Mitchell Trubisky

Eagles-Bears thoughts: Playoff implications for Chicago game

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Eagles-Bears thoughts: Playoff implications for Chicago game

Eagles-Bears
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles favored by 15

The Eagles will attempt to avoid walking into the dreaded trap game when they host the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

It’s easy to imagine a team in the Eagles’ shoes looking past Chicago. The Bears enter Week 12 with a 3-7 record and a one-dimensional offense but playing competitive football. The Eagles have a two-game West-Coast swing up next against a pair of potential playoff opponents. We probably don’t need Admiral Ackbar to explain what such a scenario might mean.

Although, the Eagles didn’t get to 9-1 and amass an eight-game winning streak by laying down for inferior opponents. This squad has shown up every week, and until they show a tendency to do otherwise, the idea of a trap game seems like a foreign concept.

Expect the Eagles to be ready for a fight at kickoff. Expect the Bears’ best shot right back, too. Chicago has lost only two games by more than one possession in 2017.

Taking care of business
Yet another reason an upset would be difficult to imagine is the Eagles are on a roll. They’re not just racking up the wins. They’re demolishing teams in the process.

In their last three games vs. the 49ers, Broncos and Cowboys, the Eagles have defeated opponents by a combined score of 121-42, or an average score of 40-14. Go back six games, with victories over the Cardinals, Panthers and Redskins, and the Eagles have won by a total of 217-96 or 36-16 on average.

Of those teams, only the Panthers currently have a winning record. That’s also kind of the point. Of all the potential “traps” on the Eagles schedule thus far, none has come particularly close to pulling it off.

It would also take a mighty big reversal in trends for the Bears to pull off the shocker. Chicago has scored more than 24 points in a game just once this season, while the Eagles have scored fewer than 26 just once.

Falling apart
As if the task at hand wasn’t monumental enough for the Bears, they make the trip to the Linc without several key players.

Chicago lost arguably its best defensive player for the season in linebacker Leonard Floyd last week. Floyd joins the offense’s top three receivers on injured reserve — Zach Miller, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White — as well as veteran linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Willie Young.

And as if all that wasn't bad enough, the Bears’ injury report is loaded this week. Pro Bowl left guard Kyle Long and pass-rushers Akiem Hicks and Pernell McPhee are among the 14 names listed as either questionable, doubtful or out against the Eagles.

That’s practically every accomplished receiver on the roster, their best offensive lineman, and the team’s top-three leaders in sacks for the Bears, all missing this game or hobbled. The Eagles have had injuries of their own, and they certainly aren’t going to show any mercy. But by comparison, the Eagles look like a picture of health.

The trouble with Trubisky
Given what first-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has to work with on offense, you can’t entirely blame him because he’s not an instant star. After all, the Bears’ best remaining receivers are veteran slot receiver Kendall Wright and rookie running back Tarik Cohen.

Still, Trubisky is a limited passer at this stage of his career. The second-overall draft choice has made some strides the last two weeks, completing 60 percent of his attempts with zero interceptions in each, but the overall production is limited. Trubisky is averaging 164.7 passing yards and 6.8 per attempt with four touchdowns in six starts.

The Bears have a middle-of-the-road defense and a top-five ground attack, yet the offense remains one-dimensional and has trouble consistently putting points on the board. Chicago is tied for 27th in the NFL in scoring.

Trubisky is gaining valuable experience and may continue to progress. However, his development is clearly occurring at the expense of the Bears' ability to win football games.

Playoff picture
The Eagles may not be looking ahead, but that doesn't mean we can't. Every victory matters at this point as they try to keep pace for first place in the NFC.

The Vikings won on Thanksgiving, which means at best the Eagles can stay one game ahead of the competition for the first seed in the playoffs. The Saints will also be looking for their ninth win Sunday at the Rams.

The Eagles can come one step closer to clinching the NFC East this week as well. With the Cowboys losing on Thanksgiving, an Eagles win would put them in position to put away the division crown with another win over the Seahawks in Week 13.

So while the Bears may look like nothing more than a speed bump on the way to the postseason, this is absolutely an important game as it pertains to the Eagles' outlook moving forward.

Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

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Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

The Eagles may boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL these days, but that ranking will be put to the test Sunday by the Chicago Bears (see matchups to watch).

“If we can’t stop the run, it’s going to be a long day,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said this week. “Let’s not get that mistaken.”

Few teams are as committed to the ground attack as the Bears, and even fewer are more productive. Since rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky became the starter in Week 5, Chicago ranks seventh in the league in rushing attempts. For the entire 2017 season, the offense is fifth with 131.8 rushing yards per game.

The Eagles are limiting opponents to nearly half that total at 71.0 yards per game. They’ve also faced only a smattering of backfields as talented as Chicago’s, if any. Plus, many offenses have abandoned the run — a strategy the Bears aren’t likely to attempt regardless of the score.

“We know they’re going to run the football,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They even run the football a lot of times on third-and-long. It’s something they’re going to do.

“There’s a reason why they’re fifth in the league in rushing.”

Given the nature of their passing attack, the Bears’ best shot at pulling off an upset at Lincoln Financial Field is to keep the Eagles' offense on the sideline.

“Even if it’s not getting you a whole lot," Jenkins said, "if you can slowly move the chains and control the game, I think that’s something that they’ll continue to do.”

Trubisky, selected with the second-overall pick in the draft, has begun making strides in recent weeks. He completed 60.0 percent of his passes and avoided throwing an interception in each of the last two games, both one-possession losses. In fact, the Bears haven’t lost any of Trubisky’s six starts by more than eight points, and are 2-4 since he’s taken over.

Trubisky wasn’t asked to throw the ball much in those two victories, either — a combined total of 23 pass attempts. Instead, Chicago was able to lean on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

“It’s kind of like a thunder and lightning situation," Bradham said, "kind of what we had here at the beginning of the season with (LeGarrette Blount) and (Darren Sproles).”

Howard is the workhorse back and is often overlooked as one of the NFL’s bright, young stars due to the quality of his team. The 23-year-old was the runner-up to the rushing champion as a rookie in 2016 with 1,313 yards. Ten games into his second season, he’s up to 841 yards with a 4.4 average and five touchdowns.

A fourth-round pick from FCS school North Carolina AT&T in 2017, Cohen has immediately emerged as one of the league’s scariest change-of-pace/receiving backs. The 5-foot-6, 181-pound ball carrier has 537 total yards from scrimmage and leads the team with 33 receptions.

The duo is featured prominently in just about everything the Bears do on offense.

“They put both backs on the field at the same time a little bit, too,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Sometimes it's two-back sets, sometimes it's one.

“Traditionally there's a fullback back there in two-back sets, but not so much with the Bears. They can put two guys back there. It spreads you a little bit thin. You have to be very assignment-sound. It'll test us in the run game.”

Cohen, in particular, has caused defenses some problems because, much like Sproles for the Eagles, he can line up all over the formation. Some teams have even opted to roll coverages to his area of the field, though that might be as much about Chicago’s dearth of receivers as it is respect for the 22-year-old.

Whatever the case, Jenkins doesn’t expect the Eagles to roll coverages, adding that’s not something they’ve done all season. Regardless, with three run or pass plays of 35 yards or more this season, Cohen is a home run threat — although the Eagles aren't giving up many home runs (see story).

“He’s definitely a matchup issue, and they put him all over the place,” Jenkins said. “He’s at receiver, he’s in the backfield, he’s in the slot. Everybody is going to have to hold up. Whether he’s on a linebacker or a safety or a corner, we’ve seen him make plays at every position.

“He’s running post routes on corners and making the play. Then they’re able to line up and run the ball at pretty much anybody, so we’ll have our hands full with that.”

Howard is a threat to rip off long gains on the ground as well, with three runs of 50 and over. Then Trubisky is capable of taking off, too, with 163 yards rushing.

“His ability to make plays with his legs has been a positive,” Jenkins said. “He’s a mobile guy. When all else fails, he can escape the pocket and extend the play.

“Whether it’s scrambling for a first down, or scrambling to get somebody open, that’s always tough on the defense.”

Up until last week, it was beginning to look like there may not have been a running game in the league that the Eagles needed to fear. Then the Dallas Cowboys posted 112 yards last Sunday — tied for the most the Eagles have allowed all season and the most since Week 2. And Dallas was without All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended.

Then again, if the Bears are only able to muster 112 yards rushing this week, the Eagles might consider that a victory in itself.

To put those numbers in perspective, exactly half of the league is allowing more than 112.0 yards rushing per game this season. In other words, the Bears are probably going to have to fare a lot better than that to knock off the Eagles.

“I think we set that bar awful high,” Schwartz said. “Some people might get a pat on the back for that.

“It's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance.”

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Bears

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5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Bears

The Eagles are coming off a huge win in Dallas last weekend and haven't lost since their Week 2 game against the Chiefs. They're 9-1 for just the fifth time in team history. 

In Chicago, things haven't been going nearly as well. 

The Bears are 3-7 and have lost their last three games in a row. Somewhat impressively, though, their three wins this season have come against the Steelers, Ravens and Panthers, who have a combined 20-10 record. 

So the Eagles aren't taking this game lightly.

"Listen, this is the National Football League and you're seeing it every week. If you don't come ready to play, you'll get your tail beat," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. "This is no different this week. This is a good football team we're playing. Their record might be a different way and they have had some injuries, particularly on defense now, but it's still a good football team, and they probably should have won that game last week and they have been in some close games this year.

"So you can't go to sleep on these [guys]. The one thing I've been proud, most proud of with this team, is we stay in the moment, we stay in the week, and we've got the Bears on Sunday and that's our focus."

Here are five matchups to watch Sunday: 

Jordan Howard vs. Eagles' run D
The Bears aren't very good, but Howard is a stud. The second-year running back has seen his yards-per-carry average dip this season, but he still has 841 yards and five touchdowns through 10 games. 

You'll probably remember that Howard was taken in the fifth round of last year's draft out of Indiana during the one year Joe Douglas was in Chicago. Howard went three spots ahead of where the Eagles took Wendell Smallwood. The Eagles have always said publicly Smallwood was the guy they wanted, but it's fair to wonder. While Smallwood is now a forgotten man in Philadelphia, Howard might be on his way to a second-straight Pro Bowl to start his career. 

The Bears can certainly run the ball, but the Eagles' run defense has been great all season. They gave up 112 rushing yards to the Cowboys last week but had been incredibly good against the run before that. 

"There were some things that we can play a little bit better," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "I think we set that bar awful high. There's some teams in the league that — what did we give up, 110, 112? I think some people might get a pat on the back for that. I think it's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance."

Even after last week, the Eagles still have the best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up 71.0 yards per game.

Tarik Cohen vs. Mychal Kendricks 
The Bears' other running back, Cohen, is much more of a dual threat. While he has 64 carries for 273 yards and two touchdowns, he also leads the Bears in receptions with 33 that have gone for 264 yards and one touchdown. 

If he can do some damage against the Eagles, it'll probably come through the air. Kendricks has struggled in the past to cover running backs but has been better this season. 

The Eagles have been around the middle of the pack in defending running backs out of the backfield. They have given up 58 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns to opposing backs this season. 

Eagles' run game vs. Bears' run D
Chicago has the 12th-best run defense in the league and overall, the Bears' defense isn't bad. The Eagles have shown the ability to run the ball down teams' throats this season, though. 

Averaging 144.6 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles have the second-best rushing offense in the NFL. Sure, a lot of times they've been up big so they run the ball. But plenty of times they've been able to control games from running. 

Somehow, last week, the Eagles were able to find a role for all four active running backs. It's hard to imagine that happening every week, but they might try. If nothing else, expect Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and even Corey Clement to play a lot Sunday. 

Mitchell Trubisky vs. Jim Schwartz 
The Trubisky-Carson Wentz comparisons were unavoidable this week. They're different players and were even different prospects, but they went No. 2 a year apart, so it's been a talking point this season. Trubisky didn't begin the year as the Bears' starter, but it didn't take a long time for John Fox to move past Mike Glennon. 

Trubisky has put up pretty modest numbers so far. In six games, he has a 2-4 record, has completed 53 percent of his passes for 988 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The best number there is the two interceptions. If nothing else, at least he's not turning the ball over. 

"Everybody is different, and every offense is different," Schwartz said about his philosophy for facing rookie quarterbacks. "We adjust on a weekly basis."

It would make some sense, though, if Schwartz tried some different things against the rookie to get him off balance. That doesn't mean zero blitzes all game, but a few added wrinkles that Trubisky hasn't seen might go a long way.  

Alshon Jeffery vs. Prince Amukamara
Earlier this week, Jeffery downplayed the matchup against his former team, but it's going to mean something a little extra to him (see story). That's just human nature. 

The interesting part of this matchup against Amukamara is that Jeffery will draw one of the guys on that defense who he never saw. Amukamara joined the Bears this offseason as Jeffery was coming to Philly. There's not much of a history between Amukamara and Jeffery. Jeffery faced the Giants just one time during his career in Chicago in 2013 and didn't see much of Amukamara. 

Jeffery has started to heat up over the last month. In the last three games, he has 12 catches for 213 yards and four touchdowns.