KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Suzy Kolber
KEYS TO THE GAME
RBs Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy make for a stellar Monday showcase. Forte leads the NFL with 1,091 yards from scrimmage and has been the Bears' clear MVP, easing the heat on an erratic offensive line. McCoy is the only player in the NFL with a touchdown in every game and is coming off a career-best 185 rushing yards last week. McCoy has a better supporting cast, including QB Michael Vick, but the Eagles haven't typically matched up well against defenses dedicated to two-deep coverage.
However, no Andy Reid-coached Eagles team has been this committed to running the ball. Vick and McCoy have combined for 72 carries for 414 yards the past two games, and the Bears have been lit up for 5.2 yards per rush.
Bears QB Jay Cutler had a career-best 146.2 passer rating in last year's 31-26 victory over the Eagles. ... McCoy leads the NFL with 58 first downs and 48 rushing first downs.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
QB Jay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
Jay Cutler's 146.2 passer rating in last season's 31-26 victory over the Eagles on Nov. 28 was the highest of his six-year career, but a lot has changed since then.
"We started off hot," Cutler said. "We passed the ball well, we ran the ball well, and we converted on third down. Whenever we got in the red zone, we were scoring touchdowns and not kicking field goals. Sometimes games go like that."
Converting on third downs and in the red zone have both been problems for the Bears this season. They're 29th in third-down efficiency, converting just 30.2 percent of their opportunities, well below the league average of 38.6 percent and miles behind the Eagles, who have converted 45.5 percent of their third downs.
The problem for the Bears in the red zone is not scoring, it's settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. On 18 trips inside the 20, they've come away with nine touchdowns, a 50-percent success rate, which is in the middle of NFL teams.
"It's a lot of different things," Cutler said. "We're not executing, we're missing assignments, missing throws, missing hot (reads), lining up wrong. It's a numerous amount of things that could happen that go wrong on a play. At the end of the day, we're not executing like we should when we get down there."
That wasn't a problem in the previous meeting with the Eagles. Two of Cutler's four touchdown passes that day went to Earl Bennett, who will play Monday night for the first time in seven weeks, since he suffered a chest injury in Week 2.
"He looked good, whenever we practiced, on Tuesday (or) whatever day it was," Cutler said, still adapting to the practice schedule adjusted for the Monday night game. "And I'm excited for him. He's a heck of a football player. He adds a little bit of energy to that room and a little bit of energy to our huddle. He's just consistent. He's an even-keeled guy in that wide receiver room. He adds some experience. It's just going to help them a lot having him back."
Bennett was third on the Bears last season with 46 catches and second with 561 receiving yards, when he emerged as a reliable third-down target for Cutler.
"He has such great hands," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "But he's (also) a terrific run-after-the-catch guy. He does everything very well. What Earl has that people don't realize until they play him, is that he has real speed. He made so many key plays in key situations for us last year. I call him 'Mr. Third Down.' It's almost a foregone conclusion (that when) you throw him the ball, it's going to be a completion. It's good to have him back."
The Bears will need all the reinforcements they can get, considering the Eagles will be significantly stronger in the secondary than they were a year ago. Cutler torched a secondary that was missing injured four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel and didn't yet have three-time Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent this year. The Eagles also added Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in an offseason trade.
"Their corners are very good," Martz said. "I think they were struggling a little bit when we caught them (last season). They've addressed some of those issues that they had last year."
QB Michael Vick
During his six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick never had a completion rate that rose above 56.4 percent. But since becoming the Eagles' starting quarterback last season, that changed.
He had a career-high .626 completion percentage last year, and currently is ninth in the league with a .632 completion percentage. In his last six starts, he's completed 66.3 percent of his passes.
"I think when you look at Michael, you look at his frame of mind now as (opposed to) when he was younger," said coach Andy Reid. "I think he relied probably a little more on his athletic ability (with the Falcons). His work ethic wasn't quite the same as it is now.
"When he came out of being incarcerated, he came out and he had certain things he wanted to work on, felt like he needed to work on to make his game better from where it was before, and he attacked those things. Aggressively attacked them. And (offensive coordinator) Marty (Mornhinweg) and (former quarterbacks coach) James Urban, and now (current quarterbacks coach) Doug Pederson have done a nice job coaching him."
Wide receiver Jason Avant thinks Vick's growth and maturation as a person has helped him improve as a football player.
"He's a different person and I think that creates a different product on the field," he said. "I think everything he went through -- the whole deal with the dogs and prison and everything -- I think it made him more humble. I think it made him more appreciative. And it caused him to see things differently.
"I think his approach to the game is more professional now. With the coaches that we have and the offense that we have, they've taught him how to play quarterback, and it's shown on the field."
--OT Gabe Carimi (knee) was a full participant in Thursday's practice, but he is not expected to retake his starting spot at right tackle this week. More likely, he will be given limited reps against the Eagles as he eases back into the starting lineup.
--OL Lance Louis is expected to remain at right tackle, where he has been the past two games after moving over from right guard to fill the gap left by the knee injury to Gabe Carimi. Once the now-healthy Carimi is eased back into the lineup, Louis is expected to return to right guard.
--OG Chris Spencer is expected to start a third straight game and sixth overall at right guard, but he could soon be back on the bench once Gabe Carimi regains his right tackle spot and fill-in Lance Louis moves back to right guard from right tackle.
--WR Earl Bennett (chest) is expected to play for the first time since his injury in Week 2. Although not a starter, Bennett is a reliable possession guy and third-down go-to guy for QB Jay Cutler.
--WR Devin Hester was named NFC special teams player of the month for the third time in his career, a franchise record. He had eight punt returns for 130 yards (16.3-yard average), including a 69-yard touchdown, and nine kickoff returns for 278 yards (30.9-yard average) with a 98-yard TD.
--RB LeSean McCoy didn't practice Thursday. Coach Andy Reid said he had stomach flu. Reid seemed fairly confident that his star running back will be able to practice on Friday.
--RB Dion Lewis, who missed Sunday's game against Dallas after being involved in a minor automobile accident earlier in the day, practiced Thursday and will return kickoffs Monday night against Chicago.
--TE Brent Celek didn't practice Thursday because of a hip contusion that he suffered in last week's game against Dallas. He's confident that he'll play Monday night against the Bears.
--LB Akeem Jordan, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's game against the Cowboys, still hasn't passed his concussion test and could miss this week's game against Chicago.
--DE Juqua Parker is listed on the injury report with a high ankle sprain, but has played the last two games and practiced fully on Thursday.
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