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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Four Downs: Is 30 the magic number?

By ESPNChicago.com

Jay Cutler
Can Jay Cutler lead the Bears to a playoff berth?
With the Bears' defense continuing to struggle, what do Jay Cutler and the offense need to do to get a win over the Eagles Sunday night? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears have to score more than 30 points to beat the Eagles.



Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have helped the Bears' offense put up some big numbers this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Philadelphia is seventh in the league in points scored (26.0) and has the No. 1 overall rushing offense at 152.9 yards per game. Defending the run has been one of the Bears’ greatest weaknesses this year. Even after holding the Cleveland Browns to fewer than 100 yards on the ground Sunday the Bears are still dead last in rushing defense (152.4). The Bears have done a better job defensively in recent weeks, but asking them to hold a powerful Eagles offense to fewer than 30 points is a stretch. This game on Sunday night has all the makings of a shootout.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. My personal over-under for the Eagles is 27 1/2 points, give a Cutler pick-six or two. Last week, the Bears defense had a bit of a renaissance, only giving up three scoring drives -- a field goal and two touchdowns. Of course, that was the Browns and this is the Eagles. Here are some numbers to chew on: In five of the Eagles' eight wins this season, they’ve scored 30 or more points, while none of their opponents scored 30. In three of their six losses, opponents scored 30 or more. So 30 points is a pretty good barometer for a win or a loss.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Matt Forte will have a better overall game than LeSean McCoy.



Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Don’t get me wrong; Forte is a force with 1,200 rushing yards (seven touchdowns) and 66 receptions through 14 games. Forte is growing stronger as the season wears on with three consecutive 100-plus yard rushing games. But from a statistical standpoint, McCoy is even more dangerous. The Eagles tailback leads the NFL with 1,343 rushing yards and 1,850 yards from scrimmage, and has the luxury of taking on the league’s dead-last rushing defense. The Bears will be hard pressed to hold McCoy below 150 yards on the ground. Forte’s test is a little stiffer; Philadelphia is No. 16 versus the run.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I don’t know how the Bears are going to scheme McCoy, but the inclusion of Lance Briggs, if he plays as expected, will sure help. The Eagles offense is full of misdirection and as McCoy says, once the defenses figure out where he is with the ball, he’s already in the secondary. The Eagles defense isn’t fantastic either, so I think Forte will have a solid game, but I’m guessing the Bears go to the air more and Forte doesn’t get as many carries as McCoy.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: If Jay Cutler struggles in the next two games, Marc Trestman should turn to Josh McCown.



Chicago's Josh McCown and Jay Cutler
Josh McCown is unlikely to play again this season now that Jay Cutler is healthy.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears have cast their lot with Cutler. There is no going back. Cutler is the guy for the rest of 2013 regular season and postseason, win or lose. If Bears were to bench Cutler for performance reasons, that would be the end for Cutler in Chicago. I don’t believe the Bears want to or expect to go down that path. Unless Cutler gets hurt or the game is a major blowout, McCown is unlikely to see the field again this year.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. You can’t coach the team like a sports talk radio caller. This wasn’t even much of a decision. Cutler is the starter and he was going to start as long as he was healthy. That doesn’t mean McCown isn’t the safer option, because he is, but Cutler is their guy and if he’s healthy, he’ll play. Now if he’s struggling because he’s injured, I hope Trestman pulls the plug quicker than he did in the Detroit game. Otherwise, it’s Cutler’s time to win or lose.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs is the most important player on the Bears defense.



Lance Briggs
Lance Briggs will be a big upgrade to the Bears linebackers when he returns to the field.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Briggs is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who remained at the top of his game (75 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and nine tackles-for-loss) at the time of his injury. It’s been mostly downhill for the Bears defense ever since Briggs fractured his shoulder in Washington on Oct. 10. His return to the field would be an enormous lift to the Bears as they fight to win the NFC North.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Right now he is, anyway. This defense isn’t exactly chock full of keepers. And you can’t have two rookies start in a linebacker group and expect to succeed. The game is too predicated on instinct and experience. In training camp, Jon Bostic, a cerebral and athletic young player, told me he was in awe of Briggs, who seemed to have a sixth sense on the field. Thanks to D.J. Williams’ injury, Bostic has been thrown into the starting unit after barely playing in the beginning of the season. He can react and make plays, but he can’t sniff out what’s going to happen. While Briggs won’t be in the best shape, he can make this group respectable the last two weeks just by being on the field in place of Khaseem Greene. I’m looking to see if Briggs forces a fumble this week. The Bears haven’t had one since Week 4 when Briggs and Corey Wootton each forced one. As we know, turnovers are the key to this defense. Maybe Briggs will bring some of that spirit back to the defense.