Friday, Nov. 26, 2010
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 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
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.