- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first in a three-team preview of Bears' potential playoff matchups Jan. 16 at Soldier Field.
Record: 10-6 Seed: No. 3
Last meeting: Bears 31, Eagles 26 on Nov. 28 at Soldier Field
Besides the victory over the New York Jets in Week 16, the Bears' home win against Philadelphia easily qualifies as the most impressive performance of the season. The best quarterback on the field that day wasn't Michael Vick, it was Jay Cutler, who threw four touchdown passes to three different receivers -- Earl Bennett (2), Johnny Knox and Greg Olsen. But perhaps the most important statistic of the game: Cutler and the Bears' offense didn't turn the ball over. Matt Forte rushed for 117 yards on just 14 carries, and with the exception of one particularly bad series, the Bears' offensive line put forth a decent effort.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears' defense did a wonderful job taking away the Eagles' dual vertical threats of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Sitting back in the Cover 2, the Bears safeties dropped so deep it was impossible for Jackson or Maclin to get behind the defense. Maclin did catch a touchdown, but Jackson was so ineffective -- two receptions for 26 yards -- he was reportedly called out by Philadelphia coach Andy Reid in the postgame locker room.
Chris Harris made arguably the biggest play of the game when he intercepted a tipped Vick pass in the end zone near the end of the first half. The Bears only allowed one Eagles' touchdown on five trips inside the red zone. Vick hit Brent Celek on a 30-yard scoring play late in the game, and even though the Philadelphia quarterback compiled impressive numbers (377 all-purpose yards), the Bears' defense held Vick and Co. in check.
Keys to the rematch: Asante Samuel failed to suit up versus the Bears in Week 12, so Cutler, the receiving corps and Mike Martz must deal with one of the NFL's top cornerbacks (seven interceptions). Considering how poorly the Bears fared against the Packers secondary at Lambeau Field, Samuel's presence would be a sizeable storyline if the these two teams square off in the postseason. But if the Bears found a way to once again protect the ball while at the same time employing an intelligent run-to-pass ratio, the offense should put some points on the board. The Bears missed Earl Bennett against Green Bay, and they need the former third-round pick to be healthy in the playoffs since he takes pressure off Cutler by consistently running good routes and getting open from the slot position.
Neutralizing Jackson and Maclin will again be critical, and the Bears cannot afford the types of breakdowns in deep coverage we saw in Green Bay. It's impossible to completely shut down Vick, but the Eagles are a different team when LeSean McCoy gets going on the ground. McCoy, one of the top multi-purpose backs in the NFL, was somewhat quiet in the regular season meeting, but averaged 5.2 yards per carry on the season, and is always a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield (eight receptions against the Bears, 78 on the season).
The Bears' coverage units limited Jackson to only 36 yards on punt returns, while Devin Hester and Danieal Manning gave the Bears solid field position on kickoff return. Those feats must be duplicated. Hester returned the opening kickoff of the second half 46 yards which set up a Cutler to Olsen 9-yard touchdown pass.
It's difficult to beat the same team twice in one season, but the Bears showed you the blueprint for how to defeat Philadelphia over a month ago. Can they do it again?