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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Leading up to the Eagles matchup with the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.
In this edition of our week-long comparison we will look at the front seven that the Bears and Eagles will field on Sunday.
Chicago DL/LBs | Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Jonathan Bullard, Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch
The Bears run a 3-4 defense and therefore rely heavily on their linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback. The Bears front seven is lead by Akiem Hicks on the line and Khalil Mack at linebacker. Both players were selected to the Pro Bowl and to the AP All-Pro Team (Mack as a first teamer and Hicks as a second teamer).
Mack was acquired in a trade with the Raiders this offseason as the Bears sent their next two first-round picks to Oakland for the outside linebacker. He is a dominant player who was selected to three Pro Bowls prior to this season, has appeared in the top 50 players each season since joining the league and has been selected to two former All-Pro teams. He has forced six fumbles and recovered two to go along with his 12.5 sacks this season. Lane Johnson will hope he can handle him as well as he did last season this Sunday.
Hicks has seven and a half of his own sacks and 55 tackles on the season to lead the line. The rest of the line is made up of Eddie Goldman (40 tackles, three sacks), Bilal Nichols (28 tackles, three sacks) and Jonathan Bullard (18 tackles).
The linebacking corps aside Mack is a far more formidable force. Seven-year veteran Danny Trevathan and rookie first-round pick Roquan Smith have been excellent in run stopping and blitzing, combining for 223 tackles and seven sacks. Add into that three interceptions and 11 defended passes, and you can see how the pair fairs in coverage situations to round out their complete playing abilities.
The linebacking corps is rounded out with Aaron Lynch and Leonard Floyd. The two have a combined eight seasons of experience and have registered 47 tackles, seven sacks, five defended
Philadelphia DL/LBs | Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Haloti Ngata, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill
The Eagles play a 4-3 defense and rely much more on their linemen to get pressure on the passer without linebacker help.
The undisputed leader of the front seven is Fletcher Cox. Cox was named NFC Defensive player of the week in week 17, was selected to the Pro Bowl and made PFF’s All-Pro team. He is the second best defensive lineman in the league behind only Aaron Donald. This season, he registered an absurd 95 pressures, which is more than any defensive tackle has ever registered other than the aforementioned Donald. He really broke out in weeks 14-17 when he led the league in pressures thanks to the return of Tim Jernigan and Schwartz placing Bennett inside at times. His season totals come out to 46 tackles, 34 QB hits, 10.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a defended pass.
His battery mate, Jernigan, missed a ton of time this season and only played 46 regular season snaps. He registered four tackles. The hope is that Jernigan is healthy to take on more snaps. In his place, Ngata, a five time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, has played more than anticipated and has been a bit of a disappointment with only 19 tackles and a sack on the season.
On the edge, starter Michael Bennett has been the most productive rusher. Although he started the season in a rotational role, the injury to Derek Barnett and Bennett’s production have earned him a larger role. He ends the season with 34 tackles, nine sacks, and two forced fumbles.
On the other side, Brandon Graham started the season rather unproductive as he suffered through an ankle injury. While he seems to have become more productive later in the season, his numbers look far more like his pre-2016 statistics than what he has registered the past two seasons. He ended the season at 39 tackles, a forced fumble and four sacks.
Chris Long has seen somewhat limited snaps, but has had enormous production when he is on the field. Although his 23 tackles are a bit low, his two forced fumbles and six and a half sacks have been key contributors and will be the plays that the Birds need to advance in the playoffs.
Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham play a majority of the snaps at linebacker and have registered a combined 188 tackles and five sacks this season despite Hicks missing multiple games and Bradham playing with a broken thumb. The two are very skilled at creating turnovers if they are able to be aggressive with the front four causing consistent pressure – something that hasn’t happened until the final few games of the season when Hicks missed time.
The final starting linebacker, special teams captain Kamu Grugier-Hill, is also playing with a broken thumb and is the only member of the front seven to register an interception this season. He also had 45 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
The decision here is a bit odd because of how differently the two defenses play. The Bears linebackers have hands down played better than the beat up Eagles unit, but while Chicago’s line has only one borderline elite player, Philadelphia has one of the best defensive lineman there is as well as two or three other borderline elite players.
With Philadelphia’s front seven finally reaching the healthiest they have been all season, it would be wrong to award a win to either team when each team has one unit obviously better than the other at full strength. This match-up is a draw.