The Bears are in their first playoff game in forever, and they are hosting the defending Super Bowl champions. Obviously, there are some nice story angles there, and these two franchises have enough history to fill books. However, there is no need to invoke the memory of Buddy Ryan. Is it interesting that Alshon Jeffery might be shadowed by fellow Phil Emery pick Kyle Fuller? Sure. Still, there are three more compelling stories that might have an influence on Sunday afternoon’s game.
Nick Foles vs. Vic Fangio
The last time the Eagles played the Bears, it was all Philadelphia with a 31-3 score in favor of Carson Wentz’s team. In that game, Nick Foles played 11 snaps and went 3/3 and 21 yards. That is actually the high point of Nick Foles’ efforts against a Vic Fangio defense. When Foles was in St. Louis (yes, St. Louis) with the Rams, his efforts against Chicago in 2015 amounted to 17 completions on 36 attempts, 200 yards, an interception, and a 9-yard sack. The year before that Foles was with the Eagles (for the first time) and Fangio was coaching the 49ers. Foles managed 195 yards out of 21 completions (on 43 attempts). He had no touchdowns, a pair of interceptions, and took a 4-yard sack.
That means that under admittedly different circumstances, Foles’ track record against Fangio’s defenses adds up to 41 completions on 82 attempts, with 416 yards, no touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 2 sacks for -13 yards. That’s a 49.64 passer rating and an ANY/A of 3.15. Of course, that’s a really limited view of things. Foles has more talent around him these days, just like Fangio has more to work with.
It’s also worth considering the coaches.
Vic Fangio vs. Doug Pederson
Pederson’s offense is dynamic, and Chicago fans have reasons to be fond of Andy Reid disciples. In 2014, the Kansas City offense ran into Vic Fangio’s 49ers defense and was held to 17 points. Alex Smith had a 65.7 passer rating, his second-lowest of the season. The next year, the Chiefs hosted the Bears, with Fangio’s defense holding Smith to an 82.8 passer rating (his fourth-lowest of the season) while Chicago held on for a win.
Then, the 2016 Eagles with Carson Wentz playing quarterback did beat Fangio’s defense the next year. Wentz’s 86.6 rating involved a single touchdown and some efficient passing, but the win was driven by a pair of Jay Cutler turnovers (for example, Wentz’s touchdown came on a 2-yard drive after what was almost a Pick-6). As noted earlier, Wentz led the 2017 Eagles over the Bears, and that obviously represents a win for Pederson’s offensive scheme.
Overall, though, these are pretty mixed results. The Eagles with Wentz at the helm have beaten a pair of Fangio defenses, but Fangio had the upper hand in the two prior matchups. The pairing of Pederson and Foles against a Chicago defense is a new one.
Cody Parkey vs. Adversity
Some of Parkey’s problems have been his fault, and some have been the fault of the snap or the holder. However, at this point the psychological part of the game has to be a factor. The good news is that only one wild card game last year was decided by a 3 points or less, and the prior year no wild card game was decided by such a tight margin. If everything goes right, the Bears will not need to rely on Parkey.
The reality, though, is that a missed field goal does not only show up as a 3-point difference. It shows up in the offense pressing harder, in better field position for the other team, and in a multitude of minor ways. There’s a remarkable degree of variance for individual placekickers over time, but Chicago has the worst field goal percentage in the playoffs, and it’s not really that close. This is a big part of why Football Outsiders has the Bears with the 29th-best weighted special teams value in the NFL.
Do I think Parkey is going to doink the Bears out of the playoffs? Probably not. The real question is whether or not Parkey is going to think himself into doinking the Bears out of the playoffs.
This is not a duel between Trubisky and Foles, because they won’t be on the field at the same time. The Bears’ offense is also going to be of secondary importance in this matchup, because it is likely to be more about Nagy maintaining a schedule than it is going to be about these teams putting together a high-powered shootout. Instead, the real question is going to be whether or not Foles and Pederson can do enough against the Bears’ defense in order to make the Bears’ offense do more. Then, and only then, will it come down to Parkey’s focus.