Wow. It's been a wild week on the threads, hasn't it. Honestly, I expected this. The Eagles and the Bears are both riding high on good records and solid winning streaks. Combine that with possibly the two most passionate (being polite here) fanbases in all of sports and you have the potential for fireworks.
So far, we've seen arguments over who's DE is better, who's defense is better, Michael Vick, Asante Samuel, Brian Urlacher, passing defenses, DVOA, strength of opposition, LeSean McCoy, Vick v. Urlacher, Lovie's 3-0 record over Vick, how different Vick is, quality of receivers, quality of interior defensive lines and which is better: The Polish Sausage Sandwich or the Philly Cheese Steak (OK, I made that last one up). And this is just a sampling of the ongoing arguments, nor have they ended. And both teams, the Bears especially, have a lot riding on this game.
The Bears are even with the Packers in their division, clinging to a early season win over the Cheeseheads as the tiebreaker. A loss could force Chicago to chase the Pack until the season finale showdown at Lambeau Field. The "experts" doubt the Bears based on their soft schedule to this point and seem ignorant to the fact that the team has the top scoring defense in the league or that the offense, in it's first season of a complex new system, has made serious progress and is improving weekly. The Bears feel they have something to prove, and a loss here could have serious and possibly downward-spiraling consequences.
The Eagles have something to prove here, as well. They, too, have been the target of soft schedule doubts. And they to cling to a 1 game lead over a division rival they have previously beaten in the New York Giants. A loss here wouldn't have the same standing impact that it would for the Bears, but it wouldn't help. The biggest thing they are trying to prove is that Coach Andy Reid made the right call in showing perennial Pro-Bowl QB Donovan McNabb his walking papers. Enter Michael Vick. Vick is having a Comeback Player of The Year and possibly League MVP type of year. We all know the controversy that surrounds Vick, and I do not want to open this piece up for Vick attacks. Sorry, but for the sake of the thread let's just stick with the idea that Vick served his time and his debt and he's getting the second chance everyone deserves under our legal system. All that aside, Vick has had a tremedous season, probably most emphasized by his throwing of exactly *zero* interceptions. If that's not impressive enough, he contributed 6 TDs in a game against the Redskins, 4 by air and 2 by land, becoming the first QB to ever throw for over 400 yards and 4 TDS and rush for 50 yards and 2 TDs. Pretty impressive considering the leagues 90 year history and some of the greats that played before him.
So was it a fluke game or simply a matter of time? I'm personally in the camp of "matter of time". Vick seems to be following in the Warren Moon/Randall Cunningham footsteps of great rushing QBs who developed into great passing QBs. The difference between Vick and Cunningham or Moon? Vicks legs didn't have to give out on him to force him to develop his passing game. This could end in Vick being the best QB of this type in history, given the right circumstances and opportunities, which I think he may end up having in Philly. Ironically, it could be playing behind McNabb for a season that helped Vick to mature as a passer. McNabb was very, very good at determining when to run with the ball and when to hunker down and throw and Vick seems to have picked up that important trait that was missing in his earlier years.
So what will happen on Sunday? I honestly don't think it will depend much on The Eagles defense or the Bears offense. Of course, what happens with the Bears offensive unit will matter. If Cutler tosses 4 picks to Asante Samuels the way he did with DeAngelo Hall, the game will be decided there. But I don't think Martz or Cutler will put the team in that position again. No, I think we get a ho-hum match-up between the Bears offense and the Eagles defense. The gameplan should be fairly conservative because the Eagles D is dangerous. Martz will, in my opinion, work inside matchups and will likely try and keep most of the air play away from Samuel, who is a ball-hawk to the extreme but is also a much better cover corner than he is given credit for. I do expect to see Martz work to overload zones especially underneath, but that will depend largely on how well the offensive line performs.
I see ST being a big factor in this game. Both teams have very good ST return units and great returners. Both also have fantastic kickers and punters. But while the Bears have an excellent ST coverage unit that includes league leading ST tackler Corey Graham, previous league beaters Brian Iwuh and Garrett Wolfe and smart players like Patrick Mannelly, Izzy Idonije and Rashied Davis, Philly's coverage unit is not so good. In fact, they are one of the worst in the league, and might play a key part in this game both in points scored directly by the ST units and in the field position battle that will lead to points scored. If the Bears can keep the field long for the Eagles, that bodes well for the Bears.
But the biggest variable is the Bears league leading scoring defense against the dynamic and unpredictable offense of the Eagles. Chicago leads the league in forcing turnovers and in points allowed. But Michael Vick has, as previously mentioned, thrown no interceptions. The big factor is that the Bears are second in the league in forcing fumbles (23) and the Eagles are the 5th worst team in the league in fumbling the ball (20 times). This seems to play into the Bears strength. But The Eagles have been lucky in only losing 7 of those 20 fumbles, and we all know that luck is deceptive. I am a firm believer that , other than injury and weather, you make your own luck.
The Eagles Offense is overloaded with talent. From Vick to Jackson to McCoy to Maclin to Celek (who is underachieving) this team is stacked at the skill positions, and their line has done a pretty damned good job, as evidenced by LeSean McCoy's 5.0 yards per carry. Led by Vick, they are on a three game tear that is very impressive. It is almost comical that earlier in the season there was a QB controversy between Vick and Kolb.
The Bears defense is much the same. Loaded with talent, starting with Pro-Bowl regulars Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, all of whom an argument can be made for the being the best in the league at their respective positions. And if Michael Vick cannot keep up the current pace, Urlacher will be in the discussions for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Then you have stalwarts like Pisa Tinoisamoa, Charles Tillman, Israel Idonije, Chris Harris, Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams. While Tommie Harris is over-paid, he has been playing pretty damned good football the past three weeks and has been playing much better than advertised, while Tinoisamoa might be getting ntoice around the league for his incredible play were it not for the fact that he has to sit in the shadow cast by Urlacher and Briggs. Izzy Idonije has really stepped up in both the pass rush and in run coverage. Chris Harris has brought the end to the hopes of two straight teams with late game INTs and Adams and Tillman have both been playing solid ball. Then you have up and comers Danieal Manning, Major Wright, Tim Jennings, Zach Bowman, Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and DJ Moore. Manning has had his development stunted by the team for years, and now that he has been steady in one position, he is shining. DJ Moore is earning Nate Vasher's old "interceptor" title, Henry Melton has been making a case for himself with a breakout season and Jennings has turned himself into a legitimate starter, and though he still needs to develop more, he his progressing nicely.
Honestly, I see this game ending one of two ways. Either with a blowout win for the Eagles or a much closer win by the Bears. If the Eagles get ahead early and Martz abandons the run, I see the Eagles winning big. But if the Bears play their game at their pace, I see the Bears winning by 6-10 on the strength of the defense and the special teams.
Of course, picking games is a bit more like guessing games. The worst team in the league can (and sometimes does) beat the best team in the league because coaches or players over or underperform. What if Martz sees something in tape this week that shows him he can exploit a certain aspect of the Eagles D? Or if the Eagles find something similar that nobody else has seen against the Bears D?
In this league, you just never know, but I'm going to make my call anyways......