Last week the Eagles battled for first place in the NFC East. This week's game against the Bears could be for first place in the NFC. The Falcons have the best record at 8-2. They have a tough game against the 7-3 Packers. The Eagles and Bears both sit at 7-3. A loss by Atlanta will create a tie for conference supremacy among a few 8-3 teams.
All that kind of stuff aside, the Eagles just want to keep winning. The team is riding a three-game winning streak right now. Michael Vick has yet to lose a game where he played the whole way through. This is the time of year when the Eagles tend to be at their best. That's important because the Bears will be a tough challenge.
Chicago is playing great defense. They are third in yards allowed and tied for first in points allowed. Nothing will come easy against them. I think the Eagles benefit from this game coming right after the matchup with the Giants. New York had the top defense in the NFL prior to last week's game. They gave us a major test. The offensive line faced a very good front seven. Vick had to adjust to playing a team that could pressure him, but still cover receivers down the field. The coaching staff got to scheme against a defense that could come up with creative wrinkles and then get players to execute them well.
That experience should help the Eagles get ready for this week. There are a couple of differences. The Giants had a front seven built around a top defensive line. The Bears have a strong front seven, but are better at linebacker than up front. That will present a new challenge for Vick and the offense. The line can occupy blockers and let Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs make plays. That's a big difference.
The Bears do have one gifted lineman in Julius Peppers. He could have major impact on the game. Peppers is athletic enough to chase down Vick all over the field. Peppers also has plenty of experience against Vick. They faced off many times when they were with the Panthers and Falcons, respectively. Vick is a different player now, but his style of running is much the same.
While the Giants came up with some creative wrinkles, I think the Bears will stick more with their base defense. The Bears use the Tampa 2 look a lot of the time. I can't see them making significant changes the way that New York did. I think that gives us an advantage. We've played the Bears in each of the past three seasons. We know their base scheme.
The Bears defense is having a great year, but upon closer examination, it helps that they haven't faced many good offenses. Chicago has only played one game against an offense ranked in the top 10 in yards (the Giants). Give the Bears credit for playing well, but let's see how they fare against an explosive attack like the one we'll bring to town.
One of the keys to this game is ball security. The Bears are second in the NFL at takeaways (we're first). They not only pick off passes, but do a great job of stripping the ball. Vick and LeSean McCoy need to be very careful. Vick holds the ball low and had it knocked away a couple of times last week. McCoy still holds the ball away from his body at times. He lost a fumble against the Bears last year.
If we limit turnovers, I think the offense will move the ball and score some points. Last week the Giants did a good job on Vick, but we still scored 27 points on an off night. The offense right now is playing at a very high level, whether that means a big-play attack (like in the Skins game) or more of a ball control style (last week). We don't need big-play touchdowns to win. They just make it easier.
The Bears offense has struggled most of this year. That should bode well for us, but there has been some recent improvement. In the last three games, Chicago has converted more than half of their third downs. That ability to sustain drives has allowed Mike Martz to keep the running game more involved. That increased balance has helped the overall offense. Jay Cutler has only been sacked six times in that stretch, the lowest three-game total of the season.
Cutler has had a problem with throwing interceptions since he got to Chicago. He had 26 last year and has 10 this season. He gets a bit of good news in the fact that Asante Samuel will miss the game. Joselio Hanson will start at left corner in his place. Rookie Trevard Lindley will see time on passing situations. Samuel is playing as good as any cornerback in the NFC right now. Losing him will hurt the Eagles. I expect the Bears to try and get speedy receiver Johnny Knox matched up with Hanson. That matchup favors Chicago. Our safeties will need to do a good job to keep from giving up big plays.
The Bears passing attack is very up and down. It can deliver big plays or create them for the defense. Cutler takes chances. He is also hurt by poor protection. Chicago has given up 37 sacks this year. The biggest weak spot is right tackle J'Marcus Webb, a mammoth rookie. Brandon Graham will probably start for us at left end and he should be able to get regular pressure. Martz isn't a believer in helping out his blockers. He likes to spread out the defense and attack. That means Graham and Trent Cole will see a lot of single blocking and they need to get to Cutler.
Martz has been known to make his gameplans more conservative when facing the Eagles blitz attack. Matt Forte has 21 or more carries in each of the last two games. His rushing yardage isn't great, but the carries keep the pressure off Cutler and the passing game. Martz may try to feed the ball to Forte early. If we can control Forte and come up big on early third downs, Martz and Cutler may fall back into their style of offense from the beginning of the season. No matter what happens, I do expect Sean McDermott to blitz quite a bit. The best way to protect backup corners like Hanson and Lindley is to pressure the passer. If you can come up with a fumble or pick, that helps even more.
The X-factor to all of this is special teams. Devin Hester is back to his old ways. That means that he is a threat to go all the way on any kick where he gets the ball. Sav Rocca needs to do a good job of putting the ball where it is supposed to go. He also needs to get good hang time so that the coverage unit has time to get downfield and into place. Lane discipline, proper pursuit angles and good tackling will all be keys for the guys going down to actually tackle Hester.
The Eagles have faced some big challenges in recent weeks. The team has responded really well. I wonder if this is a week when things are going to be more difficult. I'm not predicting a letdown game, but I could see a slow start. The Eagles have built good leads in each of the last five games. One of these days the team will stumble out of the gate, even if just a little bit. Could this be the week? This game is more important to the Bears than the Eagles. Chicago is tired of hearing that their record is bogus because they haven't beaten good teams. They have something to prove and you can bet they'll come out and play with a real sense of purpose.
I hope we're able to get off to a solid start. Playing from ahead is a lot easier than playing from behind. Going against a good defense is tough enough. Let's not let them have the lead and get into a comfort zone. Plus, I think it will really hurt the Bears confidence if we do build a lead on them. I would love to see our defense build on their strong effort from last week and go in and shut down the Bears. That would be a fun way to win and get to 8-3.