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Eagles Plan: Bear Down Monday Night

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Nov 3 2011 @ 11:14 am In Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment

Most Eagles fans were calling in sick from work while they celebrate Philadelphia’s drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys. While we are all proud of our team’s effort to salvage their season (3-4) with two straight wins (sandwiched around a bye week), in this economy perhaps we should all report to the jobs we have and not get too carried away. That goes for Eagles coaches and players as well as employees of Lincoln Financial Field. For the second straight week the Eagles will host a prime time performance but this time it will be Monday Night hosting the Chicago Bears (4-3).

While these modern Monsters of the Midway are not the fearsome teams of yesteryear featuring Dick “Why the Hell Would I Need a Nickname, Jerkface” Butkus or “Samurai Mike” Singletary, the Chicago Bears will prove a more imposing foe than the patchwork Dallas Cowboys. The Bears rank among eight NFC teams who have better records than the Eagles – meaning Philadelphia has to leapfrog at least two of these teams to even be mathematically alive for a playoff spot. Divisional tiebreakers and head-to-head records only factor in after overall record. Essentially, every week is a must-win for the Eagles who (thanks to their 1-4 start) can’t afford to lose more than one or two games the remainder of the season.

Every week in the NFL is a challenge, filled with schemes, adjustments and brute physical force but we all know that in-game adjustments are not the forte of Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid. Generally, Reid likes when the game goes according to script – meaning pass to get the lead, mix in some runs and screens to foul up the pass rush and then run to maintain the lead in the second half. Eagles scored in each quarter in their 34-7 win over Dallas. They kicked FG, and scored TD both passing and rushing. They converted on 58% of their third downs and reached the end zone on four of their six red-zone opportunities. The defense racked up four sacks and an INT and committed zero turnovers. That worked last week but aside from the turnovers, there is no guarantee the same game plan will work this week.

Chicago will have done their homework, studied their game film and identified Philadelphia’s weaknesses (most of which were masked by the 34-7 beat down). The Bears pass rush will attack the Eagles improving offensive line while Philadelphia tries to balance the threat of LeSean McCoy scampering or Michael Vick scrambling. Philadelphia hopes to free up the downfield passing game with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek but can’t do that if Vick is on his back or “Shady” is tied up in the backfield. Chicago Head Coach Lovie Smith needs only analyze the All-22 from the Dallas game to recognize the formations and schemes which felled the Cowboys. Don’t expect Lance Briggs or Brian Urlacher to be so easily fooled.

In their most impressive performance of the year, the Eagles improved up and down their stat sheet checklist.  The most important statistic for both sides may be that zero in the turnover column. It’s no coincidence that Philadelphia turned in their best performance since their historic 59-point walloping in Washington last year (on Monday Night Football). It was also the first turnover-free game personally for QB Michael Vick since that watershed win over the Redskins. Vick coughed up at least one turnover in 13 consecutive games since that game – including the 2010 playoffs.

The Eagles put up 495 yards of offense against the Cowboys and scored 34 points. Against San Francisco, 513 yards translated into 23 points and a second quarter comeback resulting in a loss – in large part because of three giveaways, two missed FG and poor clock management. Against Buffalo, 489 yards offset by five turnovers left the Eagles with just 24 on the scoreboard – one TD short of a fourth quarter comeback. You don’t even have to do the math on this one. Zero turnovers means more wins. More wins means the Eagles playoff hopes remain alive and this guarantees that Eagles fans will not storm the field (ensuring Eagles players and Head Coach will also remain alive rather than becoming Headless Coach for the foreseeable future).

The standings bear that out (pun actually un-intended) – to some extent combined with obvious offensive execution. The teams with the fewest giveaways – Detroit (5 turnovers) and San Francisco (6) – are a combined 12-3 this season. Next would be the anachronistic Minnesota Vikings with seven giveaways (and their 2-6 record). Nothing is foolproof – even in the NFL.

Six teams have just eight giveaways - and five of those have winning records -  including the division-leading Packers, Texans, and Chicago Bears. By contrast, the Eagles lead the league in giveaways with 17, followed by the Broncos, Redskins, Chiefs and Chargers (16 each) then Cowboys and Colts (14 apiece). Only the Chiefs and Chargers have winning records in this group. The Eagles may turn that around with a couple more wins but they have already changed their behavior to cutdown those net turnovers.

Last season, eight of the 12 teams that reached the playoffs finished in the top 10 in net turnovers. The Eagles got off to a horrendous start in that category but had just two giveaways against the Redskins before playing turnover-free on Sunday. There is a lot to be said for these changes week to week. Slow and steady improvement means a two game winning streak…or three?

Players and coaches said the difference was a simple change of fortune after a plague of bad bounces early on. Tipped balls seemed to find their way directly to opponents. Fumbles were not recovered. Opportunities missed. Fortunes seemed to change against the Redskins. Brent Celek batted a ball several times but caught it circus-style. A throw tipped in the red zone popped high into the air but settled safely into Jeremy Maclin’s hands. When Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett couldn’t catch a pass, it hung up just long enough for Nnamdi Asomugha to make a diving interception.

Look for the Bears to do what they do best which is bottle up the run, attack the passing game (by attacking the QB) and making the Eagles one dimensional. On offense Chicago’s pass-run ratio is about 2:1 and while they can score about 3 TD per game (13th in points scored, 16th in total yards, 17th in passing yards, 15th in rushing yards), their offense is completely reliant upon the effectiveness of RB Matt Forte. Shutting Forte down is far more easily said than done but putting the game into the hands of Bears QB Jay Cutler pits the Eagles Bermuda Triangle (Samuel, Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie) against an inferior passing attack (Hester, Knox) and a weakened pass block (first round pick Gabe Carimi is out, Olin Kreutz was let go in preseason and has since retired and there is much turmoil filling those holes).

The Bears and Eagles are both seeking a third straight victory and with a national audience, only one team will be successful. Turnovers will be the most important statistic but wins and losses start in the trenches. Can the Eagles pass protect and run block well enough to dominate the line of scrimmage and allow their superior offensive weapons to put this game away before halftime? Can the Bears defense cripple the Philadelphia offense or will the onus come down to the Eagles linebackers and defensive secondary?

The Eagles hope their recent turn of fortune goes a long way to carry them into the playoffs. While it is better to be lucky than good, luck is not enough to win consistently in the NFL. Look for the Eagles biggest challenge to date which could really go either way. I choose to be optimistic expecting Philadelphia to score early and often, hopefully putting the game on ice by the third quarter.


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Bird Droppings:

- Eagles RB LeSean McCoy was excused from Wednesday and Thursday practices with flu-like symptoms. Speculation that these symptoms were the result of attenting a concert with several of his teammates was refuted by team officials – indicating that McCoy’s symptoms had been manifesting all week.Ronnie Brown and Dion Lewis took increased snaps in practice and the extra reps could help them to spell McCoy during the Bears game. Lewis was inactive last week due to a Sunday fender bender while Brown is recovering from being traded from and recalled into service with the Eagles.

- Special teams coach Bobby April responded to questions regarding punter Chas Henry. April admitted when questioned that the team had been trying out punters during the Eagles bye week. The thought was that Henry experiences difficulty with directional punting – especially useful when trying to pin the opponent inside their own territory on long punts.

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