This is going to be the ultimate test for the Bears. The Eagles are by far the best team they will face this season. To add to that, the Eagles are playing at home, where they have not lost this season.
The Eagles present such a difficult challenge because they are good on both sides of the ball. Sure, they can — and will — give up a lot of points, but they are an attacking defense that can confuse a rookie quarterback. On paper, this matchup would seem to be wholly in the favor of the Eagles.
There is a glimmer of hope however. The Bears, under John Fox, have seemed to play either up to the level of competition, or down to it. My guess is that this team plays hard, fights, and makes it interesting at the end. The other reason for optimism is the fact that the offense has opened up the past two weeks. The Bears are going to have to score points to keep this close. If Dowell Loggains has been saving plays for the right time, this is it.
What to Watch For
On offense, the Bears have started to unleash Mitchell Trubisky a little bit. As the season progresses, I expect more and more to be added to his plate. If there was ever a game to go completely against the grain, this is it. The Eagles will surely attack the Bears with aggression. Loggains is going to need to counter that right off the bat. Expect to see more screens and short, perimeter passes early on to slow the pass rush.
As we have seen, the opening of the playbook has gotten the running game back on-track. I expect Jordan Howard to have another big game this week. The Bears won’t get away from the run in this game, they are too committed at this point. It it just interesting to see that when the passing game has shown a little life, the running game has a big day.
Defensively, this team is in a bit of a mess. It appears that Pernell McPhee is injured (again) and with Leonard Floyd on injured reserve, the pass rush is going to be non-existent. Look for Isiah Irving to get a lot of playing time as well as Howard Jones, who was just signed off of the practice squad. If the Bears can’t disrupt Carson Wentz, they are in for a long day.
As I did last week, keep an eye on the play designs and calls for the Eagles. Frank Reich is a name to watch for as we enter the off-season for head coaching vacancies. He has experience with a young quarterback in Wentz, so this is going to be one of the hottest names come January. Don’t be surprised to see his name as having been interviewed, should the Bears fire their coaching staff.
Who to Watch
Mitchell Trubisky: For the rest of the season, it is paramount to watch Trubisky’s development. He has steadily performed better and cleaned up mistakes, in every game this season. Perhaps Fox and Loggains aren’t the best men for the job, but clearly Trubisky is developing. Maybe that is a testament to why he was selected second overall, but either way, watching him grow is the most important part of this season.
Adam Shaheen: Last week was Shaheen’s best game. Dion Sims appears to be coming back into the lineup tomorrow, so I am curious how the Bears handle this. You could argue that Shaheen has earned the starting spot given the play of Sims to this point. Couple that with Sims’ contract situation — there is an out at the end of the year — and one could make a case that Sims should be the back-up to Shaheen.
Christian Jones: With Floyd out and McPhee potentially out, I am curious to see if Jones gets a look at outside linebacker this week. The Bears are dangerously thin at this position but still have some depth at inside linebacker. Jones played defensive end in college, and has also played a bit of outside linebacker with the Bears. Personally, I would move Jones and put John Timu in his spot.
Akiem Hicks: Hicks is a little banged-up and is listed as questionable on the injury report. I have thought for most of the season that Hicks plays too many snaps. He is a large man and should be rotated a bit more. Given that the Bears are now 3-7 on the season, it is time to start getting some younger players on the field. With fewer reps, I feel like Hicks’ play will improve.
Keys to the Game
No Self-Inflicted Wounds: This has been a killer all season. It is especially bad when facing a team like the Eagles. The Bears cannot afford to kill their own drives with penalties, drops, sacks, etc. The offense last week was, for the most part, professional. If they could have eliminated those kinds of mistakes, the Bears would have won that game against the Lions. Not only that, but they looked like an offense that could actually compete on the NFL level, that is something that we haven’t seen much in Chicago.
Getting Home: Vic Fangio has had an up-and-down season, especially when it comes to the pass rush. Fangio is going to have to help out by dialing up creative blitzes, at the right times. If the Bears defense sits back in zone and rushes 4, the Eagles will put up 40 points.
The X-Factor: Tarik Cohen is going to play a huge role in this game. You can probably look at his stat line at the end of this game and determine how the Bears fared against the Eagles. Cohen has to be moved all around. To use the proverbial “chess piece” reference, that is exactly how Cohen needs to be used. It was better last week than in previous weeks, so hopefully Loggains has figured out how to use most dynamic piece.