Key matchups and numbers for Eagles v. Bears

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3

I have been slammed at work this week, so I didn’t get to provide an in-depth scouting report on the Bears like I had hoped. But, here are 10 thoughts on the Eagles/Bears:

Key matchup: Fletcher Cox & Bennie Logan versus rookie center Cody Whitehair and newly signed guard Josh Sitton

This will likely be a recurring theme for the Eagles since they are built around their defensive line. But how Cox and Logan play against the Bears’ interior line, specifically Whitehair and Sitton, could go a long way towards determining the outcome of this game.

Sitton signed with the Bears 2 weeks ago, Whitehair is a rookie that made his first career start last week; the inexperience and lack of cohesion between the interior of the Bears offensive line was apparent. The Bears struggled mightily handling stunts from the Texans, which requires offensive lineman to either communicate the switches or understand who is responsible for which player intuitively. Given that they were on the road in a hostile environment, it makes sense that they struggled with the latter. Cutler was sacked 5 times and hit 12.

Schwartz likes to use stunts to supplement his pass rush since he tries to avoid blitzing if he can. Expect to see stunts used regularly this week to test whether the Bears were successful in their stated goal of improving against stunts. Don’t be surprised if Schwartz tries to stay a step ahead and throw other wrinkles designed to generate pressure by maximizing confusion. He’s shown an affinity for double A gap and corner blitzes, so he might go that route while the Bears are expecting (and prepared for) stunts.

The Bears offensive line problems led to inefficiency issues for their offense.

Langford averaged 3.4 yards per carry, Cutler averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, and the Bears were only 4 of 13 on third down conversions.

This inefficiency kept the Bears offense off the field for prolonged periods of time. Their 54 total plays was tied for 2nd fewest in league (by comparison, the Eagles ran 73 plays last week). The Bears also turned in a Chip Kelly-esque time of possession with 23:41 (compared to 36:19 for the Texans).

That inefficiency was largely due to the struggles of the interior line, which had a trickle down effect on the entire offense. So getting pressure up front and stopping the run will go along way towards making life easier for the Eagles offense.

Alsho Jeffery looks like his old self.

2015 was supposed to be Alshon Jeffery’s breakout season, solidifying himself as a bona-fide #1 wide receiver. Instead, it was an ineffective campaign marred by nagging injuries.

Those problems looked like a thing of the past last week, with Jeffery turning in an impressive 4 catch, 105 yard performance, including a nice 54 yard grab.

The Eagles secondary struggled defending the deep pass last week, getting beat twice by Terrell Pryor. Pryor made a great catch on one deep pass — nothing you can do but tip your hat and say good play. But on another, he was able to beat three Eagles defenders for a big gain. It conjured up nightmares of watching Nate Allen, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jaiquawn Jarrett be absolute sieves against the long ball. Jeffery is obviously a better receiver that Pryor. If the Eagles secondary  doesn’t improve, they could be in for a long night.

Matchup problem for the Eagles: Jason Kelce v. NT Eddie Goldman.

Keep an eye on Jason Kelce tonight, who will be matched up against another very large human being. Last week, Kelce was dominated at the point of attack by Danny Shelton, who is 6’2, 335 lbs. This week, Kelce gets 6-4, 336 lb nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Kelce’s struggles against large interior lineman are well-documented. And I would expect that to continue this week, leading to the talk of Kelce’s decline becoming a focal point of discussion leading up to next week’s game.

Bears defense is solid up the middle.

This offseason, the Bears made strengthening the interior of their defense a priority. To that end, they signed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan, who played for John Fox in Denver, and Jerrell Freeman from Indianapolis. That investment paid off, with the linebackers combining for 28 tackles against Houston.

While Lamar Miller gained 108 yards on the ground, he only averaged 3.8 ypc. The Eagles will continue to run the offense through Ryan Mathews to make life easier on their rookie quarterback. Mathews had a workman like 22 carries for 77 yards, for 3.5 ypc and 1 touchdown last week against the Browns.  I would expect a similar stat line this week; it won’t be an efficient run game, but it should be effective enough to keep the Bears defense honest.

Other pass catchers need to step up:

With Zach Ertz out with a displaced rib, expect the Bears defense to key on stopping Jordan Matthews. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matthews double teamed with bracketed coverage over the top, forcing Wentz to rely on his other receiving options.

Nelson Agholor has all the physical talent in the world, but he’s struggled with his consistency and route running. Last week, he turned in arguably the best game of his young career, catching 4 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. That included a nice 35 yard touchdown catch against Pro Bowl cornerback, Joe Haden. Agholor will be a key cog in the offense tonight, and must continue to play well.

That goes for Darren Sproles as well, who has struggled with dropped passes since arriving in Philadelphia. In New Orleans, Sproles routinely caught around 78% of his passes. In Philadelphia, his catch rate dropped to 64.5% and 66.3% respectively over the last two seasons. It looked like more of the same last week, with Sproles catching only 2 of 5 targets, with (by my count) 2 drops. Sproles is 33 years old. So it’s not a surprise to see his production slipping. But the Eagles have big plans for Sproles this year in this offense, and if they are going to pan out, Sproles needs to step his game up asap.

A final thought: expect to see more of Dorial Green-Beckham with Ertz out. He could become the Eagles preferred red zone target given his size and ability to catch the fade route, which is one of Wentz’s favorite passes. The Eagles have been bringing DGB along slowly, but Ertz’s absence might accelerate their plan.

Protecting Wentz.

The Bears sacked Brock Osweiler twice and got 8 hits. Those aren’t impressive numbers, which bodes well for the Eagles rookie signal caller. Even if the Bears get pressure this week, it is unclear how effective it will be at accomplishing its intended goal. Wentz was phenomenal against the blitz last week, getting sacked once, but otherwise completing 11/11 passes for 123 yards, including a key 4th down completion to Zach Ertz with a free blitzer bearing down on him. That stat line is obviously not sustainable, but Wentz showed grace under fire in his pro debut, which is atypical for rookie quarterbacks.

With that said, Wentz has to get better at getting rid of the ball quickly. He held onto the ball too long last week, getting hit 9 times. We don’t want to see Chase Daniel taking snaps this season. So it is imperative for Wentz to get the ball out quick and learn to navigate the pocket better.

Expect to see designed boot legs this week to take advantage of Wentz’s athleticism. Despite his mechanical flaws, Wentz is an unusually strong thrower on the run. The Eagles will look to take advantage of that this week to minimize his exposure to harm.

Bears struggle at home.

The Bears have lost an incredible 13 of their last 16 games at home. I don’t know if any team has a worse run of futility at home, but this has to be near the top of the list. This is welcomed news for the Eagles, who will be on the road in prime time with a rookie quarterback and head coach.

Don’t expect a shootout:

Vegas has set the over/under for the Eagles at around 42.5 (depending on what website you look at). That is tied for the third lowest in the league, higher than only the Rams/Seahawks and Jets/Bills (whoops). Simply put, I wouldn’t expect a high scoring affair. Neither offense is loaded with playmakers and the defenses seem to be playing at an above average rate.

Given this, the game will likely come down to who wins the turnover battle. Cutler had another interception last week, while the Eagles opportunistic defense came up with a key interception that helped blunt the Browns momentum. Getting pressure on Cutler will be key, even though he has done surprisingly well throwing under pressure as of late.

The Prediction:

Vegas has had the Eagles as 3 point underdogs all week. That actually seems low given that the Eagles are on the road with a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach. Given those circumstances, a good team would be at least 4.5 point favorites.  That the Bears are only getting the traditional home field advantage bump of 3 points tells you how much confidence Vegas has in them.

I have gone back and forth on this one. Jeffery gives me the biggest pause for concern; I think he is going to give the Eagles secondary fits. But games are won and lost in the trenches, and right now I think the Eagles are superior along the lines on both sides of the football.

Give me the Eagles 23-20, with the Eagles forcing a key Jay Cutler interception late to seal the game. Wentz will have a solid, but not spectacular, game, going 20/32 for 250 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and 1 rushing td.

Season record: 1-0.

 

 

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