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November 26, 2017

Final observations: Eagles 31, Bears 3

Eagles NFL

So long as they can take care of business in the last five games of the season, the road to the NFC title is headed through Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Eagles treated the Chicago Bears like the bad football team they are, stomping all over them in a 31-3 victory on Sunday. At 10-1, they remain the cream of the NFL crop.

The Good

•  Philadelphia's defensive line continues to be a major point of strength for the team, and a driving force behind their success. On both passing and running downs, the Eagles end up in their opponent's backfield and make it nearly impossible to get any momentum going.

RELATED: First half observations: Eagles 24, Bears 0

The addition of Timmy Jernigan alongside Fletcher Cox at the point of attack makes life easier for everyone around them. With those two guys commanding so much attention, the ends and blitzing linebackers often just need to win one-on-one matchups, and they're more than capable of doing that. Early in the second half, Brandon Graham picked up his seventh sack of the season on Trubisky, a new career high for a single season.

Look at the pocket collapsing around Trubisky on this play, as Cox eventually gets to the quarterback and takes him to the ground. There's never a chance for him to get his feet set, and no space in which he can step into a throw.

Carson Wentz and the offensive unit should be grateful for these guys because they take a lot of pressure off those guys by ensuring the game won't get away from the Eagles if the offense has a rough series or three. They consistently put the Eagles in good field position, and allow Doug Pederson to play ball-control offense by getting off the field in a hurry. Chicago entered the game sixth in rushing, and the Eagles held them to 6 rushing yards for the day.

And when you're getting the type of push up front the Eagles do, it certainly makes the job easier on the guys behind them in the secondary. Philadelphia played a little softer coverage with a big lead in the second half, but in general, they have benefitted from Cox, Jernigan, Graham, and the rest of the gang shedding blockers and disrupting plays. Wentz may be the MVP candidate, but the defensive line has been just as critical to Philadelphia's success.

•  Speaking of that secondary, when they weren't hanging back in an effort to prevent big plays they were making life tough for Trubisky and the Bears' offense. Jalen Mills' finger wag has gone from an annoying thing he did shortly before being called for pass interference to a fan favorite.

The Eagles suddenly have legitimate depth in the secondary. Rookie corner Rasul Douglas, who has been pushed to the background a bit now that Ronald Darby is healthy, flashed his potential during some action in the fourth quarter. After disrupting a throw with his length earlier in the drive, Douglas got on the end of a Trubisky miscue late in the fourth, nearly hauling in an interception before putting it on the turf.  Backup Corey Graham made up for it later in the drive, taking a tipped pass for an interception and a sizable return to seal the win.

It's easy to forget now, but Philadelphia still has Sidney Jones waiting in the wings. He may not return at all this season, but Jones' inclusion in the rotation will push every other guy in it next year, and that healthy competition should help this improving unit take their play up another notch. 

•  After a down week in his return game against the Dallas Cowboys, Zach Ertz was very much back against the Bears. Disclaimers about the opponent aside, Ertz became the first Eagle with a 100-yard receiving game this season. Nice to see him back to his old tricks. 

•  Jay Ajayi had a bit of an underwhelming day at the office, and it finally looked like he was going to break through at the beginning of the fourth quarter. He burst into the secondary and was close to picking up a long touchdown run, but was stripped for the third Eagles fumble of the day. The difference this time is Nelson Agholor was there to save the day, as he pounced on the ball for his second score against the Bears.

This is an effort play by Agholor above anything else. Maybe that's why the Eagles refused to give up on him despite his struggles, and why they handed him another opportunity to prove himself this year despite skepticism from the fans. He was not a big part of the gameplan on Sunday, but he found ways to maximize his influence when opportunities came his way. As much as you'd like to give credit to Wentz for bringing the best out of Agholor, the wideout deserves a ton of praise for locking in and shedding the mistakes of the past.

•  A sluggish second-half performance should not overshadow the fact that the Eagles won this game comfortably. This win brings them within inches of a divisional title before the month of November comes to a close. If Washington is able to beat Dallas on Thursday Night Football this week, the NFC East will belong to the Eagles, and the only question left will be how high of a seed the Eagles will snag heading into the playoffs.

The hunt for a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye has been on for weeks now, but that goal really comes into focus with the Eagles sitting at 10-1. Philadelphia's upcoming games have a chance to define the outcome of their season; they will go on the road to face the Seahawks and Rams over the next couple weeks, staring face-to-face with potential playoff opponents.

They are firmly in the driver's seat heading into those matchups. With the best record in the NFL, they control their destiny and the fate of home-field advantage as their schedule comes to a close. You can't ask for more than that.

•  I am 100 percent here for every elaborate Eagles celebration on both sides of the ball. They are having a ton of fun right now, and I'm glad they're still playing with a lightness that undersells the stakes of the season. When you play like there's no pressure on you, I think it tends to help you more than hurt you.

The Bad

•  The Eagles let Chicago pick up their first first down of the game early in the second half. Way to go, slackers.

On a more serious note, there was a little too much sloppy play from Philadelphia to open the second half. The Eagles were called for three separate offsides penalties on a single drive, which seems almost impossible for a full game let alone one series. After you line up wrong the first time, the free five yards you handed an opponent should be enough to send a message to everyone on the line.

And the penalties did not stop there. The Bears continued to offer little resistance, so unforced errors were the toughest opponent they had in the second half. Small potatoes in a dominant win, but the loss of focus was a bit of a bummer. The silver lining here? Doug Pederson's staff has plenty to point at during film review this week, and they can use it to sharpen this Eagles team even more.

•  I love the decision to go for it on fourth-and-six from around Chicago's 35. What I don't love is a play call that necessitates an instant roll out from Wentz, which takes options off the table for Wentz before the play even develops.

That said, it's a bad throw from Wentz regardless of the call. None of his guys have a realistic chance of catching this ball, and while I know fourth down changes the calculus, you almost have to say he should just live to fight another day. With the defense rolling, the only way you were going to get beat was by handing Chicago points through fluke plays and turnovers.

There was a natural letdown from the offense after jumping out to that 24-0 halftime lead, but a lack of urgency is not a catch-all excuse. The Eagles are capable of continuing to pile on with a more conservative gameplan, but a combination of poor execution, spotty calls by the coach, and mental errors had them sleepwalking through the second half. They've earned the benefit of the doubt, but that doesn't mean we can't hold them to a higher standard.

•  LeGarrette Blount fumbling the ball twice in one game can't happen, even if the second one was in garbage time against a terrible football team. When it was all said and done, the Eagles fumbled the ball four times on Sunday, losing three of them, and that's unacceptable no matter how you slice it.

The running back committee is too good at this point for this to be a problem. I'm sure the coaching staff will remind Blount and Ajayi of this before the next game because Corey Clement has shown himself plenty capable when he's had chances to carry the rock.

The Ugly

•  Tough break, my dude. Try again next time.