This week's game has the Eagles traveling to Chicago for a Sunday night meeting with the Bears. This should be a tough game for both teams. The Eagles are banged up and the Bears are coming off back-to-back losses where they blew leads. Chicago is a little more desperate, while the Eagles look to be the better team.
The games between the Bears and the Eagles during the Andy Reid era have been ugly, hard-fought defensive battles. There have been five regular season meetings, with the Eagles winning four. The lone loss was the last-minute meltdown from last year. The Bears trailed 16-12 and had the ball at their own 3-yard line with no timeouts and less than two minutes to work with. Naturally, they drove down and scored a touchdown to win the game. The Eagles managed to hold leads in the other tight games. The 1999 win ended a really long road losing streak for the Eagles. That was also the one and only time we ever saw Donovan McNabb run the option in the NFL. He ran one play near the goal line and the Bears stopped it cold. How close have the games been? The average score of the games is 17-13, advantage Philadelphia.
Enough history and onto the present situation. I've watched a couple of Bears games so far this year. Chicago's formula for success is still to play good defense, run the ball, get a couple of big plays from the passing game and to have strong special teams. Let's start with their defense, since that is still the heart and soul of the team. I've been impressed as I watched the defense even though the numbers aren't great. The Bears are only 18th in the league in yards allowed and 14th in scoring defense. They are tied for second in the league with six takeaways.
The key players on defense are the same as the last few years. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are still the ringleaders. The defensive line is off to a slow start in terms of getting to the quarterback. Star defensive tackle Tommie Harris doesn't have a sack yet. Defensive end Alex Brown leads the team with two sacks. The biggest playmaker so far has been cornerback Charles Tillman. He's playing at a very high level right now. He leads the team in tackles, has an interception, has a couple of forced fumbles and has also broken up several passes.
The Bears are blitzing more this year. That hasn't paid off in extra sacks, but it has helped to create turnovers. It has also caused teams to keep extra blockers in for protection. The main thing I've noticed is that Briggs and Urlacher are lining up right over the center an awful lot. They don't do this on every play, but I've seen it more this year than I recall seeing it in other years. Coach Lovie Smith has his guys playing with a lot of energy and flying to the football. I love the way they gang tackle so consistently. That style, however, is hurting them a bit this season. The Bears have utilized the 46 defense more than the Eagles. The Bears are wearing down late in games. They gave up seven offensive points in three quarters last week. Then Tampa scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Bucs saw the Bears looking winded and went to a more up-tempo attack.
Kyle Orton is the quarterback this year. I'm not his biggest fan, but Rex Grossman looks like he's completely lost his confidence so Smith didn't have a lot of options. Orton is a game manager-type of quarterback. He'll make a play or two, but isn't going to shred many defenses apart. Rookie running back Matt Forté is a good player. Chicago not only made him the starter early on in the offseason, but they built their offense around him. I was surprised at how he was used last week. Forté runs the ball a lot. They also throw him the ball quite a bit, but not just screens and dump-off passes. They line Forté out wide and throw him the ball like a wide receiver. On one play last week, the Bears were at Tampa's 32-yard line and threw a pass into the end zone for Forté. It was picked off by the linebacker covering him, but that shows you the kind of confidence they have in Forté. He later lined up wide and caught a touchdown pass from inside the 10-yard line.
Tight end Greg Olsen is the best receiver the Bears have, but he's off to a quiet start. He's only got six catches so far. Brandon Lloyd is the best of the wideouts. He has 13 receptions and made a couple of impressive catches in the game last week. Lloyd is known for making highlight catches. His biggest issue throughout his career has been coachability and a lack of focus on doing the little things that make players succeed and teams win.
The Bears have one of the best special teams units in the NFC, maybe the entire NFL (Buffalo is also excellent). Devin Hester is the star, but we don't know if he'll even play. He didn't practice Wednesday. Daniel Manning is a good kickoff returner when called upon (27 yards per return). Garrett Wolfe is the punt returner. He has the speed and elusiveness to break a long return. The coverage units are good. Punter Brad Maynard isn't off to a great start. Kicker Robbie Gould has been very good for several years.
Now, let's talk about matchups. The burning question is whether Brian Westbrook will play. We probably won't find out until Saturday or Sunday. With or without him, I think the Eagles can move the ball. If the Bears play man, they won't have anyone who can really cover DeSean Jackson. If they play zone, the Eagles will use Jackson to stretch the zone and create room in the middle for other receivers to run free.
Tampa attacked the middle of the Bears defense with slants and passes to tight ends with great effectiveness. Since the Bears are lining Briggs and Urlacher up on the line so much, that opens some space over the middle. This could be a game where Jason Avant and L.J. Smith (again, if he plays with the back injury) see more passes coming their way. Maybe Reggie Brown will get his first catch of the year.
I hope Jim Johnson uses an aggressive gameplan again this week. The Bears offense is pretty basic. They rely more on execution than trickery. This will be another good test for the run defense. Forté already has 73 carries. The Eagles have 78 as a team. Chicago really feeds Forté the ball. That allows them to set up play-action passes. The Eagles' run defense is ranked No. 1 and should do a good job of controlling Forté. He'll get some yards, but I don't expect him to have a huge game. If they are able to shut down Forté, the Bears offense is in trouble. I don't think Orton and the receivers are good enough to move the ball consistently.
Sometimes Johnson will go conservative in a game like this and play the percentages that Orton and the Bears aren't good enough to move the ball on long drives. I hope he lets the defense attack like he did last week. Play eight in the box to stop the run. Blitz on passing downs and dare Orton to come up with the big play.
We don't know for sure whether Devin Hester will play. I'm not too worried about him as a punt returner. Sav Rocca has been brilliant this year with his directional kicking. He's getting good length on his punts, but is also pinning guys along the sideline. The Eagles have only allowed 14 punt return yards all year. Kickoff coverage is another story. The guys have been up and down. A strong effort is needed no matter who the returner is to force the Bears to go a long field.
I feel pretty confident heading into the game, but Eagles-Bears games have been pretty wild over the last decade. I don't mind a wild game as long as the Eagles come out on top.