The Eagles’ penultimate game of the season, and the final home game, will bring to town a team used to playing in the December elements. The Bears will also be the third of three-straight NFC North opponents for the Eagles as the playoff push rages on.
Like the Eagles, the Bears imported a new head coach to replace a long-tenured one. Gone, after nine seasons, is Lovie Smith. In is Marc Trestman, who has background as an offensive guru and who spent the last five seasons as the head coach for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, winning two Grey Cups along the way. Smith isn’t the only departed long-time Bears stalwart either. Also gone from Chicago is Brian Urlacher, the 34-year-old eight-time Pro Bowler.
But this Bears team isn’t completely different from the ones you’ve come to know over the past few years. The offense still revolves around strong-armed quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw for 3,033 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season. It will also be the second year of the Cutler reunion with wide receiver Brandon Marshall. At 6-4, 229, Marshall will test the new-look Eagles secondary as he’s coming off a career year off 1,508 receiving yards (third-best in the league) and 11 touchdowns. For an Eagles defense that has struggled in the red zone in recent years, Marshall will no doubt be a focus, as will Cutler’s newest weapon, tight end Martellus Bennett, who had five touchdowns for the New York Giants last season in a career year of his own.
Of course, the Bears offense is just as likely to revolve around running back Matt Forte, who is a weapon in the passing game in his own right though his reception totals have been on a steady decline over the last couple seasons. He’s joined in the backfield by powerful running back Michael Bush. Blocking for Forte and Bush and, perhaps more importantly, protecting Cutler, is a new-look left side of the offensive line. After ranking among the top 10 in sacks allowed each of the last three seasons, the Bears dipped into free agency this offseason to pluck Jermon Bushrod, Drew Brees’ former blindside protector in New Orlenas, and former New York Jets guard Matt Slauson. First-round pick Kyle Long, who played for Chip Kelly at Oregon last season, is another new face for the Bears up front.
On defense, there remains a trio of elite players even in Urlacher’s absence. Julius Peppers at defensive end, Lance Briggs at linebacker and Charles Tillman at cornerback form the strength of the vaunted Bears defense at the three levels. But what exactly will the Bears defense look like without Smith at the helm? One of the hallmarks of the Bears defense under Smith was the ability to create turnovers, especially forced fumbles, an area in which the Bears ranked among the top three in three out of the last four seasons. So the identity of the new defense remains to be seen, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has capable hands to shepherd the unit after a highly touted run in the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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