THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Win turnover battle: The Eagles lead the league in turnover ratio at plus-13, while the Bears are at plus-3. The clubs are a combined 11-1 on the season when they win the turnover battle, which means the team that comes out on top in takeaways is likely to triumph in this contest. Although Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has thrown 191 passes without an interception (and lost his first fumble last week), he’s shown a tendency to improperly protect the ball on the move. Teams just haven’t exploited the situation because none have been able to get to Vick. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy shows the same tendencies.
Stick to the formula: It’s difficult to stick to something that’s ineffective. But there’s a good chance offensive coordinator Mike Martz winds up in a situation in which he’ll have to decide whether to abandon the run. The Eagles gave up 138.8 rushing yards per game in their first four outings, but have significantly improved, limiting opponents to a 73.7-yard average over their last six contests. The Bears haven’t put together strong rushing performances recently, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact the club is 5-0 this season when it runs the ball 30 or more times. So no matter how stagnant Chicago gets running the ball, it’s important to try to stick with it.
Disciplined safety play: Vick’s strong arm and scrambling ability combined with Philadelphia’s speed outside at receiver with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin make it paramount for safeties Danieal Manning and Chris Harris to play smart, disciplined ball. In fact, there’s a good chance the safeties play a step slow in run support. But that’s not a bad thing as long as Manning and Harris handle their responsibilities as deep defenders, and avoid biting on playaction fakes. The duo also can’t concern itself with the threat of Vick scrambling, because one misstep could result in a big play. Look for the Bears to find a way to get Major Wright on the field so they can take advantage of his athleticism.
THREE KEYS FOR THE EAGLES
Test Cover 2: There are weaknesses in the Cover-2 scheme that Vick can exploit. What are the chances the Bears corners get a good jam on the receivers all day? That’s not likely to happen. So when Jackson and Maclin come off the line clean, Vick has the ability to throw with enough velocity to consistently hit the “honey-hole ball” (in the area between the coverage responsibilities of the corners and safeties). If the receivers catch the ball with enough room in front of the safeties, they’ve got enough elusiveness to turn the completion into a big play. The Eagles should also try the seams with the slot receivers, too, and continue to test the discipline of the safeties with playaction and bootlegs.
Go after Cutler: Philadelphia comes from everywhere, so it’s no surprise that 10 different players have at least one sack. By getting to Jay Cutler consistently, the Eagles have a good chance of forcing the quarterback to make ill-advised throws (he’s shown a tendency to make one or two a game), which ups the chances for turnovers. It’s no secret the Bears are 10-25 in recent years when they fall on the wrong side of the turnover ratio, and Cutler has thrown seven interceptions in his last four games.
Score on opening drive: Chicago’s raucous crowd plays big in games at Soldier Field, so it’s important to take the fans out of it early. Besides that, the Eagles are 5-0 this season (51-13 under coach Andy Reid) when they score on their opening drive, and were 8-1 last year when they scored on the first drive. The Eagles have outscored opponents 48-0 in the first quarter over their last three games. So Philadelphia needs to continue the fast starts to have a chance against this red-hot Bears team.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: PEPPERS VS. PETERS
The Eagles probably won’t deploy much help to Peters’ side to help with Peppers, and it’s unlikely the offensive tackle can handle the defensive tackle consistently for an entire game. It’s important that Peppers applies enough pressure to make Michael Vick throw sooner than he wants. The Bears will also look to use Peppers to flush Vick -- a lefty -- to his right side (the quarterback scrambled to the right three times against the Giants and couldn’t throw the ball).
BY THE NUMBERS
35: Wins for the Bears compared to just seven losses under Lovie Smith when the club finishes a game with a positive turnover ratio.
6: Passing touchdowns allowed by the Bears which ranks as fewest in the league.
5.4: Yards per carry for the Eagles which ranks as the best average in the league.
124.4: Passer rating for Vick against the blitz, which ranks him first in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 45 attempts.