In a matchup of aggressive defenses, the 2-1 Eagles take on the 1-2 Bears in a nationally-televised game Sunday night at Soldier Field. We break down the X's and O's here in our Countdown to Kickoff ...
The big news surrounding this contest is wondering exactly what the big news will be. Meaning that the heart of the Eagles' offense – quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook – are both listed as questionable after suffering injuries in last week's game with Pittsburgh.
The general sentiment around the NovaCare Complex this week was that McNabb had a better shot of playing, and that might have been confirmed when he practiced on Friday. But Westbrook did not. And don't forget that McNabb will be returning to his native Chicago in front of tons of friends and family.
After starting the Steelers game a scorching 15-for-15 passing, McNabb was just 9-for-20 the rest of the way in one of the more physical games in this young season. McNabb will have to play through some pain on Sunday night, and he will face a defense that is giving up almost 250 yards per game. The Bears last week failed to record a sack against Bucs quarterback Brian Griese, who dropped back to pass 67 times.
Westbrook, meanwhile, will likely test the ankle several hours before kickoff under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder. From there, trainer, doctors, coach and player will collectively make a determination on his status for the game.
Correll Buckhalter has caught the eye of the media this week, and for good reason. He scored the only touchdown in the 15-6 win over the Steelers and led all players by posting 87 total yards from scrimmage. Even if Westbrook plays, expect to see more of Buckhalter.
Guard Shawn Andrews, tight end L.J. Smith and wide receiver Kevin Curtis are all doubtful for this week's game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Kyle Orton: He has done a good job managing the offense thus far in 2008. He has compiled a 13-8 record in his 21 games as a Bears' starter, but Chicago has lost its last two games, both by a mere three points. Orton has completed 62 percent of his passes, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While most of his stats are pedestrian at best, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said he was impressed by Orton's intelligence, arm strength and toughness. Orton has won eight of his past nine starts at home.
LB Brian Urlacher: A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Urlacher led the Bears in tackles (with 158) and interceptions (five) in 2007. After leading Chicago with eight tackles in a season-opening win over the Colts, however, Urlacher had a combined nine tackles in losses to the Panthers and Buccaneers. After notching five sacks last season, Urlacher is yet to record a sack, interception or forced fumble in 2008.
LB Stewart Bradley: Bradley has become the quarterback of the Eagles' defense, which is ranked No. 1 against the run and No. 4 in total defense. Bradley has certainly done his part. Only Quintin Mikell has more tackles than Bradley, who has registered three tackles for a loss and a sack to go with his 19 solo stops. Bradley should get to play more downhill than usual against the Bears and their run-oriented offense.
Eagles & Bears Special Teams: The Bears live on big plays on special teams, whether it is Devin Hester returning kicks or blocking kicks and scoring. The Eagles have been impressive early on special teams.
FROM THE COACH'S DESK
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows what it's like to have a top-of-the-line wide receiver, and how that player can make game-planning quite a bit easier.
But this year, the Eagles have been spreading the ball around as well as anyone – three different players have had four separate 100-yard receiving games. Ten Eagles have at least three catches, and the team is tied for the third-best passing offense in the NFL.
So would it be that much better with an elite guy?
"You can debate that. I personally would rather have a No. 1 receiver, but you can do it the other way and be just as explosive and dynamic," Mornhinweg said. "I've had it both ways, and I think that we have several guys that are sort of No. 1 receivers."
What's surprising is that the Eagles have gotten it done through the air without either of their top two receivers from last season - Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown - contributing a catch. But impressive performances from Hank Baskett, Jason Avant and Greg Lewis, along with the explosion of rookie DeSean Jackson have kept the West Coast attack moving.
Though Baskett contributed 85 yards against Pittsburgh last Sunday, his second-best total of the season, it could be argued that his eight-catch game was the most complete of his career so far.
"We spread it out just a little bit and roll (different) guys in, so it may not look like it, but I think we have more than a couple guys that are pretty good players," Mornhinweg said.
KEEP AN EYE ON ... Outstanding Rookies On Offense
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back Matt Forté may have been second-round picks for the Eagles and Bears, respectively, but they've been first-rate in terms of their immediate impact.
Jackson ranks eighth in the entire NFL and first among rookies in receiving yards. He became the second player in NFL history to start a career with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and had a very workmanlike five catches for 40 yards last week against the Steelers.
This week, Jackson goes up against a pair of underrated cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. The Bears have a fast defense, but Jackson's ability to find holes in the zone coverage should prove beneficial. Even if Jackson isn't getting the ball, at the very least he forces the defense to keep tabs on him by rolling an extra defender over to his side.
For the Bears, their offense runs through the 6-2, 216-pound Forté. He has already shined under the lights of prime-time when he became the first Bears rookie since Walter Payton in 1975 to start the regular season opener at running back. In that Week 1 game against the Colts, Forté had a Payton-esque 123 rushing yards and a touchdown in the upset win. The 123 rushing yards was the most ever for a Bears rookie in his debut. For the year, Forté has 304 rushing yards and an additional 105 receiving yards on 13 receptions. His 409 yards from scrimmage rank second in the NFL.
Philadelphia's ability to neutralize Forté could certainly impact the game's outcome.
FIRST AND LONG
- Andy Reid looks to improve his overall record against the NFC North to 17-3.
- The Eagles are 18-13 in prime-time games since 1999.
- With 90 points in the first three games of the season, the Eagles currently rank 4th in the NFL, averaging 30.0 points/game.
- The Eagles offense currently ranks 5th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, averaging 386.7 yds./game.
- The Eagles offense has been impressive on 3rd-and-long, converting 50% (4 of 8) of their opportunities of 3rd-and-10 or longer. To compare, the league average is 17.8%.
- Over the last six regular season games (5-1 record), the Eagles defense has been stingy on 3rd down, allowing a 19.7% conversion rate (14 for 71).
- Philadelphia has brought down opposing quarterbacks 13 times, tied for tops in the league. This week the Eagles face an offensive line that has allowed six sacks and a QB who hadn't thrown for more than 150 yards before last week.
- The Eagles are allowing an NFL-stingiest 45.7 yards per game rushing.
- The Bears are 5-0 when DE Alex Brown has at least two sacks.
- Bears DT Tommie Harris had 2.0 sacks in last meeting.
- Defensively, the Bears are 18th in the NFL in yards allowed, but they are 28th in passing yards permitted, allowing 249.7 yards per game.