NFC Wild Card Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears
By Ha Kung Wong
Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears
4:40 PM ET – Sunday, January 6, 2019
Spread: Bears @ -5.5
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Offense: 16th Overall per DVOA / 11th Passing / 27th Rushing
Defense: 15th Overall per DVOA / 15th vs. Pass / 9th vs. Run
The Eagles have been an incredible story. At least for anyone who isn’t a Minnesota Vikings fan. Going into a Week 15 showdown with the top rated LA Rams, and with just a 6-7 record and Carson Wentz injured once again, Nick Foles led the Eagles to 3 straight wins and playoff berth, thanks in part, ironically, to the Bears beating the Vikings in Week 17. Foles was terrible subbing for Wentz at the beginning of the regular season, but somehow thrives in high pressure situations, even tying an NFL record 25 straight completions in Week 17 against the Redskins. There’s something to be said for “fate” and “momentum” and the Eagles love being the underdog, but I think the run stops here.
The Eagles have been winning games on the back of Foles’ clutch ability to locate receivers downfield, as well as time of possession. In fact, over the last three games in which Foles was under center, the Eagles averaged the longest time of possession of any team in the NFL (36:13). However, the Eagles did it on the back of Foles, not their backfield-by-committee, which only totaled just over 120 rush yards in a Week 17 game that they were leading the entire time. On the season, the Eagles have the 5th least rush yards per game in the NFL (98.1).
To win, the Eagles will need to continue to play ball control, but they’re unfortunately up against a top ranked Bears defense and a Bears team that actually has the 3rd longest average time of possession over the last 3 games (34:20), and the 3rd longest over the entire season.
If Foles is forced to pass the ball to sustain drives, that just plays into the Bears top ranked pass defense, who also happen to lead the league in takeaways (36 — 27 of which by INT). Pressure from Khalil Mack will be difficult to control and can cause Foles to make mistakes, which is something the Eagles can’t have if they want to win.
On defense, the key will be DT Fletcher Cox. Cox is a staple on the Eagles defense, and can make up for a sub-par secondary with a relentless pass rush. In fact, Cox has the most total pressures among all defenders (29) over the last 4 weeks, and has the 2nd most total pressures (95) of all defenders over the regular season according to Pro Football Focus. Trubisky can make mistakes, and if Cox is consistently disrupting the pocket, it could make it difficult for the Bears to effectively move the ball downfield.
Fletcher Cox was the NFL leader in total pressures over the final four weeks of the season. pic.twitter.com/TMUBXGzCX0
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 1, 2019
Chicago Bears (12-4)
Offense: 20th Overall per DVOA / 20th Passing / 16th Rushing
Defense: 1st Overall per DVOA / 1st vs. Pass / 2nd vs. Run
The Bears finally have their franchise QB. Mitchell Trubisky wasn’t terribly popular amongst Bears fans when the Bears traded the farm away in 2017 to move up one spot and acquire him 2nd overall in the Draft, but it turns out that it was the right move after all. As we’ve seen from the Jacksonville Jaguars, among others, it almost doesn’t matter how good the rest of your team is if you don’t have a reliable QB.
Along with acquiring some viable targets in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton [UPDATE: Trey Burton is now questionable to play, but I think Adam Shaheen would step in to fill the role so as not to offset the offense] via free agency and drafting Anthony Miller in the 2nd round of this year’s Draft, the offense is finally coming together. A much expanded role for Tarik Cohen has seriously improved the explosiveness of this offense, and Jordan Howard has managed to come on late and re-establish the ground game that was missing earlier in the regular season. The Eagles may be ranked 15th against the pass and 9th against the run, but they allowed the 3rd most pass yards per game (269.3) and are just 24th against RB receptions, something that Cohen excels at. The only major issue on offense is Cody Parkey, who has the 6th lowest FG percentage (76.7%) in the NFL this season, although the Eagles’ Jake Elliott is only slightly better at 18th overall (83.9%).
On defense, the big news has been LB Khalil Mack, but DT Akiem Hicks, S Eddie Jackson and CB Kyle Fuller (who have the 5th and 1st most passes defensed in the league this year) have also been lights out, and all four were named to the Pro Bowl. LBs Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd round out this top ranked defense, each of which being named as alternates to the Pro Bowl. As I mentioned above, this defense has the most takeaways of any team in the NFL, and it isn’t close. Even if Jackson can’t make it back from a Week 15 ankle injury, I see this as the biggest hurdle for the Eagles.
A couple of others made the second teamhttps://t.co/EgBVZxgApY
— PFF CHI Bears (@PFF_Bears) January 1, 2019
Foles is certainly magic, and the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champs and love being the underdog, but I don’t think they have the offense to consistently put up points and avoid turnovers facing the best defense in the league at Soldier Field. The Eagles defense has been much improved of late, but still are of the bend-don’t-break variety, and that should be enough for Trubisky to put points on the board.