one has made a huge impact. Calvin averages 10.5 yards per return and Jackson just 7.9. Jackson is a home run threat, though, and needs to be taken seriously. After a small slump in which he missed three field goals in a row, Robbie Gould appears to be working out of it after making all three kicks last week against Miami. The Bears are going to need his reliability this week if the game is a close one. Long-time veteran David Akers is a solid pro for the Eagles and he’s converted on 20 of 25 field goals this year. He’s definitely lost some distance over the years. Eagles punter Sav Rocca is eighth in the league with a 45.4 yards per punt average. Brad Maynard is way at the bottom of the list with a 39.0 average. The Bears will need his directional punting to help pin the Eagles offense deep in its own territory.
And so this is the test that so many skeptical Bears fans have been waiting to see for 10 weeks. Even when the Bears beat the Packers, arguably the best team in the conference, in Week 3 at Soldier Field, there were doubters because of how many penalties the Packers racked up. The Bears will now face a legitimate offense that averages 28.4 points per game, second-most in the league. They now face an offense ranked eighth with 248.6 yards per game. And they now face an offense with the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL in Michael Vick (108.7). If the Bears get the job done, I don’t want to hear any more excuses. If they contain that explosive offense and are able to put up more points than Philadelphia’s high octane unit, then they’ll be considered one of, if not the best team in the NFC. All of that is easier said than done, though. The Bears don’t have to be great to win this game; they just have to be mistake-free, or at least make fewer mistakes than the Eagles do. The Bears have the team speed to match up with the Eagles. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Pisa Tinoisamoa — who had full participation in practice Thursday and is expected to start — can play sideline to sideline and contain Vick. Peppers can chase Vick faster than any defensive end has this season. So the real test is whether the Bears’ secondary can play disciplined football and not give up the big play. Vick has not thrown an interception this season in 191 pass attempts, which explains why his quarterback rating is so high. Something tells me that’s going to change this week, or he at least might fumble the ball. The Bears coaching staff, while not perfect, has been the best one under the Lovie Smith watch and is ready for a game like this. The playing surface at Soldier Field is bad, and that usually affects the road team more than the home team because the Bears are more used to playing on it. That may just slow down the Eagles offense enough for the Bears to take advantage. Are the Bears better than the Eagles? We don’t know for sure, but these are the types of big games that Lovie’s gang usually wins.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Philadelphia 21