A knee injury that nobody knew about immediately after the Eagles' big win on Sunday hasn't come around enough for cornerback Asante Samuel to play in this game against the Bears, so the Eagles head into the critical matchup minus one of their key defensive players. How does the defense compensate? Let's take a look at what Sean McDermott might try to do.
He has Joselio Hanson ready to start, having taken all of the starter's reps in practice this week. Hanson, then, is completely familiar with what McDermott wants to do from a scheme standpoint. Hanson has the experience of a starter, so there should be no problems from a communication standpoint.
Hanson has the ability to play both outside and on the inside in the nickel, so a likely scenario is that Hanson moves inside and Trevard Lindley plays the outside when the Bears have three wide receivers on the field. Lindley is a young guy, a rookie of course, and this would be his biggest spot as an Eagle. The Eagles have plugged in young players -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Keenan Clayton, Brandon Graham and, yes, Dimitri Patterson -- throughout the defense all season and they have done a good job with the kids.
Chicago has speed with receivers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, and the Bears have size with Earl Bennett. They have a fine tight end in Greg Olsen. McDermott has to be ready for the pump and go, for the deep ball. The deep passes only work, of course, if quarterback Jay Cutler has time to throw the ball.
So there is the key. As much as we will watch Hanson and the rookie Lindley, the true point of emphasis is the pass rush. If the Eagles don't get in Cutler's face, if they don't make him move off of his spot, there is going to be trouble. I'm going to first pay attention to how the defense stops the run, then how the defense pressures Cutler and then the coverage combinations.
What do we know about Hanson? He is still battling that stigma from last year's NFL suspension, and he has played pretty well this season. The Giants scored last week in the red zone against Hanson -- Derek Hagan ran a quick post for a score -- and the Bears are going to challenge him. With Patterson playing so well, the Bears could throw a lot toward Hanson.
He will be ready. Taking all of the reps in practice helped a great deal. Hanson has his confidence high and his focus very much on the Bears.
Then there is Lindley, the rookie who I am so looking forward to seeing. He has been promising playing press coverage -- from what I have seen in practices, in training camp, in the preseason and in his minimal game action, Lindley has long arms, strong hands, and can pin a receiver -- but will the Eagles dare use Lindley at the line of scrimmage against such speed receivers?
It is an intriguing matchup. And it is a test of X's and O's and of intensity and of execution. The picture has changed with Samuel out of the lineup. And there is no word on defensive tackle Antonio Dixon and defensive end Juqua Parker, both of whom are questionable.