It’s week 15 and our Beloved Chicago Bears are back to playing pigskin after a much needed bye break. This Sunday, they get the opportunity to face off against one of the NFC’s best teams and decent odds of scoring an ever-coveted “moral victory.”
Please enjoy these five questions with Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton.
Our answers for Bleeding Green’s questions can be found here.
1. What has the fan experience been like going through Jalen Hurts’ transition from likely backup through effective stopgap and guy-you-can-win-with to MVP frontrunner? Does it feel real?
It’s been a wild ride.
This question made me harken back to the absolute shock of the Philadelphia Eagles drafting him. Look at some of these BGN headlines from April 2020:
‘Eagles reportedly planning to implement “Taysom Hill [package] on steroids” with Jalen Hurts’
‘NFL insider says Jalen Hurts “WILL be on the field” for the Eagles in 2020 and maybe even “as a straight running back”’
Quite the gap to bridge from that point to the present reality where Hurts is the MVP frontrunner.
Hurts has always been an easy player to root for. He obviously checks all the boxes when it comes to leadership and intangibles. But the big question was if there was a cap on his ceiling.
There were those that could believe Hurts could make a Josh Allen-like leap following the 2021 season. One can question if the Eagles were among them considering how they were reportedly exploring trades for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.
Nevertheless, by their choice or not, the Eagles stuck with Hurts. And he’s made a nearly unprecedented leap. I struggle to believe even his biggest believers saw him being THIS good this year.
In that sense, it doesn’t feel real. Players improving to the extent that Hurts has is much more uncommon than not.
But it’s become clear that Hurts is not someone to bet against. He’s an extremely driven individual who radiates Big Winner Energy. Hurts likes to call himself a triple threat since he can beat you with his arm, he can beat you with his legs, and he can beat you with his mind.
It’s been fun to see Hurts thrive. And not only because the Eagles are extremely good this season but they seemingly have a bright future with such an impressive 24-year-old as the face of the franchise.
2. The Eagles are clearly the better team this year, but they have struggled in moments. What do you think is their biggest weakness and how should the Bears approach them?
The Eagles’ three biggest weaknesses: overall tackling, run defense, and special teams.
There was a point not too long ago when Pro Football Focus had the Eagles graded as the NFL’s worst tackling team. That evaluation matched the eye test. The Birds have been better recently; they’ve moved up to 22nd by PFF’s grading. But if I’m the Bears, I’d be challenging the opponent to make good tackles. Don’t just run out of bounds and give up on plays. Make the Eagles earn their tackles.
Poor tackling factors in to the Eagles not always being stellar at stopping the run. Philly ranks 24th in run defense DVOA and tied (with Chicago) for 24th in opponent yards per rush attempt. Again, the Eagles have been better in this area lately. Signing Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph helped, as did getting Jordan Davis back from injured reserve. The Eagles just kept Derrick Henry to 30 yards (2.7 average) and Saquon Barkley to 28 yards (3.1 average) in back-to-back weeks. That said, it was recently as Week 12 when the Eagles allowed A.J. Dillon to break off 64 yards on just eight carries. So, if I’m the Bears, I’m looking to test out the run defense by pounding the rock with David Montgomery. Getting Justin Fields involved will obviously be critical as well.
Not unlike the other two areas of weaknesses, special teams has been better recently. But there have been way more negatives than positives with that unit this season. Something to watch is the Eagles’ implementation of their new punter, Brett Kern. Could there be any hitches in the punting and/or placekicking operations?
3. What’s the Eagles’ cap situation for extending Javon Hargrave? I ask because I recently looked through an impending free-agents list and have been fantasizing about him smoshing Packers in Navy and Orange ever since...
The Eagles have no shortage of key players set to be free agents after the 2022 season.
With that in mind, it’s hard to say that Hargrave is a lock to return to Philly. It’s kind of curious that the Eagles even let him get to playing in a contract year since they could’ve looked to restructure his deal for more cap flexibility. I don’t fully know what to make of him basically being their only big money player they didn’t use that maneuver with when he seemed like an obvious candidate.
Still, I’d think he’ll be a priority given how the Eagles really value building through the trenches. And with Fletcher Cox likely set to leave after this season, they’ll probably want to keep at least one of their two starters.
Hargrave would be a very good pickup for the Bears if he ends up shaking free. His production can be a bit streaky and he’s not the best run defender … but there’s certainly value in his ability to generate interior pressure.
4. How do you think the Eagles defense will approach the threat of Justin Fields in the run game?
I’d think they’re going to make it their top priority. The Eagles simply cannot allow him to beat them with his legs. They need to do everything it takes to force Fields to win with his arm. Especially given that his wide receiver options are currently Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, N’Keal Harry, Byron Pringle, and Velus Jones.
Fields is not the first mobile quarterback the Eagles have faced this year. Kyler Murray had four rushes for 42 yards against them back in Week 5. The Eagles generally did a good job of staying disciplined with their rush lanes, which is an area that Nick Sirianni praised the defense for in the aftermath of their win over the New York Giants. Daniel Jones is obviously not on Fields’ level when it comes to running the ball but he’s still a good mobile threat and the Eagles kept him to just four carries for 26 yards. And so I expect pass rushers playing under control to be emphasized again in this matchup.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is going to attempt to make Fields lead the Bears on long drives in order to put up points.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under for running yards for both Justin Fields and Miles Sanders at 69.5. Which one runs away with more yards this Sunday?
Sanders is currently playing the best football of his career but I’ll go with Fields. The Eagles’ offense can win in so many different ways. This is to say they don’t necessarily need Sanders go off in order to be effective. The Bears, meanwhile, seem like they NEED Fields to go off on the ground. With Fields going over 69.5 yards in six of his last seven starts (and the only miss being 9.5 yards under), the over feels like a strong bet for him.
There you have it. As long as the Eagles miss every tackle, the Bears may have a fighting chance in this one after all.