The Chicago Bears (0-1) are looking to secure their first victory of the 2016 season in tonight's contest against the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0).
The Eagles are led by a first-year head coach in Doug Peterson, as well as a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. In addition, Philadelphia's defense is transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. As Bears fans are fully aware, that transition doesn't happen overnight.
As such, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that the Bears can come out victorious on Monday Night Football.
For that to happen, the Bears must win these key matchups.
RT Bobby Massie vs. DE Connor Barwin
Bobby Massie struggled mightily in the season opener against the Texans. According to Real Football Network, Massie's 6 QB hurries allowed in Week 1 were second most in the NFL. He also allowed a drive-ending, third-down sack in his first game as a starter for the Bears. Massie has value in the run game but he was a liability on passing downs against the Texans. It won't get any easier this week against Connor Barwin, who is a dangerous edge rusher. Barwin has 21.0 sacks the past two years combined and picked up another sack in Philadelphia's opener. That presents a tough test for Massie, as well as LT Charles Leno, as Barwin brings the full arsenal. Houston OLB Whitney Mercilus wreaked havoc on Chicago's offense last week, so if Massie doesn't improve, Barwin could have the same impact.
RG Kyle Long vs. DT Fletcher Cox
QB Jay Cutler was sacked five times in the opener but that had nothing to do with guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Sitton and Long allowed only 1 QB hurry in 74 pass-block snaps combined. That's important because Fletcher Cox is a handful. Cox had 9.5 sacks last year and another sack in the opener. Per PFF, Cox had one of the best Pass Rush Efficiency ratings amongst NFL defensive tackles last week. If Cox pushes the pocket in Cutler's face, the passing attack will struggle all day. Fortunately for the Bears, Long handled J.J. Watt easily last week. If Long, Sitton and C Cody Whitehair can corral Cox the same way they did Watt, that will give Cutler the step-up lane he'll desperately need if Leno and Massie struggle.
RB Jeremy Langford vs. ILB Jordan Hicks
Langford received 17 of the 18 running back carries last week, so it's clearly his backfield. Expect that to continue this week, although the Bears want more out of the run game. Langford averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last week, which never allowed the Bears to control the clock -- they lost the Time of Possession battle by more than 12 minutes. That will need to change against a strong Eagles front seven. That involves getting Jordan Hicks locked up on every run. Hicks, a second-year ILB drafted in the third round out of Texas, is the leader of Philadelphia's defense and had the highest defensive rating on the team last week, per PFF. Getting Hicks, as well as fellow ILB Mychal Kendricks, locked up at the second level will be key to turning 3-yard gains into 20-yard gains. At the same time, Langford will need to make a few defenders miss, something he failed to do in the opener.
WR Kevin White vs. CB Ron Brooks
CB Leodis McKelvin will not play due to a hamstring injury, meaning nickelback Ron Brooks will start out wide. Brooks will be making just the fourth start of his four-year NFL career. On the opposite side of the ball, Kevin White will be making just his second career NFL start. White looked out of sorts in his first NFL game last week, showing inconsistent hands and route running. That allowed the Texans to freely double team Alshon Jeffery, effectively shutting down Chicago's passing attack in the second half. White must take advantage of Brooks and rookie Jalen Mills, who will cover White on nickel downs, with Brooks sliding inside. This is a perfect opportunity for White to make amends for sloppy, disappointing outing in the opener.
NT Eddie Goldman vs. C Jason Kelce
Eagles RB Ryan Mathews was the only starting running back in the NFL last week to gain yards on each of his carries. That allowed Philadelphia to run the ball 34 times againsr the Browns, which took pressure off Carson Wentz. The key for the Bears will be to shut down Mathews and the run game and force Wentz to beat them. Eddie Goldman was inconsistent in the opener but he improved as the game progressed. He now faces Jason Kelce, an undersized center who struggles against nose tackles of Goldman's size (6-4, 320). If Goldman wins this matchup, Mathews will struggle between the tackles, which is Step 1.
OLBs Willie Young and Leonard Floyd vs. OTs Lane Johnson and Jason Peters
The Eagles have a very good offensive line, which features one of the best OT pairings in the NFL. Lane Johnson is facing a potential PED suspension but he'll be good to for tonight. That's bad news for Leonard Floyd and Willie Young, who will rotate with Lamarr Houston off the edges. Floyd was solid in his pro debut last week, picking up a QB hurry and a sack, yet Young and Houston were almost invisible. Wentz carved up the Browns when given time to throw, which is bad news for a suspect Bears secondary if the edge rushers can't finish. Floyd, Houston and Young all must improve on their opening-day performances. If they do, they can rattle the rookie Wentz in the pocket, which should lead to some timely turnovers.
CB Tracy Porter vs. WR Jordan Matthews
Against the Texans, Tracy Porter held WR DeAndre Hopkins to just five catches for 54 yards and 1 TD. For a player of Hopkins' caliber, that's solid. Porter will once again face a tough test this week against Jordan Matthews, who had 7 catches for 114 yards and 1 TD in the opener. Matthews has height (6-3, 205), speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and big-play ability. Porter, along with Jacoby Glenn, Bryce Callahan and Deiondre Hall, must limit Matthews in the same way they did Hopkins last week. With TE Zach Ertz ruled out, shutting down Matthews would force the Eagles to use their third, fourth and fifth options in the passing game.