Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory


Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010
10:50 AM

By John Mullin

Three Keys for Bears

NFL games typically turn on a small number of key individuals, developments or other factors. The Bears' best chances for moving to 8-3 and gaining a valuable edge in NFC playoff tiebreakers lie in three areas:

1. Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Eagles LT Jason Peters.

This is precisely the kind of significant situation that the Bears had in mind when they invested 91 million in Peppers, who has been to five Pro Bowls. And this is the reason the Eagles acquired Peters, who has been selected for three. Peppers ability to force Michael Vick to unload the ball sooner than planned as well as drive him to his right, not his preferred side for throwing on the move, is critical.

Likewise, the Eagles are counting on Peters to man up on Peppers without constant help from a back, tight end or left guard Todd Herremans. Peppers is coming off a three-sack game against Miami and an injured Jake Long, good enough for the honor of NFC defensive player of the week. The Eagles cannot afford to see Peppers become a repeat winner of the award.

The domino effect here is Peppers driving Vick toward Israel Idonije on the defensive left side. Idonije is having a career year (6 sacks) but is a veteran against the run from his days at tackle. If Idonije can set an edge to his side and deliver some complementary pressure against RT Winston Justice, the Bears can leave Vick to their front four, the preferred approach in their Cover-2.

2. Mike Martzs resolve.

The Bears offensive coordinator has operated with game plans that have produced three straight wins due in no small measure to running the ball 30-plus times in each. Nowhere in Martzs recent past with four different teams has this occurred and the Bears are 5-0 this season when theyve rushed 30 or more times in a game, including Jay Cutler scrambles.

Notable in those five run-balanced victories: In four of the five the Bears averaged 3.4 or less per carry, meaning that Martz has been willing to stay with some semblance of a run game even when it wasnt producing chunks of yardage. Perhaps not coincidentally, those four games, even with the pedestrian per-carry average, the Bears had their four best third-down-conversion rates of the season.

Martz is not afflicted with limitless patience, however. His legacy is founded on big plays and he has a big arm in Cutler and deep speed in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The Eagles have averaged allowing 74 rushing yards in their last six games; in the five games of 30-plus carries the Bears have topped 100. The willingness of Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice to stay with the run when Philadelphia presumably throttles it is a test the Bears need very much to pass.

3. When the pressure comes.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is the schematic descendant of the late Jim Johnson. Only two teams (Minnesota, Pittsburgh) had more sacks than the Eagles last season and this year they have pressured opponents into throwing 19 interceptions, most in the NFL. The result is the No. 1 turnover ratio at plus-15 (the Bears are plus-3).

The Bears are 35-7 under Lovie Smith when they have a positive turnover ratio but 10-25 when theyve lost the ball more times than theyve taken it away. Jay Cutler has taken 33 sacks and thrown 10 interceptions, with the effects of pressure readily apparent in his decision-making. That part of his game has gotten better, the line has progressively improved at adjusting to pressures and blitzes, but few teams attack more often and from more directions than the Eagles 10 different players have at least one sack.

Trent Cole has 7 sacks and 26 hurries from his right defensive end position. Frank Omiyale has been arguably the Bears offensive MVP with his play settling the left tackle spot and Omiyale needs to keep Cole from adding to that hurries total.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Keys for Eagles

By Ray Didinger

Three keys for the Eagles in Sundays game against the Chicago Bears.

1. Win the Turnover Battle

These are two defenses that thrive on takeaways. The Eagles lead the league with 26, Chicago is next with 25. The Eagles are No. 1 in turnover ratio at plus 13. Chicago is plus 3. It stands to reason the team that finishes ahead in this area on Sunday will most likely win the game.

Michael Vick has been very good at protecting the football. He has attempted 191 passes without throwing an interception and he lost his first fumble of the season last Sunday. The Eagles are 68-17 under Andy Reid when they win the turnover battle.

2. Contain Devin Hester

The Eagles kick coverage has improved in recent weeks after being really poor early in the season. They had their best game last Sunday, limiting the Giants to 5.3 yards on punt returns and 15.3 yards on kickoff returns. But Will Blackmon, the Giants return man, is no Devin Hester.

Hester is the most explosive kick returner in the game and he is handing punts and kickoffs again after relinquishing some of those duties last season. He proved he has not lost a thing when in Week 10 against Minnesota he returned a kickoff for 68 yards and a punt for 42. He is second in the league in punt returns with a 15.0 yard average and two touchdowns.

3. Avoid a Letdown

It may sound strange to talk about a letdown in a game between two 7-3 teams, but emotionally this is a tough spot for the Eagles. They are coming off three big games in a row Indianapolis, Washington and the Giants and now they are going on the road to play the Bears with another game (Houston) scheduled for Thursday.

It is a lot to ask of the players to get up for all those games, especially when the last game against the Giants was as physical and draining as it was. Meanwhile, the Bears have had a nice 10-day rest since defeating Miami 16-0 on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It was a bright spot, a small one on an otherwise dismal night of losing to the Green Bay Packers. But it was at least something.

After struggling for months to stay healthy and gain NFL weight, Leonard Floyd finally played like the ninth-overall pick of an NFL draft.

The rookie outside linebacker collected a sack in the first half, then exploded past Green Bay right tackle Brian Bulaga as part of stunt with fellow linebacker Willie Young on the third play of the second quarter for a second sack of Aaron Rodgers, one that came with a strip of the football and recovery in the end zone.

"We had a great play called,” Floyd said. “Willie came down and picked the guard for me and I looped around and the play was done and I made it. It felt great [to get a touchdown], but at the end of the day I wanted a win."

That was one of the very few bright spots as the Packers piled up 311 yards through three quarters, at times using wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery as running backs because of injuries. The drumbeat continued with touchdowns on three straight Green Bay possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The defense has allowed 23 or more points in five of seven games this season, with the Packers rolling off consecutive touchdown drives of 85, 84 and 57 in the second half as the Bears were limited to 2:49 time of possession in the fourth quarter.

“It helps when you’re playing [defense], to actually have a little bit of a break,” head coach John Fox said. “Unfortunately in the second half, I think that probably caught up with us a little bit.”

The defense had its fullest complement of personnel yet this season, with outside linebackers Floyd and Pernell McPhee both active (McPhee for the first time this year following offseason knee surgery), in addition to starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter, both of whom were injured during the Jacksonville game. It was not enough.

[BEARS GRADES: Quarterback woes take offense to new low in loss to Packers]

Defensive line: F

The interior of the line was quiet for most of the game, with wide receivers lining up as running backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Cornelius Washington had the only hit by a defensive lineman on Rodgers as the line rarely collapsed the pocket with center-push or even kept him in the pocket.

Linebacker: B-

Floyd started after two games inactive and a zero stat sheet vs. Detroit. He struggled too often getting disengaged from Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari at the outset before breaking through with second effort for his first career solo sack. That was topped by the strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Floyd had a third hit on Rodgers and a tackle for loss.

"It is very tough,” Floyd said. “He gets the ball out pretty quickly. You just have to keep rushing every snap. He is at his best when he is scrambling around playing backyard football."

McPhee was a welcome addition to a slumping defense, even in his limited capacity (19 snaps). McPhee was not credited with any tackles but was surprisingly fast off the ball initially, and got penetration to alter running lanes and some pressure on Rodgers, although he appeared to slow somewhat, not unexpected considering how limited he has been throughout the year because of the surgery.

Sam Acho provided some edge pressure with two hits on Rodgers and a pass deflected. Jerrell Freeman had a quarterback hit and delivered a game-high 13 tackles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: D

The secondary was forced to cover long into plays because of absent pressure on Rodgers but the coverage had its own problems with an offense that threw 56 times but was never intercepted. Three Green Bay receivers totaled double-digit receptions: Davante Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).

Cre’Von LeBlanc started at corner as the Bears opened with six defensive backs, and delivered a goal-line stop in the first quarter, stuffing Montgomery, who was used as a running back because of injuries to the Green Bay backfield. LeBlanc finished with seven tackles and a hit blitzing Rodgers.

Porter matched up with Jordy Nelson and allowed the Green Bay wideout just one catch on four targets through three quarters. But breakdowns were deadly, allowing the Packers to stage their two longest scoring drives of the season in the second half. The second came when Porter and safety Harold Jones-Quartey both covered the same man in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, leaving Adams alone for his second TD catch of the game.

Adrian Amos interfered with Nelson to give the Packers a 44-yard penalty pickup in the first quarter. De’Vante Bausby had a number of solid plays despite a lack of meaningful pressure from the front. But Bausby had two holding penalties on the Packers’ second fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"There were a lot of penalties out there.,” Bausby said. “We had a good scheme and plan, but we just didn't finish in the second half as a group. Facing Rodgers is a challenge, but I felt like our play calling was excellent. We just didn't finish."

Special teams: B

Connor Barth converted from 39 yards to tie the game in the second quarter. It was Barth’s seventh in his last eight attempts. Pat O’Donnell turned in another strong night punting, averaging 43.8 net on five punts. Coverage helped keep three of those inside the 20.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here: