-The best way to attack the Eagles' defense is by rushing the ball. Philadelphia ranks 19th in the league against the run and 11th against the pass. The team's defensive front is quick and can get after the quarterback but they often struggle holding ground against the run. Additionally, the linebacker corps, while athletic, is young and inexperienced. With the weapons Philly has in the secondary, it only makes sense to exploit the team's relatively weak front seven.
Coordinator Mike Martz must commit to the run early and often. Even after last week's bye, RB Matt Forte still leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,091). In the four games since Week 2, when Forte carried just nine times for two yards, he's averaged 22 rushing attempts per contest. That must continue against Philadelphia. In three career games versus the Eagles, Forte has rushed 47 times for 194 yards (4.1 avg.) and 0 TDs, to go along with 11 catches for 84 yards and 0 TDs.
-The biggest threat to the Bears' rushing attack is DT Mike Patterson. He doesn't get the same amount of attention as his teammates, yet he's the reason the Eagles' rush defense isn't ranked worse than 19th. He's a strong player inside that is tough to move. Chicago would be wise to locate him on every run play and double-team him when possible.
-The Bears are starting the same offensive line for the third straight week. For a group that's been a revolving door the past few years, that's a big stretch of continuity. LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer and RT Lance Louis all spoke this week of their growing comfort level as a starting unit – and the numbers back up those claims.
DT Cullen Jenkins
After giving up 10 sacks the first two weeks of the season, the front five has surrendered just nine in the five games since. And on the ground, the team has rushed for an average of 160.5 yards per game the past four contests.
This unit will be tested mightily in pass protection tonight. All of Philadelphia's 22 sacks this year have come from one of the team's defensive linemen. The Eagles don't blitz anywhere near as much as they used to, relying mainly on the front four to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole have combined for 12.0 sacks so far this season. Both are speed rushers who often line up in the "Wide 9" position, a few yards outside of the offensive tackle, so as to build extra speed on the rush. Louis and Webb must stay balanced and avoid lunging if they are to keep contain on the edges. Inside, DT Cullen Jenkins is also a force. He's picked up 5.0 sacks so far this year. The interior of Chicago's offensive line must account for him on every pass call.
This unit will be broken up once RT Gabe Carimi returns, which could be as early as next week. As such, tonight's performances will give Bears coaches a good idea of which current starter should be benched once the rookie is ready for action.
-If the Bears are lucky, Philly will use plenty of zone coverage. Chicago's receivers are at their best when finding soft spots in the zone. If Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is smart, he'll man up on Chicago's receivers for the vast majority of the game.
Philadelphia boasts arguably the best trio of cover cornerbacks in the league: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Against opposing secondaries with nowhere near as much talent as the Eagles' have, the Bears' receivers have struggled beating man coverage.
With that being the case, Martz needs to utilize TE Kellen Davis in the passing attack. I've called for this all season, as Davis has been borderline horrible as a blocker. Yet he seems to do something good every time he gets his hands on the ball. The weakest part of Philly's defense is its linebackers, all three of whom are undersized. If Davis (6-7, 262) can get one-on-one with any of Philly's ‘backers, it will be a huge mismatch. The Eagles don't blitz like they used to, so there's no reason to keep Davis in to block. Get him out in the passing game and let him dominate in the middle of the field.
-When we discuss Philly's offense, the conversation starts with Michael Vick and ends with LeSean McCoy. Vick is as dangerous as they come, especially using his legs. In the past, the Bears have used Brian Urlacher to shadow Vick. We may again see some of that tonight but it's doubtful Lovie Smith will want to limit his biggest defensive playmaker too much in the "spy" role. Instead, it will be up to the defensive line to keep contain on Vick and not allow him to extend plays with his feet.
-DE Julius Peppers will have his hands full with LT Jason Peters, so coordinator Rod Marinelli needs to move around his best pass rusher. Peppers has a much better chance of being disruptive against RT Todd Herremans, a career guard, than he does the four-time Pro Bowler on the left side.
DE Julius Peppers
Kyle Terada/US Presswire
-Up the middle, the Eagles start two rookies: C Jason Kelce and RG Danny Watkins. If ever there was a time for DT Henry Melton to resurrect his season, this is the week to do it. Smith called out Melton this week for his lack of production the past month. If Melton cannot get consistent penetration against these two rookies, then it may never happen.
If Melton isn't getting the job done inside, Stephen Paea and Amobi Okoye will see the majority of snaps at under tackle. Both have been solid the past two weeks. If they can continue their high level of play, it will go a long way toward limiting Vick's effectiveness.
-Just as big of a concern for the Bears' defense is LeSean McCoy, who leads league in rushing average (5.6) and is second in rushing yards (754). Filling the running lanes will be crucial. Nose tackles Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams must be able to anchor inside. The linebackers must cover their gaps and, more importantly, be patient. McCoy's ability to change direction is unmatched in the league. If Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Nick Roach are too aggressive, McCoy will make them pay with cutbacks and bounce outs.
-This will be the first big test for the safety pairing of youngsters Chris Conte and Major Wright. The Eagles boast outstanding speed outside with receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will surely dial up plenty of deep passes to test Chicago's back end. Conte and Wright must keep Philly's offense in front of them. As we saw against the Detroit Lions, giving up big plays is utterly destructive to this defense.
-To that end, the Bears will likely use plenty of Cover 2 in order to limit the deep ball. Yet Vick and the Eagles' passing game is much better moving the ball against the zone than man coverage. If Chicago starts giving up big chunks of yards using the Cover 2, they likely shift to more man-to-man. If that's the case, the onus then falls on cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings to keep pace with Maclin and Jackson. Philly's third receiver, Jason Avant, is also dangerous out of the slot, so D.J. Moore must be sure to swallow him up underneath.
-The problem with using man coverage is it forces the defensive players to turn their backs on Vick, which can be deadly given his ability to scramble. Smith and Marinelli must have a creative game plan in place, with unconventional blitz and coverage packages, in order to confuse and contain the No. 1 offense in the NFL. If this group gets in a rhythm, it'll be a long night for the Bears.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.