Bears

In the Bears, Alshon Jeffery will find a familiar foe. Could that be exactly what the embattled wideout needs?

Bears

Alshon Jeffery is paid like one of the most productive wideouts in the NFL, and he is known to flash that level of dynamism in spurts. But stretching those spurts into consistent stretches of elite production has persistently plagued him throughout his career.

The Bears know this quandary well.

Not only did Jeffery spend the first five seasons of his career in Chicago — amassing 304 catches, 4,549 yards and 26 touchdowns over 63 games with the team — he also was chief among the non-Cody Parkey related reasons behind the Eagles’ upset victory over the Bears in the 2019 NFC Wild Card game. 

In that game, Jeffery led the Eagles in receptions (six), yards (82) and targets (nine), came up with a number of timely snags and spent a significant portion of the game chirping at the Chicago sideline in between plays:

   
 

“I love the city of Philadelphia. Chicago was just when I was there for work,” Jeffery famously said in the leadup to the game, amid scattered jabs at the Bears’ fanbase and the quality of the playing surface at Soldier Field. His distaste for the Bears is known.

Jeffery, after all, left Chicago after the 2016-17 season despite the organization reportedly being open to bringing him back, and then went on to be an integral piece of Philly’s improbable 2018 Super Bowl run, tallying 219 yards and three touchdowns in that postseason. 

Mere months prior, Howie Roseman had bestowed upon Jeffery big-money expectations in the form of a four-year, $52 million extension. To that point, he was living up to them. 

But the 2019 season has been fraught for the Eagles, as a team, and Jeffery, individually. Philadelphia, much like the Bears, started the year 3-4 — a woeful underperformance relative to preseason expectations. And though Jeffery is currently second on his team in receptions (30), targets (47), receiving yards (317) and is the only Eagle with over 25 targets to not record a drop, he has been hampered by a calf injury for parts of the season and was recently embroiled in a saga related to speculation that he anonymously leaked criticism of Carsen Wentz and the Eagles offense. (For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the purveyor of the report in question, denies Jeffery being the anonymous source).

“When you go back to 2018, it was quite obvious in the first half of the season that Zach Ertz was Carsen’s favorite target, no question about that,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn said recently. “Then when Carsen went down with an injury, Nick Foles takes over again and all of a sudden Alshon’s numbers increase. Well, there is no Nick Foles in 2019 and Zach Erz is being double-teamed more than he’s ever been in his career.

“Now Alshon has only had one game where he’s had double-digit catches and that was in the Minnesota game. The last two games Alshon has had a grand total of six catches…If he’s your big-money receiver, he should be making big-money plays and that’s where his frustration lies.”

That frustration is understandable when you consider the heights Jeffery has achieved in his career, but this season hasn’t been his best — statistically or optically. Now, he’ll face a familiar foe in the Bears who, for all their woes, still have a defense with game-breaking potential. But Jeffrey’s size, leaping ability and hands make him a terror of a matchup, as does the special brand of hunger he routinely plays with against his former team. In his first ever game against the Bears in Week 11 of the 2017 season, he caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, in addition to his aforementioned performance in the 2019 Wild Card game. 

The question is whether he can still achieve those types of performances on a consistent basis.

“He is still a guy that is integral in this offense,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Barrett Brooks said. “He’s a chain mover… Third and six, you rely on him — even if he’s not open — to be open for Carsen. 

“He’s always going to be covered. But if you throw it to him, he can go up there and catch those contested balls and those 50-50 balls from the quarterback.” 

Neither the Bears nor the Eagles are likely to be satisfied with their standing at the season’s midpoint. Both had Super Bowl aspirations entering the campaign, but now, both are fighting for their playoff lives in a crowded NFC. Sunday’s contest is a must-win for them both, and will set the tone for whether either are able to right the ship down the stretch.

The Eagles will be counting on Jeffery. The Bears can’t let him beat them. Whatever the outcome, all eyes will be on the embattled wideout come Sunday, and what he does could make or break either team’s season.

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