Two budding NFC powerhouses led by offensive innovators collide Friday in Week 1 of the NFL preseason when the Philadelphia Eagles travel to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears.
After an innovative offense led the Eagles to 10 wins and a division crown, Chip Kelly is back for a second time with more toys than ever at his disposal. The road trip marks the first time this season he gets to throw it all on the field and see what happens.
Had an untimely injury not struck quarterback Jay Cutler, Marc Trestman's first year as head coach would have followed a very similar trajectory. Instead, Chicago came in second place in the NFC North with a .500 mark, but the hints of an elite offense were surely there.
In other words, fans should expect nothing but explosive action between the two sides, from the first string right on down to the training camp bodies who will see time. Here is how to catch the game and some particulars to key on as it happens.
When: Friday, Aug. 8, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago
Watch: WPVI (local)
Live Stream: NFL Preseason Live
Betting Info (via Odds Shark)
Spread: Chicago (-1.5)
Team Injury Reports
Updated info can be found here once reports are released.
Kelly's New Weapons
As if the presence of last year's rushing leader, LeSean McCoy, and wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper is not enough, the Eagles front office went out and added more weapons to surround quarterback Nick Foles.
The most notable acquisition was former New Orleans Saints scatback Darren Sproles, who can do it all—line up in the backfield, at wideout and return kicks. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur stressed this is the objective, per Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com:
Shurmur: We're trying to use Darren Sproles every which way we can.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 31, 2014
Considering Sproles' numbers in pass-happy New Orleans, he is easily one of the top names to watch Friday and beyond:
|Year||Rush||Yds||AVG||TD||Rec||Yds||TD||KO YDS||PR YDS|
The fact he can be on the field at all times right along with McCoy is both videogame-esque and unfair.
Two rookie wideouts seem set to make major contributions Friday, something that may very well translate to the regular season.
The first is No. 86 pick Josh Huff out of Oregon, a talent who some suggested could replace DeSean Jackson sooner rather than later. He has lined up pretty much everywhere with the team so far and figures to get major playing time against the Bears to prove his worth.
The other is second-round pick Jordan Matthews, who has worked his way up to the first team, as noted by Zach Berman of the The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Big day for Jordan Matthews. Not just lining up with 1s, but also playing on outside.— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 5, 2014
If his effort in camp—illustrated by Shurmur, via Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News—is any indication, Matthews is set to put on a show in his pro debut:
Pat Shurmur: Jordan Matthews is 1 of team’s best finishers. After catch he “sets his hair on fire and runs,” would run 2 street if no fence— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) July 31, 2014
Even Kelly will be more reserved in his approach in what amounts to a meaningless game, but the sheer athleticism of the talent he has hoarded under one umbrella makes for a contest with quite the entertainment factor from start to finish.
Rebuilding a Defensive Juggernaut
Trestman has an elite trio in wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and back Matt Forte, not to mention a quarterback who can very much compete for an MVP award if he can stay healthy. However, the real theme of the offseason for Chicago was defense.
Gone are the days when Brian Urlacher's eerie combination of speed and smarts was all the team needed to succeed.
In fact, the linebacker play was downright laughable last season, so Trestman and the front office went out and upgraded at every single spot in the trenches.
Veteran defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston are now in town. The former ranked as the No. 35 overall 4-3 end last season at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) but still notched 11.5 sacks. The latter very quietly was one of the best overall in the NFL, coming in at No. 13 on that same list.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out just how the additions, including the under-the-radar signing of Willie Young, jump start the rebuilding process:
Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston is a pretty good rotation at DE—and Houston could even play 3-tech on passing downs.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 26, 2014
As if those signings were not enough, the Bears then used their second-round pick on run-stopping tackle Ego Ferguson, and their third-round pick on pass-rushing tackle Will Sutton.
The two are blocked on the depth chart by veterans Stephen Paea and Jay Ratliff, but they will see plenty of action Friday and have a noticeable impact on the game. In time, the two will ideally inherit the starting roles together and make linebacker performance issues a thing of the past once again.
None of this even mentions No. 14 overall pick Kyle Fuller, who figures to have an impact right away in the secondary while he learns from the elite duo of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
What to Expect
Which team wins?
As is the case with all preseason contests that do not fall inside of Week 3, the starters will see limited action Friday when these two offensive-minded squads meet.
Unlike a plethora of exhibition contests, though, the talent pool for both offenses is so deep that fans will want to catch the entire shindig, especially considering some of the talent that does not make the final 53-man rosters might just leak to other teams.
Even though the winner does not matter, it is quite clear that the Bears currently tout better defensive depth, which should do much to counter the second- and third-string lineups Philadelphia trots out behind Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley.
Regardless, enjoy the show. It might just be a playoff preview entirely too early.
Prediction: Bears 24, Eagles 20