Here are 15 things to know about tonight's Eagles-Bears matchup:
1. The defensive gameplan starts with containing Matt Forte, who's playing as well as any running back in the league right now. His 5.4 yards per carry are third in the NFL among backs with at least 100 carries, behind Ben Tate (5.7) and LeSean McCoy (5.6). Forte has nine runs of 20+ yards, second to only Fred Jackson and one more than McCoy. Forte had several impressive runs in Chicago's last game against Tampa, piling up 145 yards. On one play, he showed great patience before getting around the left edge and breaking a tackle for 22 yards. On his 32-yard touchdown run, Forte made a defensive back miss in the open field and then juked two more defenders, who ended up running into each other. Later, the Bucs had a chance to stop him at the line of scrimmage, but Forte delivered a stiff-arm and picked up 13 yards. When Eagles defenders have chances to make plays tonight, they can't afford to miss tackles, or Forte will burn them for huge gains. And they have to stop Forte from getting around the edge and to the sideline.
2. It's not just about limiting him as a runner though. Forte is a prolific receiver as well. Entering Week 9, his 419 receiving yards were the most of any running back in the league. And maybe more importantly, Forte is averaging 11.0 yards per catch. To put that into perspective, the most Brian Westbrook averaged in a season was 10.1. And McCoy is only averaging 6.0. Forte leads the Bears in targets (51), receptions (38) and receiving yards (419). Against Tampa, Jay Cutler beat a blitz with a swing pass to Forte, who exploded for a 36-yard gain. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles rank 30th at covering opposing running backs in the passing game. Major matchup edge here for the Bears.
3. Cutler has been OK. He’s completing under 60 percent of his passes and averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. He’s averaging one interception every 38.7 attempts. As a point of reference, Vick is averaging one every 28.5 attempts. He'll make impressive throws, but he'll also make throws that make you wonder what he's thinking. Cutler threw a pair of picks against Tampa. The first was on a screen to Marion Barber and went off the running back's hands. On the second one, Cutler threw into traffic off his back foot. The key, as is usually the case, is pressuring Cutler and forcing him to make bad decisions. When he has time, he can stick the ball right where he wants to like few others in the league. On one play against Tampa, wide receiver Johnny Knox had Ronde Barber draped all over him, but Cutler made a great throw for a 15-yard gain. Later in the drive, he rolled out and threw a perfect pass to Knox for another 15-yard gain.
4. So, will Jim Washburn's group be able to get to Cutler? I think so. Don't be surprised if Trent Cole has a huge game matched up against Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb. I was not impressed with Webb against Tampa as the Bucs got a lot of pressure on Cutler's blind side. He got beat for a sack, and according to Pro Football Focus, has allowed six sacks on the season, tied for fourth-most in the league among offensive tackles. He's also been whistled for seven penalties, tied for third-most among tackles. Cole returned from injury against Dallas and had some good moments, but he should really be able to dominate this matchup.
5. Overall, the Bears have allowed 21 sacks, which was fourth-most in the league going into the weekend, and they were 27th in sack rate, according to Football Outsiders. In recent weeks, the Eagles have been getting interior pressure from Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws. And as you probably already know, Jason Babin has a team-leading nine sacks. Of all the matchups, the Eagles' defensive line against the Bears' offensive line probably presents the Birds' biggest advantage.
6. At wide receiver, the Bears have Knox, Roy Williams, Devin Hester, and Earl Bennett, who is returning from injury. Knox leads the team with seven catches of 20+ yards. That's just one fewer than DeSean Jackson and two fewer than Jeremy Maclin. Knox leads the team, averaging 18.3 yards per catch. That's higher than both Jackson and Maclin. Bennett will line up in the slot, and Cutler likes to look for him on third down. Hester has been the most-targeted wide receiver, but his catch rate (catches per targets) of 48 percent is among the worst in the league.
7. Of course, Hester's real value comes on special teams. He already has two returns for touchdowns - one on a punt and one on a kickoff. Football Outsiders ranks the Bears' special teams No. 1 in the league. In addition to the return game, Chicago is their top-ranked punting unit. If you're wondering about the Eagles, they are 20th overall in special teams.
8. Defensively, the Bears are allowing opponents to average 5.2 yards per carry, the second-worst mark in the league. The Eagles are sixth-worst at 5.0. McCoy should be able to do damage. Entering the weekend, he led the NFL in yards per game (107.7), rushing first downs (48) and carries of 10+ yards (29).
9. At linebacker, the Bears bring Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to town. Each player had an interception against Tampa, and Urlacher has three on the season. Josh Freeman was looking for his tight end on both picks, as Urlacher and Briggs dropped back and got their hands on the passes. In last year's matchup, Vick struggled to squeeze the ball in between Chicago's linebackers and safeties. We'll see how much he's improved tonight.
10. Don't expect the Bears to blitz nearly as much as the Cowboys and Redskins did in the previous two weeks. Last year, Chicago sent extra pressure on 10 of 52 dropbacks against the Eagles. Vick was good against the Bears' blitz, completing five of eight passes for 100 yards. Four of those five completions gained 20 yards or more. When the Bears do blitz, it will most often be Briggs or Urlacher. On one play against Tampa, the Bears showed seven at the line and blitzed six. Briggs got a good hit on Freeman, who threw incomplete. They'll drop Julius Peppers into coverage at times also. Against Tampa, the Bears ran a five-man zone blitz with cornerback D.J. Moore from the slot, and Peppers, lined up at right defensive end, dropping back. Linebacker Nick Roach will blitz too. He had a pair of QB hits against the Bucs.
11. The Eagles have to be ready for the Bears' stunts, something that killed them last year. Winston Justice and Nick Cole had all kinds of trouble on the right side of the offensive line. This year, the Eagles are in better shape with Todd Herremans and Danny Watkins, but this will be a good test for Watkins in particular. Against Tampa, rookie Stephen Paea came on a stunt and crushed Freeman on third down. Amobi Okoye came on a stunt from right defensive tackle and sacked Freeman.
12. The biggest name on the Bears' defensive line is Peppers, who will match up mostly with Jason Peters. Peppers leads the team with four sacks, but Peters did a good job on him last year. Peppers had one sack in the 2010 matchup, and it was on a play where he was unblocked, not a play where he beat Peters. Against Tampa, Peppers came on a stunt and was in Freeman's face as he threw the game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter. The Bears have a good defensive end on the other side too in Israel Idonije.
13. Opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of 86.8 against the Bears (21st). The Bears have 15 sacks, which ranked 22nd entering the weekend. And they were 24th in sack rate. Opponents are averaging 7.0 yards per attempt against them (13th). Chicago's starting cornerbacks are Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but Vick should be able to once again work the middle of the field with Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Avant was targeted nine times in last year's matchup; Celek seven times. Celek has led the team in targets in each of the past two games. And he had a much different role last week against Dallas. On pass plays, through the first six games, Celek was blocking about 30 percent of the time and going into pass routes 70 percent of the time. But against the Cowboys, Celek blocked on just 11.4 percent of the pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus. We'll see if that trend continues this week.
14. The Bears' offense ranks 17th in red zone scoring percentage, scoring touchdowns on 50 percent of their trips inside the 20. The Eagles are 24th at 45.71 percent. Defensively, the Bears are 10th in the red zone, allowing touchdowns 44 percent of the time. The Eagles are 31st at 66.67 percent. Only the Saints are worse (71.43 percent).
15. The Bears are 14th in takeaways per game (12 total). The Eagles are 16th (10 total). Offensively, the Bears are eighth in giveaways per game (eight total), while the Eagles are last in the NFL (17 total).
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