Mychal Kendricks

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Bears

usa-fletcher-cox-jordan-howard.jpg
USA Today Images

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. 

Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

uspresswire-saints-dannell-ellerbe.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

New Eagles linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is not your average midseason signing. This is a playmaker with eight years of NFL experience, and a starter for the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2012.

Ask any player in the Eagles’ locker room who knows Ellerbe or really studies defense, and they’ll tell you the same thing. This is not just any street free agent.

Ellerbe represents a huge upgrade for the Eagles.

“Dominant player from what I remember in Baltimore,” Eagles safety and former teammate Corey Graham said on Monday. “Running through linemen, very physical, very aggressive. Flat-out beast. We used to call him ‘Eller-beast.’

“When he was out there and when he was healthy, he’s a monster.”

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham even went so far as to liken the addition of Ellerbe to the club’s recent trade for Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi.

“It’s the same situation as when we got the running back,” Bradham said. “We’re just adding depth and trying to get stronger as a team as we’re keeping this thing going.”

Unlike Graham, Bradham never played alongside Ellerbe, nor had they so much as met each other before. But Bradham would tell you he “knows” Ellerbe very well from following his career with the Ravens, Dolphins and Saints.

“Linebackers know linebackers,” said Bradham, who added Ellerbe made a “key impact” in Baltimore’s last world championship. “We need him.”

There’s no question the Eagles could use the help at linebacker. Both Bradham and Mychal Kendricks have been spectacular, but depth became an issue after Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending injury.

Of course, if Ellerbe is the solution, why was he a free agent to begin with? Why is he now playing for his fourth NFL team? He turns 32 years old in a matter of weeks and has never earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl or any other notable accolades, so how good can he be?

Ellerbe’s issues are primarily injury-related. He played one game in 2014, six games in 2015 and nine games in 2016.

Most recently, Ellerbe missed time with a broken foot, which he says has been healed for quite awhile.

“I was healthy enough to play going into training camp,” Ellerbe said. “The whole time I’ve just been working out and getting in shape, staying in shape.”

Otherwise, there’s no denying he can contribute if he’s finally 100 percent. Undrafted out of Georgia in 2009, Ellerbe has started 42 NFL games, recording 368 tackles, 10½ sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also has 48 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in 10 playoff appearances.

“When he’s healthy, he’s very explosive, very smart,” said Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, another former teammate in Baltimore. “He understands defenses very well, and he can be a great playmaker for us.”

Bradham was willing to go out on a limb and predict Ellerbe would be successful for the Eagles.

“He’s going to have an impact,” Bradham said.

“For us following the game for some time, we’ve all seen him play. He’s a physical, hard-nosed linebacker. He has speed. He’s going to be a great addition for us, and he added depth. We’re even deeper now.”

As far as Ellerbe’s role, that is yet to be determined. For the time being, he isn’t locked in at middle or outside linebacker for the Eagles, though he’s primarily played weakside as a pro. He may not play at all initially.

The way Bradham and Kendricks are balling, there’s no need to force Ellerbe into the lineup, either.

And while Ellerbe says he hasn’t played special teams since he was with the Ravens in 2012, he’s ready to assist in whatever phase he’s called upon. There’s no concern about rust, despite not having practiced or seen game action since last December.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat out this long, but when you’re born to do something, you pick it back up real quick,” Ellerbe said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

The Eagles aren’t just getting a quality linebacker. Based on accounts from his former teammates, Ellerbe is a quality person as well. Smith called Ellerbe a “great addition to the locker room,” while Graham said the newcomer will fit right in.

With the Eagles’ record at 8-1, team chemistry seems almost as important as talent these days. Ellerbe checks off both boxes.

Free-agent additions this time of year typically amount to picking off the top of the trash heap, pure depth signings, or future stashes. It’s not often a team in the Eagles’ position is able to nab a player of this caliber.

Whether Ellerbe is the game-changer his teammates remember or his ability has eroded with time and injuries, one thing is for certain: The Eagles are leaving no stone unturned in 2017. Adding another motivated athlete with a championship pedigree can’t hurt.

Gunn on One: Mychal Kendricks on mental strength, 'wow plays'

ap-mychal-kendricks-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Gunn on One: Mychal Kendricks on mental strength, 'wow plays'

Last Sunday, Mychal Kendricks played 79 percent of the defensive snaps against San Francisco. It's the most he's played in a game all year. With Jordan Hicks out, Kendricks is determined to prove to his doubters that he's an every-down linebacker and capable of playing at a consistently high level. He is also a man playing with that proverbial chip on his shoulder. Here's part of my Gunn on One conversation with No. 95.

Gunner: You've been playing all over the field and being disruptive. Is that part of your mentality when you said last week, "When you get a chance to get on the field you ain't got nothing to lose, so play free?"

Kendricks: You hit it on the head. I mean, I only get so many opportunities, so really I'm trying to make the big play, and a lot of the times when you try to make that big play, it comes at a cost. Right now, I honestly feel I have nothing to lose just because there's so few opportunities for me to go out there and capitalize, so that's exactly what I have to do — capitalize.

Gunner: You talk a lot about "wow plays." Describe what that is for you.

Kendricks: Nothing crazy. A wow play is a third-down stop when needed. It's doing something out of the ordinary, and know that if you miss it, you're going to get yelled at (laughter), but you make the play instead. It's a fine line when you make those type of plays. It's a hit or miss thing.

Gunner: Your physical athleticism has never been in question, but tell me how much you've improved in the mental aspect of the game.

Kendricks: It's like clockwork now. Things are slowing down so much, and it feels good because it allows you to play even faster.

Kendricks also talked about another of other topics, including how he won't forgot how little he played in 2016. To hear the extended version of my conversation with him, tune into Eagles Pre Game Live Sunday at noon on NBC Sports Philadelphia.