5 things to watch: Bears at Eagles

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
8:00
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Here are five things to watch when the Chicago Bears face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field:

Run D: Chicago’s 32nd-ranked rush defense faces a significant test trying to hold down Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, who spearheads the Eagles’ No. 1-ranked rushing attack. The last time the Bears faced a top-5 running back, they gave up 211 yards to Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. Told of Peterson’s accomplishment, McCoy said, “Wow.”

“Hey man, like I told the media here today, I feel like I’m going to put this game on my back,” McCoy added. “I really want to go out there and showcase what we can do offensively, running the ball. I bet the guys up front, me and them together, can get this thing done. So that’s the challenge for me and the guys up front. I’m not going to give you a number prediction because I don’t know.”

Jay Cutler: Cutler said he feels “at ease” now after dealing with all the drama last week leading up to the matchup at Cleveland. But he’ll be under the microscope once again, and can’t afford to start off the way he did against the Browns.

“We’ve got a real good plan this week, I think. The guys on offense are playing at about as high of a level as I think you could play around me, so it makes it easy for me,” Cutler said. “Just find the open guy. The offensive line has done a great job all year, and they’re still doing a great job of protecting me.”

Cutler needs to repay the offensive line with a fast start against a banged-up Eagles secondary that could be vulnerable against big-play receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Matt Forte: Forte is on a three-game tear in which he’s rushed for 100 yards or more, including last week’s season-high 127 yards at Cleveland. Forte needs to continue that level of production to get Philadelphia’s defensive front on its heels so the Bears can attack through the air via play-action.

“I want to see Matt Forte have the best year he ever had,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It’s a trickle-down effect, the individual stuff helps the organization, the team. When you see Alshon [Jeffery] balling, Martellus [Bennett] having a career year, Matt Forte having a career year, it makes it so much easier for everybody.”

That’s because Forte, believe it or not, is the focal point of the offense. He makes the whole thing go.

Protection: Philadelphia’s defensive front utilizes lots of pre-snap movement to confuse offensive linemen as they try to identify the threats to the protection scheme. So, Chicago’s offensive line needs to make the proper calls and adjustments in what should be a difficult environment on the road.

“Philly has a dynamic front seven because they play this 3-4 defense, but they move a lot,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “Most teams just sit in their gaps and stuff the run that way. This Philadelphia defense is very athletic and even though they’re in this 3-4 defense, they’re moving, they’re stunting, they’re blitzing, they’re pressuring. It looks on tape like they’re whole goal is just get the ball back for the offense. They’re going to try to force turnovers. They’re going to do everything to confuse you. So everybody has to follow their rules closely in the game and stick with their technique to have success.”

Chicago’s receivers: With Philadelphia's secondary coming off an outing in which Minnesota’s Matt Cassel shredded them for 382 yards through the air, the Eagles aren’t even sure who they’ll start on Sunday in the secondary. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Roc Carmichael have struggled, as have nickel corner Brandon Boykin and safety Patrick Chung, who has already been benched due to performance issues. Safety Earl Wolff is arguably Philadelphia’s most consistent player in the secondary, and he’s a rookie.

But Marshall says the stakes are too high in this game to overlook anybody.

“For us, the science of our football doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re going to play our football,” Marshall said. “So the same routes, and same concepts, same formations, we're going to get to that. There may be one or two things that we tweak here and there, but for the most part our football is our football. So we try to focus more on ourselves than an opponent. Last week Greg Jennings had a big day, but it doesn't mean that Alshon or myself will do the same. We may get it done in the running game, you never know, or special teams or the defense. I'm not licking my chops. This is a playoff game and those guys will give us their best shot.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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