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October 30, 2019

Eagles vs. Bears: Five matchups to watch

The Philadelphia Eagles badly needed to get back in the win column last Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills, and they did. On Sunday, they'll face a similarly desperate team in the Chicago Bears. Here are our five matchups to watch.

1) Khalil Mack vs. Andre Dillard

Duh. Do I even need to point this one out?

Mack is arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL. Since 2015, he is one of only five players with at least 50 sacks:

 PlayerSacks since 2015 
Chandler Jones, Patri*ts/Cardinals 62 
 Aaron Donald, Rams55.5 
 Khalil Mack, Raiders/Bears54.5 
 Von Miller, Broncos53 
 Cameron Jordan, Saints50.5 

The Eagles have faced Mack in each of the last two seasons -- in 2017 when he was still with the Raiders, and of course, in the wildcard round of the playoffs last year. He mostly faced off against Lane Johnson in 2017, and Johnson had a terrific game against him. 

In the playoff game last season, out of curiosity, I went back and looked at how often he lined up on each side. He lined up 24 times on Johnson's side, and 35 times on Jason Peters' side. Peters and Johnson held Mack in check for three quarters, but Mack was a menace in the fourth, even if he didn't have any sacks in the stat sheet. 

The Bears have a new defensive coordinator in 2019, but Mack still rushes off of both sides. 

Andre Dillard has improved in each game he has played the majority of the snaps this season, but the Bears would be crazy not to primarily let Mack rush against him on Sunday, as opposed to Johnson, who has the aforementioned experience facing Mack, with far more success than most.

In the first three games Dillard has played, the Eagles have mostly put him on an island against the opposing pass rusher. That would be a big mistake against this team.

2) Carson Wentz vs. the Bears' (formerly) ball-hawking defense

In 2018, the Bears led the NFL with 27 interceptions. That was by far the most in the NFL:

 TeamINTS INT yards TD 
 Bears27 330 
 Dolphins21 321 
 Rams18 290 
 Patri*ts 18156 
 Broncos17 158 
 Browns17 100 

As you can see in the chart above, the Bears didn't just pick off opposing quarterbacks. They turned those picks into scores going the other way. CB Kyle Fuller led them with 7 picks, with S Eddie Jackson right behind him with 6 picks (and 2 pick-sixes).

While the Bears' defense has continued to be very good in 2019 in terms of forcing quick punts, their takeaways are way down. Fuller has remained a threat, as he has 3 picks so far, followed by 2019 free agent acquisition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, with 2. And that's it. The Bears only have 5 interceptions on the season, and their sharp decrease in defensive splash plays are a significant reason for their decline.

But that doesn't mean they have forgotten how to make plays. Carson Wentz has thrown just 4 interceptions this season. Two of those were in garbage time against the Vikings and Cowboys, when he was just chucking the ball down the field in desperation. On the whole, Wentz has made good decisions, and it is imperative that he continues to do so on Sunday against a defensive sleeping giant.

The Bears' offense isn't good. As such, Wentz will have to find the right balance of aggressively making plays for his team, and knowing when not to force the issue when the opposing offense has struggled to put points on the board.

3) Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham vs. the Bears' interior offensive line

With starting RG Kyle Long done for the season, the Bears' offensive line looked like so last week against the Chargers:

 Charles LenoCody Whitehair James Daniels Rashaad Coward Bobby Massie 

As a whole, that is not a great line, and from the Eagles' perspective, the matchup they'll probably like best will be against Coward.

Coward is an interesting story. He was an undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Old Dominion, where he played defensive tackle. He didn't make the initial 53-man roster as a rookie, but made the practice squad, and eventually got called up to the active roster late in the season.

In 2018, the Bears moved him to the offensive side of the ball, where he became a developmental project at guard. This season, after Long went on IR, veteran tomato can Ted Larsen filled in at RG, got hurt, and Coward was forced into the lineup. He has shown enough in two starts that the Bears seem to just be leaving him in the lineup over Larsen, who is healthy again.

Whether it's Coward or Larsen starting at RG on Sunday, they will see a heavy dose of Fletcher Cox, as well as some Brandon Graham on obvious passing downs. You have to like the Eagles chances of creating pressure in Mitch Trubisky's face with that matchup.

4) Allen Robinson vs. the Eagles' corners

A season ago, the Bears' offense was balanced, as five players had at least 400 receiving yards: 

Player Rec Yards YPC TD 
 Allen Robinson55 754 13.7 
 Tarik Cohen71 725 10.2 
 Taylor Gabriel67 688 10.3 
 Trey Burton54 569 10.5 
 Anthony Miller 33423 12.8 

This season, the Bears' passing game is being run through WR Allen Robinson, who has 46 catches for 526 yards and 3 TDs. That puts him on pace for 105 catches for 1202 yards and 7 TDs. According to, Robinson has the third-highest "hog rate" in the NFL, which to them "represents targets per snap to capture the rate of passing game utilization on a per play basis." More simply put, they throw to him a lot relative to the rest of the skill players in the their offense.

If you'll recall, double moves became a major issue for the Eagles last season (that has carried over a bit this year), and the Bears successfully exploited that with Robinson in the playoff game. Here he is dusting Avonte Maddox on a double move for a TD.


You can bet the Bears will try to set up some more of that on Sunday.

5) The Eagles' red zone defense vs. the Bears' red zone offense

The Bears are the only team in the NFL without a pass play of over 40 yards, and there are only four teams with fewer pass plays of 20 yards. In other words, the Bears are a team ill-equipped to take advantage of the Eagles' penchant for giving up huge plays in the passing game.

When the Bears get in close, the Eagles' red zone defense needs to step up. In 2018, the Eagles had the best red zone defense in the NFL, when they allowed TDs on 44.3 percent of opposing offense's trips inside the 20. This season so far, they're 22nd, at 57.7 percent. The Bears have the 21st-ranked red zone offense.

The more field goal attempts the Eagles can force when the Bears drive deep into Eagles territory, the better, especially against this opponent. After Cody Parkey double-doinked the Bears' Super Bowl hopes away last year (aided heavily by Treyvon Hester getting a paw on the football), Bears head coach Matt Nagy obsessed all offseason over finding a kicker. He landed on Eddie Pineiro.

In case you missed our NFC Hierarchy/Obituary this week, with 43 seconds left, the Bears were down 1, but they were on the Chargers' 21 yard line, and the Chargers had no timeouts left. Instead of running another play and trying to get a closer attempt, Nagy just decided that a 41-yard field goal try was acceptable enough, so he had Mitch Trubisky kneel it to bleed the rest of the time off of the clock. And sure enough...  

D'oh! I don't know how close that was to going through, but a few extra yards would have helped. Chicago media rightly questioned the decision to kneel it, and Nagy compounded his mistake by giving one of the mostly stubbornly wrong head coach answers you'll hear this year.

That wasn't Pineiro's only miss of the day. He also doinked one of the right upright in the first quarter. Anyway, Nagy clearly blames the kicker, not himself. Pineiro had a good start to the season, but pressure to make kicks is once again going to be extremely high.

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