Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

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Bears-Eagles: Three keys for victory

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010
10:50 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

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 CSNChicago.com'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
CSNPhilly.com

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 reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

Bears reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

NFL.com's Insider Ian Rapoport dropped a news bomb in the middle of the night, Tweeting in the wee hours of Monday morning that the Bears will not sign receiver Alshon Jeffery to a franchise tag:

Jeffery played under the franchise tag in 2016, when he earned roughly $14.6 million. 

The Bears could still re-sign Jeffery to a longer deal in free agency, but the market on the 27-year-old receiver may climb out of their desired range.

The $17 million franchise tag was an awful lot of salary cap to spend on a guy who has missed 11 games over the last two seasons to injury and a PED suspension that stretched to four games in 2016.

When he was on the field last year, Jeffery turned in his worst stat line since his rookie season, catching only 52 balls for 821 yards and 2 TDs.

Still, his departure would leave a gaping hole in the Bears receiving corps as Cameron Meredith and Kevin White would emerge as the leaders of the group.

Meredith went undrafted out of Illinois State, but he has impressed in his two pro seasons, leading the Bears in receptions (66), targets (96), yards (888) and TDs (4) in 2016.

White was the Bears' first-round pick in 2015 (7th overall) but has played in just four games due to leg issues and has only 19 catches for 187 yards and 0 TDs under his belt.

David Kaplan believes if Jeffery does depart Chicago, it sends a bigger message about the state of the Bears:

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

What we "knew" most about the 2016 Bears heading into the season is that, offensively, Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery would be the straws that stirred the offensive drink. 

Thanks to injuries, suspension and a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-13 season, the straw had a hole in it, the team still couldn't collectively close out games and a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Howard) and a second-year undrafted free agent (Cam Meredith) turned into the greatest causes for optimism on that side of the ball. 

The news that the team is shopping Cutler is hardly news-bulletin worthy. We've written about Cutler Fatigue here and discussed it on CSN's BearsTalk Podcasts for some time now. A breakup has seemed inevitable after eight years of .500 ball when he's been behind center. The tricky part is finding an alternative that would be a marked improvement for a coaching staff that might need to finish .500 to continue on the job in 2018. Yet that's the gamble that must be taken for a franchise that almost needs to move on, for better or worse, in order to find a way out of the muddy ditch it's found itself in.

Cutler must first be deemed healthy enough after labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder - something similar to what Buffalo did with Tyron Taylor this week following groin surgery. But Taylor might be a safer bet to stay with the Bills than Cutler is here. Those medicals might be out there already around the league if shopping has truly begun. And while a new destination for Cutler might not earn him the same salary (roughly $15 million) he'd make here, the thinking here is he'd prefer a fresh start just as much as the Bears want one. 

So let's go shopping.

Cleveland? No. 

San Francisco as a stopgap starter? Maybe. There's tons of salary cap space while a successor is groomed, and there's the Shanahan (Kyle/Mike) Factor. But more losing. 

How about Jacksonville to push his young clone, Blake Bortles? Perhaps. There's still a loaded, talented young defense that has yet to reach a promising ceiling, and a couple of talented receivers. 

The Los Angeles Rams could provide a push for Jared Goff (though it's hard not to see Goff being the starter, for better or worse). But if something should happen, Cutler would be ready, with Todd Gurley, what should be a respectable defense and a location close to where wife Kristin Cavallari can return to actressing. 

Jay in Buffalo? Good one! 

Arizona has already shot down interest. 

We don't see Denver wanting him back as they await Paxton Lynch's maturity with Trevor Siemian as a bridge. 

Reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami could be an option with Ryan Tannehill's health still a mystery. 

Then there's always Houston. I'm looking for Tony Romo's ultimate destination impacting Jay's. 

But retiring, as some reports this week suggested? No. Despite the public perception, Jay is a competitor, and I truly believe that still runs through him. He may not get to prove his reputation wrong before he retires, but despite what body language experts feel, I believe he'd still like to prove something. But I'm also not counting on any team giving up a draft pick for him. Teams know the Bears will release him, but if a club lower on the waiver claim wire truly desires him, Ryan Pace has squeezed something out from teams for his players on the discard pile before.

As for Jeffery, all remains quiet on the franchise tag front. The seal remains tight at Halas Hall over whether there have been any negotiations this past week, and if so, whether they've moved in a positive, long-term direction. 

Two things to keep in mind: the Bears did not tag him last year until the day before the deadline to do so. That deadline this year is March 1. The other is the fact that other teams in similar situations (such as Washington with Kirk Cousins and Kansas City with Eric Berry and Dontari Poe) have yet to make moves either, as that deadline looms. If the Bears determine they'll cut ties with Cutler, Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, that will free up another $24 million in cap space on top of the $60 million-plus they have already. Perhaps that factors into the decision on Jeffery, who'd get paid $17 million in 2017 under a second straight franchise tag for a team that needs play-makers and a coaching staff that needs wins next season. Letting him go would require attention and a portion of those dollars to replace him in the draft and/or free agency.

We leave all our internet/talk radio caller GM's with this question: Would you REALLY want to be in Ryan Pace's shoes this offseason? Can you be as shrewd, wise and run the table to the extent he must, especially at the most important, franchise-shaping position (which, granted, he's put on the back-burner his first two years)? And "get it right" to build momentum moving forward for a franchise that's reached the playoffs just once in the past decade? The rebuild remains substantial. And so are the decisions he faces in a crucial offseason.