Doug Pederson, Eagles know they ‘have our work cut out for us’ in trying to stop Khalil Mack


Doug Pederson, Eagles know they ‘have our work cut out for us’ in trying to stop Khalil Mack

In winning three consecutive games to improbably reach the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles shut down some of the league’s most effective pass rushers. To wit: the combination of Aaron Donald, JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney combined for one sack and two quarterback hits against the Eagles; those three players had 35 1/2 sacks and 87 quarterback hits in 2018. 

So what does that mean for how Doug Pederson and the Eagles’ offense will scheme against Bears’ outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who leads his team with 12 1/2 sacks and 69 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus?

“He's playing at an extremely high level,” Pederson said. “Brings a lot of energy and passion to that defense and he's tough. He's tough to defend. It's hard to, you know, just one-on-one, you're not going to slow him down. Definitely have our work cut out for us.”

Pederson, since the re-introduction of Nick Foles into the Eagles’ offense, has been able to effectively scheme some of the league’s best pass-rushers out of making a game-wrecking impact. Whether it’s through quick throws and strategically-timed downfield passes, or through committing an extra blocker to someone, Foles has only been under pressure on a little under 20 percent of his drop-backs over the last three games. 

And even against the Texans — when Foles was under pressure on 16 of his 50 drop-backs — he still completed 10 of 15 passes for 178 yards with a passer rating of 101.5, per Pro Football Focus. 

There’s a narrow margin between effectively scheming against an elite pass rusher and doing something too different as an offense, Pederson said, which will certainly apply to the Eagles’ gameplan against Mack and the Bears’ defense this week. 

“Obviously the more guys you can get out on the route a little bit better, sometimes the ball out fast can sort of nullify a rush, which you saw early in the Rams game,” Pederson said. “So there's a fine line. You just have to mix it up. You're not always going to be in a position to chip guys like that. You're going to have to get guys out on the route just based on the situation of the game and the play call.

“Again, we don't go out of our way to necessarily design formations or different protections or anything like that, but we just have to be aware of where he is.”

Still, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has found other ways to generate pressure than by just relying on Mack and Akiem Hicks (7 1/2 sacks, 16 QB hits). Sometimes that’s meant sending slot corner Sherrick McManis on a blitz (eight pressures, one sack on 21 pass rushing attempts, per PFF), or calling on Roquan Smith to burst up the middle (11 pressures, five sacks on 52 pass rushing attempts).

But stonewalling Mack — not just in limiting his sacks, but limiting how he affects the pocket — is nonetheless an important step toward neutralizing the league’s best defense. How Pederson goes about doing that, and how Fangio counters that with his own scheme, will be one of the more fascinating chess-match aspects of Sunday’s game to watch. 

“He definitely brings a level of energy and a consistency at that position,” Pederson said. “Definitely boosts the defensive line. He's definitely somebody you have to scheme for and know where he is. Vic does a good job of moving him around the line and putting him in different spots.”

Studs and Duds from Bears' season-ending Week 11 loss to Rams

Studs and Duds from Bears' season-ending Week 11 loss to Rams

The Chicago Bears fell to 4-6 after losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 17-7, in Week 11's Sunday Night Football. And while there may be a mathematical possibility for the Bears to make the playoffs, it's likely around 1 percent. 

It's time to accept the harsh and painful reality of the Bears' 2019 season, one of the most disappointing and shockingly bad years this franchise has endured in a very long time. 

Heartache like this is often the result of unrealistic expectations to begin with. Were the Bears really prepared to make a Super Bowl run with a second-year head coach and a third-year quarterback who still wasn't a finished product? The defense certainly appeared ready for a special season, but there was never the kind of overall team balance to make this year's goals a reality.

So here we are. With six games left on the schedule, the Bears are three games out of a wild card spot. The offense is still a mess and the defense is steadily getting less reliable.

Chicago managed just seven points against the Rams on Sunday night while the defense allowed running back Todd Gurley to eclipse 100 total yards for the first time since Week 1. And then there's the whole kicking situation.

Here are Week 11's Studs and Duds:

Stud: LB Roquan Smith

Smith led all Bears defenders with 11 tackles and an interception. He didn't play a perfect game and often got bullied on the second level when the defensive line couldn't keep him clean, but the sideline-to-sideline burst that made him a first-round pick was on display for four quarters. 

Dud: K Eddy Pineiro

Pineiro left six points on the field for the Bears with two killer misses early in the game. In fact, those misses seemed to take the life out of Chicago's offense. Pineiro hasn't been good the last two weeks and even though Nagy said the Bears aren't looking to bring in competition, it doesn't appear Pineiro is the long-term answer.

Stud: SAF Eddie Jackson

Jackson was playing noticeably faster Sunday night and had one of his best plays of the season when he penetrated the backfield for an explosive tackle for loss. He ended the game third on the team with six tackles and looked like he got some of his mojo back.

Dud: RB David Montgomery

Montgomery hasn't had any help from the offensive line or play-calling this season, but at some point, he needs to flash the ability to pick up more yards on his own. He managed just 31 yards on 14 carries and his longest run of the game covered just five yards. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Montgomery's future, but it's time for him to prove he can really be a special running back.

Stud: RB Tarik Cohen

Cohen made the most of his workload against the Rams. He had 14 touches for 74 yards and a touchdown and looked explosive along the way. An argument could be made that Cohen should've received the lion's share of the carries Sunday night. He was simply more effective.

Dud: Offensive line

It's become glaringly obvious that the Bears' offense is hindered by the problems along the offensive line. Aaron Donald didn't do them any favors; he embarrassed every Bears lineman he faced. And while that's a pretty common occurrence for Donald, it only accentuated the need for Ryan Pace to pay close attention to the position group this offseason. 

Bears' tight ends invisible once again in Week 11 loss to Rams

Bears' tight ends invisible once again in Week 11 loss to Rams

When the Bears hired Matt Nagy as head coach in 2018, the vision was that he'd bring to Chicago much of what he learned during his time as Andy Reid's offensive understudy in Kansas City. He was supposed to be the Bears' version of Doug Pederson, who like Nagy was a Reid disciple with the Eagles and Chiefs from 2009-2016.

Pederson won the Super Bowl in his second season as Eagles coach. Not so much for Nagy.

The Lombardi Trophy isn't the only difference between Pederson and Nagy since becoming head coaches. Pederson, much like Reid, has the luxury of a superstar player filling the role of one of the Reid offense's most critical positions: tight end.

The Eagles field Zach Ertz. The Chiefs have Travis Kelce. Meanwhile, Nagy and the Bears have Ben Braunecker?

Braunecker was the only tight end to record a reception in Chicago's 17-7 loss to the Rams Sunday night. And it was just one catch for eight yards. 

Trey Burton was placed on injured reserve (calf) after Week 10's win over the Lions; it brought an end to a brutal season for last year's free-agent prize. Burton's 2019 will finish with just 14 catches for 84 yards.

Remember: Burton is the player who Ryan Pace and Nagy dubbed as Chicago's version of Ertz and Kelce. 

Ertz has 55 catches for 621 yards and two scores while Kelce's registered 56 catches for 741 yards and three scores so far this season. 

Burton will enter the third year of a four-year, $32 million contract in 2020 and might be too costly for the Bears to cut loose this offseason. He'll cost the team $7.5 million against the cap if they decide to part ways. An argument can be made that he's been limited by injuries all season (he's played in just 50.1 percent of the team's snaps this year) and deserves another shot to prove he's the kind of playmaker he was signed to be. At this point, there may not be much of a choice.

Former 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen has been a massive bust. His career with the Bears has been defined by a series of nagging injuries. And even when he's been healthy, he's played like 'just a guy.' He has one year left on his rookie contract but doesn't appear likely to factor into the position moving forward.

Even if Burton remains on the roster next year and Shaheen is given another chance to develop, Pace has to make tight end a priority position over the next few months of roster reconstruction. There will be some intriguing Day 2 prospects in the NFL Draft, like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, and veteran options like Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald should find themselves on the open market in free agency. At least one of those avenues should be explored.

Sunday night's disappointing and likely season-ending loss was the result of a year of underachievement by the Bears. And no position has underachieved more than this tight end group.