LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Part of the allure of “Big Play Nick” is his insatiable desire to take it deep.
When conservative starter Carson Wentz’s fractured back forced him out of the lineup beginning in Game 14, Nick Foles immediately rekindled his 2017 long-ball love affair with No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery and the rest of the receiving corps. In Games 14 and 15, Foles threw eight passes of at least 20 air-yards. He completed four of them, one for a touchdown, with no interceptions.
The Eagles didn’t need to try a deep pass in the finale against toothless Washington, but Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knows Foles and head coach Doug Pederson will take whatever their hosts give them in their wild-card playoff game Sunday.
“This guy does have a big arm, and he does like to throw the deep ball,” Fangio said Thursday. “If there’s a chance he can throw a deep ball, and he sees it, he will throw it. That’s his mentality. That’s Doug’s mentality. So, they will do it. A big part of this game will be how we defend the deep ball.”
Fangio was a smallish safety at Dunmore (Pa.) High. He’s about Darren Sproles’ size. Maybe that explains why he has always considered Sproles, the Eagles' 5-foot-6, 190-pound utility back, underappreciated.
“He’s a weapon,” said Fangio, who saw the Chargers let Sproles walk as a free agent in 2011, then watched the Saints trade him to the Eagles in 2014. “I couldn’t believe when San Diego got rid of him way back, and I couldn’t believe when New Orleans got rid of him 4 or 5 years ago. Philadelphia’s been the beneficiary.”
Injuries have limited Sproles to nine games the last two seasons, but he’s averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 10.6 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns in those games. He’s also still the Eagles primary punt returner at age 35, in his 14th season.
Age is just a number for Sproles, Fangio said: “He’s a good route runner out of the backfield. They’ll hand the ball off to him. They have a nice little sprint-draw they’ll give him. He’ll run the inside zones, the outside zones. They’ll line him up on the outside occasionally, like a wide receiver.”
Four games ago, the Bears beat Aaron Donald and the Rams' fearsome front, but the Bears are just as wary of the Eagles' deep defensive line, led by disruptive Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox and his cast of talented characters.
" ‘Disruption’ is a great word," Chicago offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “And they’ve got game-wreckers as backups. That’s what’s scary. Situation guys. [Chris] Long’s a third-down player. When you look at a team where [tackle] Haloti Ngata’s a backup ... .”
“We’ve seen some good inside guys. Some good edge guys. This front is a combination of all those things, and more,” he said. “The way that they spell those guys, is, unfortunately, very smart. How they attack with them is very smart.”
It all begins with Cox, who compiled a career-high 10 1/2 sacks this season and will forever be compared with Donald, who led the league with 20 1/2.
“Bigger,” Helfrich said of Cox. "They’re different. Cox is outstanding. He’s a tremendous player. They’re similar in a lot of ways, but then structurally different. They present their own unique set of problems."