Good morning. Gameday is here. The Eagles will try to extend their season in this afternoon’s opening-round postseason game against the Chicago Bears. If the Eagles win, they play the New Orleans Saints next weekend. If they lose, the season is finished and they’ll clean out the lockers when they return home.
— Zach Berman
Which defensive front plays better?
The lines of scrimmage dictate most of games, but the matchups this weekend are especially interesting. The Bears will challenge the Eagles with a defensive front that includes Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd, and Bilal Nichols in their 3-4 defensive front. They’ll challenge an Eagles offensive line that has been playing well of late – especially right tackle Lane Johnson. Mack moves around the formation, so Johnson and Jason Peters will both see time on him. The Eagles are expected to start Isaac Seumalo if healthy, so that will be a change from what’s worked in recent weeks. On the other side of the ball, though, the Eagles defensive line could have the edge against the Bears offensive line. Fletcher Cox had 6.5 sacks last month – he’ll rush against Kyle Long, the brother of Eagles defensive end Chris Long. The Eagles’ edge rushers could win their matchups against the Bears tackles.The game will be determined by which offensive line better handles the opposing defensive front.
A clean game from Nick Foles
Nick Foles hasn’t thrown more than one interception in a game this season – or even since he’s come back to Eagles last year. The Eagles must hope that streak continues. The Bears have 36 takeaways, 27 of which are interceptions – the most since the 2013 Seahawks. Foles has had six multi-interception games in his career. The Eagles are 1-5 in those games. Foles doesn’t need to play like a Super Bowl MVP on Sunday, but he must have a clean game for the Eagles to win. Ball-hawking safety Eddie Jackson will be game-time decision, so pay attention to his status.
Utilize ‘12’ personnel
The Eagles found a groove using ‘12’ personnel – two tight ends and one running back – and that will be matchup they’ll heavily feature on Sunday. Look for Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert to continue playing on the field together. If the Bears stay in their base defense against that look, they’ll need a linebacker in coverage on Goedert or Ertz. It’s hard to create mismatches against the Bears, although this could be one way to do it.
Alshon Jeffery must rise to the moment…again
Alshon Jeffery has been on a hot streak with Foles at quarterback, averaging 5+ catches and 100+ yards in the past three games. Jeffery likes the big stage, and a postseason game against his former team in his first time back in Soldier Field would fit. Jeffery had five catches and a touchdown against Chicago last season, and he’s playing better this season, catching a career-high 70.7 percent of his targets. Jeffery likes to say 50-50 balls aren’t 50-50 when they’re thrown to him, but Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller can make plays on the ball – he leads the NFL in pass breakups and is tied for the lead in interceptions.
Bottle the run
This is a different Bears team than last season (and a different Eagles team), but it’s hard to forget what the Eagles did against the Bears last season, when they held the Bears running backs to -6 yards. The Eagles’ top priority on defense will be to stop the run. Jordan Howard averages 58.4 yards per game and Tarik Cohen averages 27.8 yards per game. (Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky averages 30.1 yards per game; more on that next.) If the Eagles make it tough for the Bears to run on them Sunday, it will put the pressure on Trubisky in his first postseason game.
Beware of Mitchell Trubisky’s mobility
Speaking of Trubisky, the Eagles need to be aware of when Trubisky tucks the ball away. The Eagles have lost contain against mobile quarterbacks at times this season, whether it was Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, or Deshaun Watson. Trubisky has the fifth-most rushing yards among quarterbacks in the NFL. Trubisky also has four multi-interception games this season, so the Eagles could force him into mistakes if the pass rush gets to him and he must beat the Eagles through the air. But if the pass rushers rush too deep and Trubisky extends plays, the defense will have a hard time getting off the field.
Which kicker struggles?
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott is returning to his hometown for the first time, while Bears kicker Cody Parkey plays against the team for whom he was a Pro Bowler as a rookie. But Parkey has been inconsistent this season, making only 76.7 percent of his field goals and missing three inside 40 yards. He’s also missed three extra points. Elliott made 83.9 percent of his field goals for the second consecutive year, with only one miss inside 40 yards. He’s also missed two extra points. Based on the statistics, Elliott has the edge. In what could be a close game, the kicking game might be the difference.
There are a lot of Eagles-Bears connections. You mentioned Alshon Jeffery and Cre’von LeBlanc. You can put Deiondre' Hall in there, too. The Bears have Trey Burton, Chase Daniel, Cody Parkey. That’s always an interesting subplot, and as a reporter, I certainly go to that well. It matters for some players. However, this is a playoff game; players don’t necessarily need to seek motivation for this one.
Avonte Maddox is listed as questionable with an oblique injury sustained during Thursday’s practice, but my guess is he plays Sunday. He’ll start at outside cornerback, where he’s been productive in recent weeks. Long-term, though, what’s his best position? I think a safety/slot cornerback combination, almost like Tyrann Mathieu in Arizona. But he’s certainly proven he can play on the outside. Maddox was a good pick and, as long as he stays healthy, will be a key part of this defense for at least the next few years.