Bears

Three keys and wild card round playoff prediction: Bears vs. Eagles

Three keys and wild card round playoff prediction: Bears vs. Eagles

1. Win the game-wrecking battle. 

This may be a trite, over-used classic piece of football analysis, but it’s especially true for Bears-Eagles: This game will be decided in the trenches. Both teams possess solid offensive lines and game-wrecking pass-rushing players all over the field. 

So the question becomes: How effectively do the Bears shut down defensive tackles Fletcher Cox (10 1/2 sacks, 95 pressures) and Michael Bennett (nine sacks, 68 pressures)? “Wide nine” edge rushers Chris Long and Brandon Graham combined for 10 1/2 sacks this year, too. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz usually sticks to rushing his four defensive linemen while not sending many blitzes, so the onus will be on the Bears’ offensive line to handle a simple-yet-effective pass rushing scheme. 

The good news is the Bears, collectively, have been excellent in pass protection this year. That starts with an offensive line that finished second in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency metric and should be boosted by getting right guard Kyle Long back for a full game. This group held Rams superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald to just one quarterback hit last month, which should give them confidence they can mute the impact of Cox and Bennett. And coupled with Mitch Trubisky’s knack for feeling and avoiding pressure and some quality pass protection contributions by Jordan Howard, the Bears will feel good about their ability to make sure the Eagles’ defensive line won’t wreck Sunday’s game. 

The flip side to this: The Eagles’ is trending up, with center Jason Kelce, left tackle Jason Peters and left tackle Lane Johnson all playing some of their best football of 2018 to end the season. Right guard Brandon Brooks is a solid, Pro Bowl player too, and left guard Isaac Semualo appears healthy enough to return to the starting lineup. So this will be a Philadelphia offensive line at full strength, one that finished the year allowing just one sack to the combined trio of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Donald. 

Eagles coach Doug Pederson, too, will have a plan for how to deal with Khalil Mack, be it through strategic double teams and/or quick passes by quarterback Nick Foles. If the Bears can consistently pressure Foles — as they’ve done to quarterbacks like Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins this year — they can force him to make some mistakes. If not, Foles and an impressive array of weapons can pick apart any secondary, even one as good as the Bears’. 

Ultimately, the story of Sunday’s game will be if Cox, Bennett, Long and Graham make more game-wrecking plays than Mack, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, etc. 

2. Field position and sudden change success. 

During the regular season, Bears opponents began 128 drives from at or inside their own 25-yard line. The Bears forced more turnovers on those drives (24) than they allowed touchdowns (20). On average, teams ran 5.7 plays and gained 28 yards per drive, and nearly half of those drives ended in punts. 

Narrowing down for games at Soldier Field, the Bears had nearly as many interceptions, fumble recoveries and safeties (11) as opponents had touchdowns and field goals (13) on drives of 75 yards or longer. 

The point being: It’s incredibly difficult to sustain long drives against this Bears’ defense, especially in Chicago. And incredibly, the Bears only allowed one touchdown while picking off three passes on eight drives that began in their own territory at Soldier Field this year. 

Consider this another way of viewing just how good the Bears’ defense is: You can’t sustain long drives against them, and if you get a short field, you’re hardly guaranteed to score a touchdown, let alone even get points. 

The playoffs are a different beast, of course, especially against an offense that’s rolling with Foles at quarterback. But the larger point to this key: If the Bears simply play their game on defense, they’ll shut down the Eagles — as they have just about every other opponent that’s come to the lakefront this year. 

3. More of the same from Mitch.

Over his last three games, Trubisky has efficiently operated the Bears’ offense, generally taking care of the ball while taking a few calculated shots downfield. It’s led to Trubisky completing 76 percent of his passes for 644 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 109.7, which reads like a clear path to a Bears win if he can replicate that success on Sunday. 

There’s not much else to this. The Bears could still win even if Trubisky regresses to overthrowing some bad interceptions and making a handful of mistakes (they did against the Rams, after all). But it’s hard to see the Bears losing if Trubisky just keeps doing what he’s been doing over the last few weeks. 

Prediction: Bears 23, Eagles 17. 

The Eagles are a good team playing well entering the playoffs, and are buoyed by the collective experience of winning the Super Bowl last year with Foles as their quarterback. But the Bears’ defense is staggeringly great, the kind of group that’s more than good enough to overcome the legend of Foles (and, more importantly, a strong offensive line). 

The Bears only lost one game at home this year, that to the New England Patriots while allowing two special teams touchdowns. It would take an uncharacteristically-poor game for the Bears to lose on Sunday, and all week players and coaches have given off signs that they’re not merely happy to be in the playoffs. This is a team that believes it can make a run to the Super Bowl, and that run starts on Sunday. 

Bonus wild card round playoff predictions:

Colts 27, Texans 17
Seahawks 20, Cowboys 17
Ravens 23, Chargers 21

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Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

The Chicago Bears have a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2019 after falling to 4-6 following Sunday night's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, it's time to start looking ahead to 2020 and the necessary moves GM Ryan Pace must make in order to take advantage of the Bears' already championship-worthy defense.

Pace will face some obvious challenges in the offseason, most notably the salary cap where the Bears won't have much flexibility. According to Spotrac, Chicago will be in the bottom-five teams in the league in cap space which will make shopping in free agency a limited endeavor. 

But as we've seen many times in the NFL, creative general managers can move money around in ways to free up the dollars for new contracts to make sense, and it's on Pace to make sure he does that in order to land at least two big-ticket free agents to fix two of this team's most pressing needs.

The NFL draft will also provide Pace with a great opportunity to add young, starting-quality talent in the second round. The Bears will end up with two of this year's top-60(ish) players and they have to make those picks count.

Here are four players Pace should target in order to turn the 2020 Bears into the contender they were supposed to be this season.

Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)

Bridgewater would be the perfect target for Pace and the Bears in free agency to bring stability and reliability to the quarterback position. The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings has resurrected his career after a devastating knee injury in 2016. Now three seasons removed, Bridgewater proved he's ready to take on a starting job after playing five games in relief of Drew Brees after the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a hand injury.

Bridgewater won all five starts and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes along the way. He racked up 281 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bears and displayed the kind of accuracy and decision-making that Matt Nagy's offense calls for.

The Bears won't be the only suitors for Bridgewater's services, but the appeal of starting in Chicago with a defense that's proven it can win games on its own will at least be enticing for the former Lousiville star.

Sign TE Austin Hooper (Falcons)

Hooper will command a contract similar to what Chicago paid Trey Burton in 2018 (four years, $32 million), so it will be hard to justify tying up that much money in the tight end position. But as 2019 has proven, there's no way for Nagy's offense to reach its potential without a weapon at tight end in the passing game.

Hooper missed Week 11 with an MCL injury and could be on the shelf for a few more weeks, but he's been one of the league's better playmakers at tight end this season. He has 56 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns and has shown steady improvement over each year of his career. He had 71 catches for 660 yards and four scores in 2018.

Draft OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) in 2nd round

It'll take a little bit of luck for 'Prince' to fall to the Bears' first of two second-round picks, which right now sits at No. 46 overall. But the Bears have to be aggressive in upgrading the offensive line this offseason. While Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are serviceable offensive tackles, a player like Tega Wanogho has the kind of traits that could eventually develop into a top-tier starter on either side of the offensive line.

The Bears could decide to prioritize the interior of the offensive line in the draft, and that's fine. But the best (and cheapest) way to land a high-end offensive tackle is through the draft, and Pace has to swing for the fences on a pick like this in 2020.

Draft EDGE Yetur Gross Matos (Penn State) in 2nd round

Pass rushers like Gross Matos are often pushed up the draft board because of the premium placed on the position, but with several teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round and with the number of ridiculously talented wide receivers in the 2020 class, a player like Gross Matos could suffer a bit of a fall.

Gross Matos has six sacks so far this season, which is a respectable total but has fallen a tad short of expectations entering the year. He had eight sacks in 2018 and was a popular pick to explode as a sack artist this fall. Still, he has the athletic profile Pace loves in his pass rushers and would be an instant upgrade over Leonard Floyd, who's failed to live up to his first-round billing since joining the Bears in 2016.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?

Hub Arkush, JJ Stankevitz, and Ben Finfer join the birthday boy on today's show.

0:00 - Sunday's debacle in L.A. continues to dominate headlines. So what happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward? Is Matt Nagy's offense fixable? And how did a team that was one of the favorites for the Super Bowl fall apart this quickly?

16:00 - Jeremy Roenick joins Kap to talk about Kirby Dach's hot streak and if the Jeremy Colliton saved his job by making one tweak to his scheme.

24:00 - Dave Wannstedt joins Kap to discuss the fallout from Sunday's Bears loss to the Rams. How would Wanny handle Eddy Pineiro's confidence? Plus he talks about how to keep a team motivated with the playoff hopes essentially gone.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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