OK, so we’ve talked about the matchups in the Eagles-Bears showdown on Sunday, and you are aware of the playoff history between the Eagles and Chicago, and you know that the Eagles haven’t been on the road in the playoffs since losing at Dallas to end the 2009 season (cue quarterback Donovan McNabb and his air guitar). It’s important to go through some numbers here, provided by John Gonoude of the Eagles’ Media Relations Department.
These are numbers that mean something, so pay attention …
- Philadelphia converted 53.1 percent (26-of-49) of its third- and fourth-down attempts over the last three games of the regular season. Chicago’s defense is a different level than the defenses from the Rams, Texans, and Redskins, but still … The Eagles have played in front of the sticks in recent weeks and that’s critical on Sunday. Maybe that means head coach Doug Pederson chips away at Chicago’s defense in the early going, looking for a few yards here and there to set up third-and-short situations. I’m not sure I see a lot of risk-taking in the early downs. The Eagles can ill afford to be in third-and-long against the Bears.
- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery turned in a career-high 70.7 percent catch rate and totaled his most receiving yards (843) in a single season since 2014 (1,133) despite missing the first three games of the year. What does this mean? It means that Jeffery is an extremely reliable option (92 targets, 65 receptions) and he’s going to be a factor on Sunday. Jeffery and quarterback Nick Foles have terrific chemistry and trust. Jeffery is going to have a chance to bring down a couple – at least – 50/50 balls in this game against the Bears' secondary.
- On defense, the Eagles registered 18 quarterback sacks to tie for the third-most sacks in the NFL from Weeks 12-17, trailing only New Orleans (25) and the New York Giants (19). What this means is that, despite the injuries that thinned out the rotation, the pass rush is at its best right now. Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, and Fletcher Cox have been doing most of the damage. Now the line is boosted by tackle Tim Jernigan, who has gotten rid of the rust by taking 26 combined snaps the last two weeks. His presence, along with the return to good health from Haloti Ngata and some quality snaps from Treyvon Hester, give the Eagles a good, four-man rotation at tackle. This line, overshadowed by the attention the Bears have gotten this week, is going to be a handful for Chicago’s offensive line.
The Eagles finished the regular season with the No. 1-ranked red zone defense (44.6 percent), allowing just 25 touchdowns on 56 red zone drives. This is extremely important. Chicago’s red zone offense uses some gimmicks and trickery to put the ball in the end zone – would it surprise you if Chicago tried the “Philly Special” against the Eagles on Sunday? – but the bottom line is that if the Eagles can keep the Bears out of the end zone, well, it sure helps. Keep an eye on the red zone stats in this game. It could tell the tale.
- Cameron Johnston produced team records in gross punting average (48.1) and net punting average (42.7). The Eagles, in the course of the last two seasons, have seamlessly transitioned into a new era in the kicking game. Jake Elliott has been outstanding as the placekicker – 52-of-62 on field goals (83.9 percent) and 72-of-77 on PATs (93.5 percent) over two regular seasons, and he nailed all seven of his field goal tries in the 2017 season’s playoffs – Rick Lovato has been on point as the long snapper and now Johnston has put together a record-setting 16-game season. Just like that, the Eagles are young, strong, and on the rise with their specialists and they have an advantage in this game.
- From Weeks 12-17, the Eagles ranked third in offensive points per game (27.0), behind Kansas City (30.8) and Seattle (28.2). Things were coming together prior to Foles becoming the starter, so it’s not like the turnaround has been a one-man thing. Fewer penalties, better focus, and much-improved execution across the board have helped the Eagles step it up offensively. Needless to say, the points will be tough to come by on Sunday against this great Chicago defense, but the Eagles have a lot of confidence going into the game.
- Tight end Zach Ertz caught 116 passes this season, a franchise record and the most by any tight end in NFL history in a single season. How much attention will the Bears pay to Ertz? They’ve got to account for him, but Chicago does have pieces to counter Ertz. If Ertz is blanketed, what do the Eagles do? They have increased Dallas Goedert’s playing time the last two weeks (48 snaps against Houston, 42 against Washington) and the two-tight end sets give the Eagles options. Golden Tate and Nelson Agholor are options as well, along with Jeffery on the outside. You can just see Foles spreading it around, getting the ball out quickly.
- Sunday is Philadelphia’s 26th all-time playoff appearance and 14th under Owner Jeffrey Lurie. Those 14 playoff seasons by the Eagles rank fifth in the NFL since 1995 behind only New England (19), Green Bay (17), Indianapolis (17), and Pittsburgh (15). Included, of course, is the 33-19 victory over Chicago on January 9, 2002 at Soldier Field, the last time these teams met in the postseason.
- The Eagles have defeated the Bears three straight times, including last season’s 31-3 domination at Lincoln Financial Field.
- Including playoffs, Doug Pederson is 32-19 as the Eagles head coach and his winning percentage of .627 is best in franchise history. That makes you feel even more confident about this football team as it heads into the playoffs. Pederson is a winner.