Week 16 Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
Part 16 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season
Riding a two-game winning streak, the Chicago Bears continue their road trip, heading to the east coast for their penultimate game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears are 8-6 and looking to build momentum for a playoff run. They control their own destiny, meaning that if they win their remaining games, they will make the playoffs. They desperately need a win in each of their final two wins to win the division and make some noise in the postseason.
The Eagles are also 8-6 and in a similar situation. They have a one game lead in their division, and they cannot afford a loss. Neither of these teams can make the playoffs as a wildcard, so the division title is their ticket into the big dance. The Eagles suffered a tough loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings last week, and another disappointment would really hurt their playoff chances. They too are desperate for a win.
Bears Run Defense versus Eagles RB LeSean McCoy
Statistically, the Bears have the worst run defense in the league. They have allowed a 100-yard rusher in six of their last seven games. The problem is, the Bears don’t really have one specific unit to blame. Their defensive line has been devastated with injuries, especially at defensive tackle, which makes it easier for opponents to open up holes. Injuries at linebacker have force the Bears to rely on two rookies in the middle of the field, leading to incorrect reads and poor angles due to inexperience. On the back end, the Bears have had similar problems at safety, although they do not have the injury excuse. They are going to have to be on their game to slow down the Eagles’ runningback.
LeSean McCoy is having the best season of his career. He currently leads the NFL in rushing with 1,343 yards, averaging 96 yards per game on five yards per carry. The Eagles have relied on him heavily, and he has really carried their offense. McCoy has rushed for more than 150 yards in four games this season, including a 217-yard performance in the snow against the Detroit Lions. Against the Bears’ run defense, he may have a chance to add another big game. The return of Lance Briggs this week may make that a little more difficult, however.
One of the surprisingly inconsistent players on the Bears’ defense has been Julius Peppers. He has made the Pro-Bowl the last five seasons straight, but this season, the Bears are never sure what they are going to get from game to game. Through the first three games, he had a total of two tackles. The next game, he had a sack and six tackles, before going stat-less over the next two games. Then he would start to alternate games, having a game with a sack and an interception, followed by a one-tackle game, followed by a two-sack 11-tackle game, before a 2.5-sack eight-tackle game two weeks later. After two straight quiet weeks, Peppers appears to be due for a big one in this game.
Jason Peters too has played inconsistently this season. He has not been the same player since tearing his Achilles tendon twice in the 2012 offseason. Overall, he was playing pretty well prior to a string of injuries earlier this season. Since then, Peters has been banged up and struggling. His poor play has been part of the reason that Nick Foles has been sacked 12 times over the last four weeks, after being sacked only nine times the previous seven weeks. The Eagles need Peters to return to form against a fellow former Pro Bowler in Peppers.
Game in and game out, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the focus of opposing defenses. They lead the league with a combined 2,450 yards receiving to go with 17 touchdowns. They have dominated opposing secondaries, and defenses have had issues keeping them covered. Marshall and Jeffery have been a big reason for the success of both Jay Cutler and Josh McCown this season, and both have a legitimate shot at making the Pro Bowl. For the Bears offense to continue to move so efficiently, these two need to continue to play at a very high level.
Eagles’ cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams have had some struggles this season. Overall, they have been pretty good, but at times they have had their lapses. They allowed Greg Jennings a season high 163 yards and 11 catches last week for the Vikings, and Jarrett Boykins racked up a season high 112 yards and eight catches a few weeks earlier, and Hakeem Nicks had a season high against them prior to that. They cannot afford to let either Marshall or Jeffery have a big one in this game.
Which team’s defense can hold it together and make the big plays?
Both teams have had some issues defensively this season. The Bears’ defense, as briefly discussed above, is thinned out due to injuries, and it has really worsened their ability. They are the worst rushing defense in the league, but they have been in the top half of the league against the pass. The Eagles’ defense is the second worse passing defense in the league, while their run defense has been poor as well.
Both of these defenses will be going against two of the NFL’s more high-powered offenses. In a game that is expected to be pretty high scoring, which defense can do more to stop the opposing offense? Statistically, the Bears’ offense is the more potent of the two, and the Eagles defense is the worse of the two, but a strong showing by that Philadelphia unit could really swing the game in their favor. From week to week, neither team knows quite what they are going to get from their defense, and their play in this one will be as crucial as ever.
Which team’s offense can pull ahead in a potential shootout?
On the other side of the ball, both teams have two very strong offenses. The Bears’ offense is second in the league in points and seventh in yards, while the Eagles’ offense is seventh in points and second in yards. Both teams have had quarterback injuries to overcome to go with a handful of other banged up offensive players. Both offenses also feature rookie head coaches with a history of offensive success. There isn’t a massive amount of tape on either offense, and each is still working on perfecting their own.
With both teams facing fairly bad defenses, this game will most likely turn into a shootout. If this game comes down to the final possession or two, which team’s offense can get the last laugh? Where the difference-maker may come in is in the redzone. According to NFL.com, the Eagles’ touchdown percentage in the red zone (45.8-percent) is second worst in the NFL, and their 1.52 yards per rush in the red zone ranks dead last. If the Eagles cannot capitalize in the redzone, it could create opportunities for the Bears’ offense to pull ahead. Philadelphia’s offense has to capitalize on every chance they can in order to put themselves in the best position to win.
Both teams’ quarterbacks have missed some games this season, but they should both be 100-percent in this game. Both teams’ coaches have their quarterbacks playing at a very high level. Cutler has the better body of work, but Foles is playing like the better quarterback as of late. In the backfield, McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher, while Matt Forte is third. Both have been a huge part of their respective team’s offense.
Marshall and Jeffery have been huge both physically and figuratively for the Bears’ offense, while DeSean Jackson has played very well for the Eagles too. Riley Cooper has also done well, but they have not had the dominance that Bears’ wide receiver duo has shown. At tight end, each team has a very different situation. The Bears have only gotten production from Martellus Bennett, while the Eagles’ Zach Ertz and Brent Celek have both played quite a bit. Philadelphia’s dual threat may just give them the edge.
The Bears’ offensive line has been completely rebuilt from last year, and their consistency has been a big part of their offensive success. However, they have struggled with run blocking as the season has gone on. The Eagles’ offensive line has done a good job of opening holes for McCoy, but they have had some problems protecting Foles as of late. Neither offensive line has been spectacular, but the Bears may have the slightly better group.
The young Eagles defensive line has performed very well in spite of their inexperience. Fletcher Cox especially has really shone. The Bears’ defensive line has battled injuries all season, and as a result they have gotten inconsistent play. The linebacker situation has been similar for the Bears, while the Eagles have gotten very good play all-around.
In the secondary, both teams have had some problems. Both have had some injuries to both starters and reserves, but even some of their healthy players have played very poorly. The Bears lost Charles Tillman for the season, but Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman have continued to play well at cornerback. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte have been extremely disappointing, and neither has injury to use as an excuse. For the Eagles, Brandon Boykins, Kurt Coleman, and Colt Anderson have all battled injuries lately. Neither team’s group is phenomenal, but the Bears have had the slightly better unit.
Robbie Gould is having yet another excellent season kicking, hitting nearly 90-percent of his attempts and connecting on almost every deep shot. Alex Henery has been good but not great, having some issues with deeper kicks. In the punting game, Adam Podlesh has really struggled getting a lot of distance on punts, but he does a good job of directional kicking, while Donnie Jones has been excellent for the Eagles.
Returning kicks and punts exclusively once more, Devin Hester has shown flashes of the dominance from his youth, and he is still a threat to take it all the way on every return. Injuries and struggles have caused the Eagles to rotate returners at times. The renaissance of Hester gives the Bears the better return game.
This game has huge playoff implications for the NFC, a big reason it was flexed to Sunday Night Football. The winner of this game will have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs and the loser will need a little luck to advance. This is a must-win game for both teams, and as a result, the intensity level should be high. Even if both team’s respective divisional opponents lose on Sunday, they will still need every win they can get to ensure they have a seed in the playoffs.
With two offensive-guru, rookie head coaches, it will be interesting to see which coach “out-coaches” the other. Both Marc Trestman and Chip Kelly will continue to be compared to each other as their careers continue, and many have been eagerly awaiting their matchup since the schedule came out. The coaches, combined with the playoff implications will make this one of the best games of the weekend. They should put on a good show.
Game Prediction: Chicago Bears 34 – Philadelphia Eagles 27