Mystified as to why the Philadelphia Eagles would only give LeSean McCoy eight carries in the team’s 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, one week after Shady broke the franchise record for rushing yards in a game no less? You’re not alone, but don’t expect to see a repeat of that game plan versus the Chicago Bears this Sunday.
The Bears own the worst run defense in NFL this season by almost any measure, and there isn’t even a close second. They’re ranked dead last against the run (152.4) by nearly 20 full yards per game, are the only team in the league conceding more than 5.0 yards per attempt (5.2) and are tied for the most carries of 20 yards or more surrendered (16).
It’s almost as easy to move the chains on the ground against this defense as it is through the air. Furthermore, 29.5 percent of all running plays against Chicago result in a first down (anybody want to guess what place that is?) compared to 35.7 percent of passes.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia boasts the league’s No. 1 rushing attack (152.9), as well as the NFL’s individual leader in McCoy (1,343). Shady has the next closest back beat by over 100 yards, and that’s after going criminally underutilized in the Vikings game.
|Notable LeSean McCoy Rushing Performances (2013)|
|Week 1 @ WAS||31||184||5.9||1|
|Week 3 vs. KC||20||158||7.9||1|
|Week 10 @ GB||25||155||6.2||0|
|Week 14 vs. DET||29||217||7.5||2|
Why would Eagles head coach Chip Kelly opt to have Nick Foles throw the football at all?
Rhetorical question—obviously, they need to keep the opposition honest. Foles does struggle with his accuracy at times, though. His 62.0 completion rate is only 16th among quarterbacks with at least 14 pass attempts per team’s games played this season, as the 24-year-old signal-caller still tends to experience cold spells many weeks.
Fortunately, the Birds don’t have to rely on Foles as much they chose to in Minnesota, not with arguably the best back in the league ready to carry the load. The easiest and most efficient way to mobilize an offense against the Bears defense is by pounding the rock, and McCoy told reporters he wants the coaching staff to exploit that matchup. Via Alex Jones of PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
“I feel like this game, I want to put the offense on my back,” McCoy said on Wednesday. “I want to roll. I want to get going. I think that me and the guys up front, we have to set the tone. I think once we do that, we can worry about the other teams. For right now, I feel like the big guys up front and myself- we need to put this game on our backs and take care of business.”
Seems simple enough. Of course, the ability to stick with the run is partially contingent upon not getting blown out. And if Matt Cassel was able to light up the Eagles secondary with relative ease, what will Jay Cutler be allowed to do with perhaps the most dangerous three-headed monster in the league at his disposal?
Chicago Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense
|Chicago Bears Skill Players Statistics (2013)|
|RB Matt Forte||324||1,722||9|
|WR Alshon Jeffery||96||1,370||7|
|WR Brandon Marshall||90||1185||10|
|TE Martellus Bennett||59||659||5|
|Pro Football Reference|
One could easily make the case that the Bears—behind maybe the Denver Broncos—have assembled the deepest collection of offensive weapons in the NFL today.
Running back Matt Forte routinely finishes among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage, Brandon Marshall is headed to his fifth Pro Bowl at wide receiver and fellow wide receiver Marshall Alshon Jeffery has emerged as a legitimate star in his second season. Throw in Martellus Bennett at tight end, and it makes for one scary combination.
Chicago ranks seventh in total offense (393.4 YPG) and second in scoring (29.0) to only the Broncos. The unit is a challenge to slow down, regardless of who is under center for the Bears.
That would be Cutler, though many fans and analysts believe first-year head coach Marc Trestman should’ve stuck with journeyman Josh McCown. That’s largely a credit to how well McCown played in relief of the twice-injured Cutler—the backup’s 109.8 passer rating a full 20 points better—but is also very telling of the shine wearing off of the starter.
Despite giving up 382 yards through the air to Matt Cassel last Sunday, the Eagles should throw everything they have at Forte and take their chances on Cutler beating them. The Bears may be able to rack up numbers just as well, but the idea is to let Cutler and his protection make the mistakes.
Cassel was able to defeat Philly’s pass rush with his quick release, which at 2.49 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), is one of the fastest in the NFL this season. Cutler gets the ball out quickly, too (2.72 seconds), but the split-second difference might be more pronounced behind Chicago’s offensive line.
Actually, Bears quarterbacks have been sacked the third-fewest amount of times in the league (24), yet the line still charts as one of the worst pass-blocking units, according to Focus. In particular, tackles Jordan Mills (58) and Jermon Bushrod (40) have the first- and fourth-most “hurries” conceded, respectively, based on the site’s metrics (subscription).
Mills, a fifth-round rookie out of Louisiana Tech, has allowed his QB to get rushed 14 more times than the next closest player—though he’s only been charged with three sacks. Either way, the Eagles should bring extra pressure off of the edges, particularly to the right side with outside linebacker Connor Barwin and maybe a safety on occasion. Test the young man.
Whatever the reasoning behind it, Cutler will cough up the football if provided enough opportunities. He tossed two picks in his return against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, giving him 10 interceptions in nine games this year to go with three fumbles lost.
In fact, Cutler has never finished a season with fewer INTs than games played as a pro.
Of course, shutting down Forte is no easy task. The sixth-year back is heating up, rushing for over 100 yards in three consecutive games.
If the Eagles can just contain Forte, though, that’s going to force more dropbacks, and more dropbacks equals more chances for a Cutler mistake. Creating turnovers is half the battle, and with a run-heavy approach, Philadelphia will be well on its way to a victory with a couple of picks or a fumble or two.
The Eagles may be on their way to clinching a division championship as well. If the Dallas Cowboys lose prior to kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field, then Philly will take the NFC East with a win.
Not only that, but a W would guarantee the Birds a higher seed in the playoffs than the Bears, or whoever goes on to come out of the North. There’s a lot on the line this Sunday night in South Philly—force Jay Cutler earn it.