Bears-Eagles: Five things to watch
Here are five storylines to follow in this coming Sunday's Bears-Eagles contest.
1. The methods the Bears use to defend Vick
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick destroys the four-man rush. But he hasn’t yet faced a defense such as the Bears, which thrives on pressuring with the defensive ends and defensive tackles.
Interestingly, Vick -- according to ESPN Stats & Information -- owns a league-best 113.9 passer rating against the four-man rush, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bears, however, appear to be the best in the NFL at rushing with just four defenders. The Bears have gobbled up 12 interceptions, in addition to limiting opponents to a league-worst 64.4 passer rating when they’ve rushed fewer than five.
Perhaps that’s why the Bears' staff and players continue to say they won’t change what they normally do schematically Sunday against Vick. But don’t be surprised if Chicago throws in a couple of wrinkles (such as more nickel blitzes) to pressure the quarterback and force him to make quick decisions.
Because of Vick’s scrambling ability -- combined with Chicago’s desire to minimize his potential gains --it’s extremely important for the secondary to remain in coverage until the quarterback actually passes the line of scrimmage on runs. The Bears can’t afford for the secondary to play the guessing game when Vick appears set to scramble. If Vick can lure a defensive back one step toward the line of scrimmage by threatening to scramble, the result could be disastrous for the Bears given the quarterback’s strong arm and the speed of Eagles receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
2. How the Bears handle Vick’s weapons
Because of the impressive arsenal of offensive weaponry at Vick’s disposal, the Bears won’t be able to devote all their attention to containing the MVP candidate. So in the truest sense of the old adage, Chicago will have to play the Eagles honestly, which isn’t a bad thing because it’s what the Bears do best out of their Cover 2 heavy scheme.
Because of the scheme itself, aggressive corners, speedy linebackers and athletic defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, the Bears appear to be well suited to snuff out the screen game, which is arguably the hallmark of Philadelphia’s passing attack.
On the outside, the Eagles possess game-breaking speed with Jackson and Maclin, making it important for Chicago’s corners to disrupt their releases off the line to give safeties Chris Harris and Danieal Manning a better chance of staying over the top to prevent big plays.
3. How turnovers decide the outcome
Under Smith, the Bears own a 35-7 record when finishing on the positive side of the turnover battle, and the club is 10-25 when it winds up on the negative side. The Bears are 14-15 under Smith when the turnover ratio is equal, while the Eagles -- under coach Andy Reid -- are 23-21 given the same circumstances.
The encouraging news is that Vick, and running back LeSean McCoy have shown a tendency on tape to improperly secure the ball (especially Vick when he’s scrambling). If we noticed it on tape, there’s a good chance the opportunistic Bears defense saw it, too, and will look to take advantage.
4. Jay Cutler in the red zone
Chicago needs to recognize its predictability on offense in the red zone and adjust accordingly; Philadelphia’s turnover-generating defense could easily exploit the situation. Cutler currently ranks 31st in the NFL in red-zone passer rating (83.8). But what’s more concerning for the Bears is the pattern he’s established.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler has thrown to tight Greg Olsen and receiver Earl Bennett on 21 of 38 attempts in which he didn’t throw the ball away in the red zone, with Olsen being targeted nearly a third of the time for three of the team’s nine touchdowns.
5. Mike Martz’s play calling
Martz’s decision after the bye to alter the club’s penchant for passing to a more ground-oriented offense resulted in three consecutive outings in which the Bears ran the ball 30 or more times. Overall, the club is 5-0 when it rushes 30 times or more (137.8-yard average).
But it’s important to note that Philadelphia -- after giving up 138.8 yards per game on the ground through the first four games -- has tightened against the rush over its last six contests, limiting opponents to a 73.7-yard average.
So will Martz continue to call a more rush-heavy game against a Philadelphia defense likely to shut down Chicago’s rushing attack? Or will the coach grow impatient with minimal gains, and look to grab big chunks of yardage through the passing game, which in turn would raise the chances for turnovers while subjecting Cutler to more punishment?
How Martz reacts to Philadelphia testing his patience will go a long way toward determining the game’s final outcome. You can count on that.