By Patrick Del Gaone, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears in a nationally-televised matchup between NFC hopefuls this Monday night.
Chicago will look to avoid an 0-2 start, which would significantly damage their chances of making the postseason. Only 12 percent of teams that begin the year 0-2 go on to make the playoffs in the NFL.
With anticipation of the game building rapidly, here’s a look at how the teams match up against each other.
Chicago Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense
When facing Jay Cutler, you never quite know what to expect. At times, the gunslinger will marvel teammates and opponents alike with his ability to precisely fire a pass in between multiple defenders, perfectly exemplified by his 19-yard touchdown throw to Eddie Royal in the season opener.
Unfortunately for Cutler, some of the most critical throws in the NFL are often the ones which end up out of play.
Turnovers have plagued the Vanderbilt product throughout his 11-year career. He’s thrown 143 interceptions compared to 205 touchdowns since entering the league. It’s imperative for the Bears to keep their mistake-prone quarterback upright if they want to win this paramount contest.
Protecting Cutler is a stable interior of the offensive line, with guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton on either side of highly-touted rookie Cody Whitehair. If Whitehair needs an example of the mental and physical toughness needed to be a productive lineman in the NFL, Long is the perfect illustration. The 6'6", 320-pound right guard is playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and plans to continue to do so for the remainder of the year.
Jim Schwartz could line up gargantuan defensive tackle Fletcher Cox opposite Long to test the shoulder injury. If so, he’ll likely need assistance from Whitehair, a second-round selection from Kansas State, which would allow one-on-one matchups along the remainder of the offensive line, an advantage for the Eagles.
Normally, the center-quarterback exchange is a given in the NFL, but Whitehair played left tackle in his final season at Kansas State, and only snapped the ball ten times in the preseason. The unfamiliarity between Cutler and his new center led to a fumbled snap on a crucial fourth and one last Sunday.
In Week 1, the Texans exposed the bookends of Chicago’s offensive line, Bobby Massie and Charles Leno. Houston sacked Cutler five times and forced an interception on a miscommunication with Bears rookie wideout Kevin White.
The key to victory for Philadelphia’s defense will be slowing down Alshon Jeffrey, among the most talented receivers in the NFL.
In the opener, Jeffrey caught four passes for 105 yards but failed to reach the end zone despite averaging over 25 yards per catch. With top corner Leodis McKelvin unlikely to suit up in the primetime showdown, the onus mainly falls on Nolan Carroll to keep the physically imposing former South Carolina product from crossing the goal line for the second consecutive week. Expect Carroll and Jalen Mills to receive plenty of help over the top from safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, as stopping Jeffrey will take a collaborative effort from all facets of the Eagles defense.
Eagles Offense vs. Bears Defense
Chicago’s defense was gashed last week by former Philadelphia Catholic League MVP and Roman Catholic product Will Fuller, who hauled in five catches for 107 yards and a score in his NFL debut. Much like Cleveland, the Bears have an inexperienced secondary which was exploited by Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, who completed 65 percent of his passes.
In 2015, the Bears accumulated only eight interceptions and allowed just under 25 points per game (20th in NFL). Expect Doug Pederson to once again unleash Carson Wentz, after establishing the run, as he looks to perpetuate the rookie’s soaring confidence against another favorable opponent.
With starting tight end Zach Ertz likely sidelined, Trey Burton will get his chance to translate a stellar training camp to the regular season in front of a national audience. Burton’s versatility and athleticism should allow the Philadelphia passing attack to remain efficient provided they once again adequately protect Wentz.
The Bears run a complex 3-4 defensive scheme which will look to create pressure from outside linebackers Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho. Chicago’s defense was a one-man show in the season opener. Inside linebacker Jarrell Freeman totaled 17 tackles, but received little help from his teammates as Texans halfback Lamar Miller surpassed 100 yards on the ground.
Perhaps the Bears best defensive player is their stout, yet deceptively athletic nose tackle Eddie Goldman. In the preseason, Goldman displayed relentless effort and outstanding agility on a play against Kansas City when he rose from the turf to chase down a Chiefs screen play, eventually lunging from behind to strip the ball from the fullback just a few yards before the goal line.
For the Eagles offense to succeed on the road, they’ll need enough initial push in the trenches against Goldman and the Bears front-seven to create a potent rushing attack, much like the Texans did, which will subsequently open up the passing game for Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham downfield. Expect Chicago’s front-seven to use plenty of twists in attempt to confuse the Philadelphia front and create a collapsing pocket around Wentz.
Player of the Game: Jordan Matthews
Prediction: Eagles win 24-21