The Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 16 game with the Chicago Bears took an interesting twist last week. By virtue of the Dallas Cowboys losing to the Green Bay Packers (in stunning fashion, no less), this Eagles-Bears game is no longer a must-win for Chip Kelly’s squad.
Philadelphia (8-6) can actually afford to lose this matchup and still win the NFC East crown at Dallas the following week. The Cowboys (7-7) can beat Washington next Sunday, but even an Eagles loss would still make the two clubs tied at 8-7 and squaring off with the division title on the line, a la 2009.
A Cowboys loss would give the Eagles the opportunity to win the division on prime-time football as a win over Chicago coupled with the Dallas loss would give Kelly a division title and assure the Week 17 game to be meaningless.
But, regardless of what happens in the early game between Dallas and Washington, count on Kelly to play to win the night game. The Eagles saw their five-game winning streak and momentum snapped against the hapless Vikings, and cornerback Cary Williams even admitted Philly thought they could win the game just by showing up.
The defense, which let up nearly 400 yards to backup Matt Cassel and three touchdowns to no-name running back Matt Asiata, will look to revive itself on a national stage. Meanwhile, the offense, which has played so well under second-year quarterback Nick Foles, will need to keep putting up points in bunches.
Look for a competitive game between two teams each fighting for a postseason berth and one that could very likely come down to which quarterback can make more plays. The Eagles’ defense will need to show it can contain All-Pro-caliber wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but if the Birds’ offense can put up enough points against a porous Chicago defense, Philly can emerge victorious.
LeSean McCoy Should Touch the Football 30-Plus Times
With all due respect to Nick Foles, the game plan for this contest should be centered around dynamic running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy is arguably the league’s most talented player at his position, and he has the uncanny ability to simply take over a game. Just ask the Detroit Lions.
McCoy enters Week 16 leading the NFL with 1,343 rushing yards. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and he’s also caught 45 passes for 508 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. McCoy, who leads the league with 1,851 yards from scrimmage, is averaging close to 25 touches per game.
Yet, the Eagles inexplicably gave McCoy just eight carries and 13 total touches in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He should definitely be fresh for this matchup with the Chicago Bears.
Oh, and he gets a run defense that is not just ineffective but downright historically awful.
The Bears have never recovered from the season-ending injury to defensive tackle Henry Melton, and with starter Nate Collins on IR as well, Chicago is down to a pair of backups against the NFL’s best run-blocking offensive line.
Chicago has allowed 2,134 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per attempt—that’s a full 279 more rushing yards than the second-worst team. The Bears are on pace to become the first team since the 2006 Indianapolis Colts (who unbelievably won the Super Bowl) to allow at least 5.2 rushing yards per attempt for an entire season. That’s how bad this group of players has performed.
The Eagles have an elite offensive line. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are as athletic a group of offensive tackles as there are in this business. Evan Mathis is the game’s best guard, and Jason Kelce is a center terrific at getting down the field. That’s an extremely favorable matchup for Philadelphia.
There’s no reason not to give McCoy the ball all game. He’s good enough to take over a game, and the Eagles need to let him do it.
Nick Foles Needs to Play a Turnover-Free Game
The Philadelphia Eagles have been getting phenomenal play from their second-year quarterback Nick Foles this season.
Essentially a backup thrust into the starting role when Michael Vick was hurt, Foles has taken his game to a historic level: 26 total touchdowns, just two interceptions, a 117.0 passer rating and 10.4 adjusted yards per pass attempt, the second-best single-season total in league history.
But, he was off his game last week. Foles’ final numbers looked great as he threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. He even rushed for 41 yards on the ground. He missed too many throws, though, sailing passes and taking sacks when he should have found a way to get rid of the football.
Foles will have to play at a higher level against Chicago. The Bears have the NFL’s No. 27 defense in terms of yards and No. 28 for points. They’re without top cornerback Charles Tillman and nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden, each of whom is on injured reserve.
Chicago gets minimal pressure on the opposing quarterback, checking in at dead-last in the league in sacks (26). Julius Peppers (6.5 sacks) isn’t the force he used to be, and former first-round pick Shea McClellin is cementing his status as a bust.
Foles needs to play well in this game. The stakes are high, regardless of how the Cowboys do. It’s a nationally televised prime-time contest against a tough NFC opponent, and the Eagles have a good chance to move into the No. 3 seed in the playoffs should they win this one.
DeSean Jackson Needs to Make a Play
Chip Kelly’s offense is really bringing out the best in DeSean Jackson. After consecutive sub-1,000-yard seasons, Jackson is already at 75 receptions, 1,275 yards and nine touchdowns with two games still to play.
Jackson put up a career game last week. He became the second Philadelphia Eagles receiver ever to post a 10/190/1 stat line in one contest. He will be covered by Tim Jennings, an underrated corner with three interceptions this season. Jennings is allowing just a 51 percent completion rate on passes thrown his way; although, he will have his hands full with the speedy Jackson.
Like many Eagles games, this could come down to whether or not Jackson can make a play. The Eagles are 18-4 all time when he scores a touchdown of 35 or more yards. Should Chicago keep safety Major Wright deep to keep Jackson from breaking one deep, that leaves more opportunities for LeSean McCoy in the running game.
Play Smart, Fundamentally Sound Football
It’s not at all a guarantee that the Philadelphia Eagles win this football game, but scoring points shouldn’t be the problem. Chicago’s high-powered offense has the capability of putting up four or five touchdowns with ease, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis will face arguably his toughest test of the season.
Offensively, the Eagles can help their defense by simply doing what they do best. That’s running the football, minimizing their turnovers and striking quickly via long passes to either DeSean Jackson or Riley Cooper.
Chip Kelly’s game plan for Week 15 was puzzling in several areas. He clearly didn’t trust his kick-coverage units to contain rookie playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson as he ordered Alex Henery to essentially short kick it every time. That backfired as the Minnesota Vikings were handed superb field position over and over again.
Another of Kelly’s strange calls was to go for it on 4th-and-short deep in his own territory, still just in the third quarter. The fact that Kelly trusts his team enough to risk that is a tribute to the offensive line, but ultimately, that call is judged on the end result.
For Week 16, a basic strategy should suffice: high-percentage passes, a steady supply of handoffs to McCoy and solid tackling on kick coverage. While the Eagles can lose this game and still capture the division, traveling to Dallas after a win will bring with them much more momentum than doing so after a loss.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Bears 27