Written by: Rusty Miller
Previous Matchup: The last time these two teams matched up was last season. The Eagles were well on their way to their immaculate Super Bowl run and crushed the Bears 31-3 in Philadelphia. Carson Wentz lit up the Chicago secondary for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns while LeGarrette Blount ran for 97 yards on the ground. Mitchell Trubisky operated a paltry offensive effort that only put up 140 total yards including just six on the ground. Although the Bears won the turnover battle (3 fumble recoveries vs. 2 Trubisky interceptions), the Eagles suffocating defense was too much to overcome.
Offense: The Philadelphia Eagles’ offense has been clicking as of late. Since Nick Foles stepped back in for Carson Wentz, he has been magnificent throwing for 962 yards and 6 touchdowns in three games, all wins. Other than Foles, the thing that has really helped improve the offense is their running game and Darren Sproles returning from injury. Since Sproles’ return, the Eagles have put together a three-headed backfield that has rushed for 92.2 yards per game with Sproles running alongside Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams. The last thing that has given Foles success again is the re-emergence of Alshon Jeffery and the record-breaking season of Zach Ertz. Over the past three games, Jeffery has been the Eagles’ leading receiver in two of them. He has averaged 100 yards per game over that time span. Ertz on-the-other-hand has been on a torrid pace when it comes to tight end play. His 116 receptions broke Jason Witten’s receptions record of 110 set back in 2012. Ertz has been Philadelphia’s most consistent playmaker this season and will play a huge part in the Eagles’ success if they are to dismantle the daunting Chicago defense.
Chicago comes into this matchup as the 21st ranked offense in terms of total yards per game. This stat, however, does not always dictate a teams record as the Bears are 9th in points per game scoring 26.3 and 11th in rushing at 121.1 per game. The problem comes when they either get behind or are in a close game and have to pass a lot. Mitchell Trubisky has only thrown for over 250 yards four times this season and has 15 turnovers (12 INT’s, 3 fumbles lost). Another issue is the offensive line. Even though they have only given up the 8th least sacks, they have allowed at least one sack in every game except one that Trubisky has played in this season and against a formidable Eagles defensive line, that could be an issue. The Bears offense, when most effective this season, runs through Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and the ground game and that’s what Chicago’s game plan should be going into this one.
The Philadelphia offense has exploded with Nick Foles at the helm averaging 28.7 points per game since he took over which is just over the 28.5 they averaged all of last season. The ground game has come on, has given their offense more balance, and has immensely helped support the RPO game. The Bears’ defense is unlike anything that the Eagles have faced this season but I believe Foles and the Philadelphia offense is better overall than the Chicago offense with the Bears leaning on their ground game. I am also predicting the offensive line will give up at least 2 sacks against the ferocious pass rush of the Eagles.
Defense: On paper, it seems that the Eagles’ defense has been horrible this season. They ended the season ranked as the 23rd best defense giving up 366.2 yards per game. Since Nick Foles became the starter again on offense, the defense has elevated its play with 5 turnovers, 10 sacks, and a 21% conversion rate on 3rd down the last three games. Although they do give up yards, where they make their money is in the red zone. The Eagles give up the second fewest points per red zone drive at 4.25 and are the best allowing only .446 touchdowns per red zone drive. The Philly defensive line has been a wrecking crew up front with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett and Chris Long. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s crew has put up the aforementioned 10 sacks in the past three games and have made great quarterbacks (Jared Goff and Deshaun Watson) fear the rush on every drop back. They are tied for 8th in sacks with 44 on the season and will look to pressure Trubisky early and often and rattle the young passer.
If it weren’t for Baltimore’s defense, Chicago would be talked about as being the best in the NFL. They are first in point per game allowed (17.7), third in yard per game (299.7), third in sacks (50), first in interceptions (27), and first in defensive touchdowns (6). The obvious reason for Chicago’s defensive success this year has been the acquisition of Khalil Mack. Mack has put together a great season with 12.5 sacks, 5 pass deflections, 1 interception, 6 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 touchdown. He is a game wrecker who will be matched up against the very good tackles of the Eagles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. Another key cog in the Bears’ defense has been safety Eddie Jackson. Jackson, who has not played since week 15 but is expected to play in this game, has the fourth most interceptions at 6 (Kyle Fuller (CHI), Xavien Howard (MIA), Damontae Kazee (ATL) tied for 1st at 7) and 2 touchdowns off of those six. Jackson also has a sack, fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles, 21 passes defensed and a fumble returned for a touchdown. These two players will both play important roles if the Bears are going to take down the Super Bowl champs.
Overall, the Bears are a much better defense. When you compare the two, I think the pass rush evens out because of the Eagles’ depth. The Bears do have a slight edge at the next level as Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan have been excellent and Philadelphia has Jordan Hicks who’s missed four games and Nigel Bradham. Smith and Trevathan both have more than 100 tackles this season and are in the top-30 in that category. The secondary, however, is where the major difference in the defenses occurs. As previously stated, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson have both had amazing seasons combining for 13 interceptions and have led the defense to be the 7th best against the pass. The Eagles, on-the-other-hand, have what seems to be a million injuries in the secondary, playing a couple games without their top 5 cornerbacks. They also give up the 3rd most passing yards per game including 7 300-yard passers and 2 400-yard passers. Give the Bears the edge.
Special Teams: The Eagles have better overall special teams then the Bears do. It starts with the kickoff return game where Corey Clement was averaging 25.6 yards before he got injured and now Boston Scott has taken over and has averaged 24 yards per return. The Bears’ Anthony Miller is close, but has only averaged 23.2 yards per return. The next advantage for the Eagles is kicker Jake Elliott who is 26 of 31 on field goals (84%) with a long of 56 and 94% on extra points. He also has a 69.5% touchback rate on kickoffs. Cody Parkey for the bears, on-the-other-hand, is 23 of 30 on field goals (77%) with a long of 50 and 93% on extra points. He has a 73 % touchback rate on kickoffs but also has 1 kick out of bounds and 1 returned for a touchdown against him. The Eagles’ kickoff return coverage also has an edge over the Bears with 22.5 return yards given up and the Bears give up 24.9 yards on average. The final advantage for Philadelphia is their punter, Cameron Johnston who has an average of 48.1 average, 42.7 net average, 24 inside the 20, 7 touchbacks and have given up just 6.3 yards per return. Pat O’Donnell for Chicago has a 45 yard average, 39.7 net average, 28 inside the 20, 7 touchbacks and returners average 7.5 yards per return against him. The sole advantage that the Bears have is in the punt return game where Tarik Cohen is averaging 12.5 yard per return for Chicago and Darren Sproles only has a 8.3 yards average. But, Cohen also has 4 fumbles which puts a damper on his return statistics.
Coaching: Doug Pederson has put together a sterling 29-19 record in his 3 seasons as the Eagles head coach and a 3-0 postseason record leading his team to their first Super Bowl victory last season. First year offensive coordinator Mike Groh, promoted after former OC Frank Reich took the Indianapolis Colts head coach job and former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo left to be the Minnesota Vikings’ OC, has done a masterful job of pulling the offense together with multiple injuries to the wide receiver and running back positions. Jim Schwartz has done another wonderful defensive job especially against the run and he too has dealt with multiple injuries, on his side of the ball, in the secondary. First-year head coach Matt Nagy has produced a marvelous worst to first season at 12-4. His offense, which he is known for in his lone season as the Kansas City offensive coordinator last year, is only ranked 21st in the league in total offense. First-year OC Mark Helfrich, the former Oregon head coach, has helped to produce the league’s 11th ranked rushing attack and 9th ranked points per game offense. Vic Fangio, in his fourth season with Chicago, has put together a spectacular defense this season. They are 3rd in total defense, 3rd in sacks, and 1st in interceptions. Because both Pederson and Nagy are from the Andy Reid coaching tree, I believe this will be quit a mental matchup between the two offensive minds and the two very successful defensive coordinators, Schwartz and Fangio.
Prediction: The road to the Super Bowl is not easy. Every team knows this when they enter the postseason. The Eagles, however, have experience on their roster after playing three games last year. Although this is so, Philadelphia played two of their games at home and did not have to travel until the Super Bowl. Chicago has not been to the postseason since 2010 when they lost to the Green Bay Packers in Chicago. They do, however have some playoff experience, as head coach Matt Nagy was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs playoff run last year, linebacker Danny Trevathan was an integral part of the 2015 Broncos Super Bowl victory, and tight end Trey Burton was the orchestrator of the Philly Special in last year’s Super Bowl for the Eagles. This game will all boil down to whether the Philadelphia offense can score on the vaunted Chicago defense and whether the suddenly stout Eagles defense can apply pressure on young Trubisky and create turnovers to give their offense short fields. I believe that this will come down to a kick and the Eagles have the better of the two kickers. So, it may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe the Nick Foles magic continues at Soldier Field and the Philadelphia Eagles continue their Super Bowl defense.
Eagles 24, Bears 21