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January 02, 2019

Eagles vs. Bears: Five matchups to watch, when Chicago has the ball

Eagles NFL

The Philadelphia Eagles are headed back to the postseason for the second straight year, except this time around they'll have to navigate through Chicago, New Orleans, and then ??? to get back to the Super Bowl, whereas last season they made it much easier on themselves by earning home field advantage.

Earlier today, we took a look at five matchups to watch when the Eagles have the ball. Here we'll look at five matchups when the Bears have it.

1) The Eagles' run defense vs. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen

The Bears ran the ball on 46.2 percent of their offensive snaps in 2018, which was the sixth highest percentage in the NFL. Starting running back Jordan Howard ran it 250 times, which was the sixth-highest total in the NFL this season, individually, though he only ran for 3.7 yards per carry. The moral of the story here? Even if the the Bears aren't running particularly well, they'll still keep pounding it with Howard.

Tarik Cohen is more explosive, though he has more of a Darren Sproles-esque workload, carrying the ball 99 times for 444 yards (4.5 YPC), and 3 TDs. His contributions occur more often in the passing game.

During their three-game winning streak, the Eagles have been outstanding at stopping opposing teams' running backs, and forcing them to throw. Here's what they have done against each of their last three opposing offenses:

Opposing RBs Carries Yards YPC TD 
 Rams15 52 3.5 
Texans 11 13 1.2 
 Redskins17 1.9 
 TOTAL35 82 2.3 

The Eagles' defensive formula throughout all of 2017 was to take away the run game, make the opposing offense one-dimensional, and then get after the quarterback. That is exactly what they have done the last three weeks.

2) Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long vs. single blocks

In Week 17, Bears starting RG Kyle Long returned to the lineup from injured reserve (foot injury), and played on a "pitch count" against the Vikings. (He ultimately played 29 snaps). Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he liked what he saw, via Chicago Tribune reporter Matt Wiederer

“I thought he looked healthy,” the Bears coach said. “He held the line of scrimmage really well. He was great in the run game. When we did throw the ball, he was solid there.

“The biggest thing for him was going to be conditioning and getting in and out of the game. … And I liked where he was at.”

Against the Eagles, Long will have to deal with one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in Fletcher Cox, who has been fantastic of late. The Bears will almost certainly provide Long with help from center Cody Whitehair, leaving one-on-one opportunities across the board for guys like Graham, Bennett, and Chris Long. They'll have to take advantage of those.

3) Playoff neophyte Mitchell Trubisky vs. history

Thirty-one active NFL quarterbacks have started at least 1 playoff game. Only 10 won their first playoff start. That would be an overall record of, you know, 10-21, or a winning percentage of 0.323. They were 6-12 in home games, 4-9 on the road.

• Guys who won their first playoff start: Blake Bortles, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota, Brock Osweiler, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Alex Smith, and Russell Wilson.

• Guys who lost their first playoff start: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel, Connor Cook, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Jared Goff, Robert Griffin III, Brian Hoyer, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, A.J. McCarron, Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, and Joe Webb.

Quarterbacks making this first playoff starts this postseason include Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and of course, Trubisky.

Is that just trivia? I lean toward thinking it's not, and that players can be legitimately affected by the pressure of a first playoff game start. Trubisky perhaps has the advantage of this game being played at home. He has the disadvantage of playing against a very good Eagles defensive line.

4) The Bears' balanced passing attack vs. the Eagles' secondary

In 2018, the Eagles' secondary has had to face Julio Jones, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Odell Beckham Jr. twice, Amari Cooper twice, Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, and DeAndre Hopkins, with mixed results.

The Bears don't employ any star weapons in their passing game as good as the names above, but they do have a balanced passing attack, in which they can spread the ball around to a lot of receivers. Five players had at least 400 receiving yards for Chicago this season: 

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 

"There is obviously some Kansas City influence to (the Bears' offense) and also some Rams influence to it," Jim Schwartz said on Wednesday. "There is a lot of sort of new-age offense to it, like zone reads and RPOs and using running backs as wide receivers, jet motion, all that different stuff. And some really good playmakers there.

"(Trubisky) is sort of a point guard out there moving the ball around to a lot of different guys. He does a really good job of executing what they're doing in their run game with all their layers of zone reads and RPOs. They run a lot of the different RPOs: three-by-one, two-by-two, slants, slant-flats, stick-outs, hitches, speed-outs. I mean, all of those."

While the Bears have Chiefs and Rams influences, what they lack that the Chiefs and Rams possess are speed demons in Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks. The lack of that game-breaker is evidenced by the pedestrian yards per catch numbers in the chart above.

The Bears' best passing game weapon is probably a running back in Cohen, who the Bears move all around the formation.

"I mean, like literally they use him all over the place," Schwartz said. "Line him up in the back field, line him up as a wide receiver, wide receiver motion into the back field, in the back field motion out, jet sweep, inside runs, outside runs, deep passes, short passes. He's a really important part of their offense. We saw that a little bit last year. We knew how talented he was last year. He's in the same vein this year, and they're finding ways to get him the ball."

It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles defend him.

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

Fun fact: The Eagles had the No. 1 red zone defense in the NFL this season, keeping opponents out of the end zone on 44.6 percent of their opportunities in close. 

Conversely, the Bears were very good once they entered the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their trips in close. That was good for fifth in the NFL.

Something has to give.

As a reader astutely pointed out in our Eagles chat today, if the Eagles can keep the Bears out of the end zone in red zone situations, they'll force kicker (and old friend) Cody Parkey to make field goals, something he has not been awesome at this season. In 2018, Parkey connected on 23 of 30 field goal attempts, or 76.7 percent. That was good for 28th out of 30 kickers with enough qualifying attempts. He also missed three extra points.

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