Four Downs: Keys to beating the Eagles (12/22/13)

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

1. Population tackle

The Bears always talk about “population tackling” — formerly called “gang tackling” but I guess the use of the word gang is frowned upon these days — and the Bears defense will have to use that discipline against the Eagles. A few weeks ago, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, one of the NFL’s best, racked up 211 rushing yards against the Bears. This week, LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, will face the Bears’ last-ranked run defense. That’s a scary proposition. He legitimately could rack up more than Peterson did. The Bears are likely to have Lance Briggs back in the lineup, which will do wonders for the cohesion of the defense. But will it do wonders for the run defense? That remains to be seen. But the team will have to population tackle and never give up on McCoy.

2. Own the time of possession

The Bears best chance is to prevent the Eagles’ explosive offense from possessing the ball too much. That means extending long drives, eating up small chunks of yards with short gains, and winding the clock. Although McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher, the Eagles won’t exactly be relaxing on one of the NFL’s other best running backs, Matt Forte. The Bears can use Forte in so many different ways and his involvement in the offense will determine their success in owning the clock.

3. Take what the defense gives you

Jay Cutler can’t zero in on just Brandon Marshall against the Eagles. The Bears have legitimate weapons all over the field, which is why they have one of the best offenses in the NFL. They can win this game with offense. The best way to do that is to methodically pick apart the defense with whatever holes they give them. I know that Alshon Jeffery is a big-play receiver who can “go up and get the ball.” His catches are amazing and borderline unbelievable. But even though he has the ability to haul in passes in traffic (like he did last week in double coverage at the goal line on a deep bomb from Cutler), I wouldn’t go to that well too many times. They should use that option sporadically and focus more on the mid-range, 8- to 15-yard pass plays, along with swing passes and screens to Forte.

4. Play physical and with an attitude

This is playoff football, folks. It’s not technically the “postseason” but it’s playoffs, nonetheless. Because each game matters a great deal. Sure, there’s technically a possibility that what happens Sunday night against the Eagles has no bearing on the divisional race, and that only next week’s game against the Packers matters. But the Bears can’t look at it that way. There’s also a possibility that the Bears can sew up the division with a victory against Philly. The Bears have to play with that mindset. They have to be more physical than the Eagles are, wear down the Eagles’ offense, and in doing so, they’ll slow down the fast pace with which Philly likes to play. It’s all about believing in themselves and exerting their will.

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