MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS OFFENSE VS. EAGLES DEFENSE
QB Jay Cutler vs. CB Asante Samuel: Samuel gambles a bit by reading the quarterback's eyes, but more often than not he makes the right decision. Cutler has to look him off as much as possible in order to keep Samuel guessing throughout the game. The Eagles play mostly man coverage or a matchup zone, so Cutler has to make proper decisions. The Bears receivers are small, but so is Samuel. It will be interesting to see if Cutler can catch Samuel peeking into the backfield, as he did last week when he gave up a touchdown to San Diego's Legedu Naanee.
LT Orlando Pace vs. DE Trent Cole: Even though the Bears knew they weren't getting the same Pace that went to seven Pro Bowls in St. Louis when they signed him, they never could have imagined there would be angry callers on sports talk radio stations screaming for him to be benched in favor of journeyman Kevin Shaffer. Cole, who leads the Eagles with 7.5 sacks, is a tough matchup coming off the edge since he's awfully quick for 6-3 and 270 pounds. Pace couldn't finish last week's game because of an apparent concussion, watching from the sideline as Shaffer manned his position on the near game-winning final drive, so Cutler may feel some heat Sunday coming from his blind side.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: EAGLES OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE
QB Donovan McNabb vs. Chicago Secondary The Bears really need to find a way to get pressure on McNabb in order to help their struggling secondary. Veteran CB Charles Tillman doesn't run well enough to handle speedy WR DeSean Jackson. Expect the Eagles to dial up their deep passing game in this matchup. McNabb, despite his inconsistent accuracy again this season, hasn't lost anything on his deep passes, and Jackson is his best deep threat. Look for the Eagles also to attack the young Bear safeties. Play-action passes are a staple of their passing game, and McNabb will look to manipulate the secondary. The Eagles have rediscovered No. 3 WR Jason Avant, and he could find success in the voids of the Chicago secondary. While the Bears aren't using as much Cover 2 these days as in years past and are blitzing at a higher percentage than usual, McNabb shouldn't have much trouble against one of the NFL's worst secondaries. I'd expect McNabb to put the ball up at least 40 times in this game.
Gs Todd Herremans and Nick Cole vs. DT Tommie Harris: Harris woke up from his season-long slumber in San Francisco two Thursdays ago with a sack and two tackles for loss, although it's inexcusable that it took a benching in Week 7 and an ejection in Week 9 for him to be properly motivated. The Eagles have had their own struggles along the offensive line this year, with guard Shawn Andrews on injured reserve and tackle Jason Peters dealing with a bad ankle. Some of McNabb's most memorable plays have come after the original call broke down and he had time to improvise, so the Bears need Harris to get back to his disruptive ways and force the ball out of McNabb's hand in a hurry.
CB Asante Samuel
Getty Images: Jim McIsaac
THE EAGLES WIN IF ...
... Cutler turns the ball over a few times. While the Eagles have major injury issues at cornerback, they still have an excellent pass rush and could give the Bears offensive line fits in this game. I don't see Cutler going off against a usually solid Eagles defense. Cutler will make a big-time throw every now and then, but the Eagles rarely give up big plays. Samuel is probably the best in the NFL at reading a quarterback's eyes. Cutler must look off the defenders better. I also don't see struggling RB Matt Forte getting anything done of note on the ground. Philadelphia's run defense has been solid all season, save for a few bad plays here and there, and Forte hasn't shown any consistent burst or acceleration. The only area where he could hurt them is in the screen game, where he can get out in space one on one against an unblocked defender. Forte is one of the NFL's best screen-play running backs.
THE BEARS WIN IF ...
... they can contain the duo of Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin by taking away their home-run ability. The Eagles have been somewhat all-or-nothing this year in the passing game, delivering 12 touchdowns of 50 yards or longer in only nine games. Since Philly hasn't put together many 10 or 12-play scoring drives, the Bears increase their odds of winning dramatically if they can keep Jackson and Maclin in front of them and force McNabb and Co. to do what they apparently don't want to do in 2009: nickel-and-dime their way downfield.
THE EAGLES LOSE IF ...
... McNabb doesn't throw for at least a 60 percent completion rate in this game. He has to be accurate in order for their offense to reach its potential against an underachieving Bears secondary. If his mechanics are good and he gets time to throw the ball, he should have no problem completing passes. The Bears simply don't have enough talent in the back end of their secondary to give their receivers much of a matchup problem. It would surprise me if McNabb doesn't have a lot of success in this game. Keep in mind McNabb rarely turns the ball over, so the Bears will have to find a way to get pressure on him in order to force him to make some rare mistakes. It will be interesting to watch DE Alex Brown vs. Peters. Peters has been banged up all season and is dealing with an injured ankle. The Bears should try blitzing to his side. Keep in mind that without Brian Westbrook, they are losing one of the better blocking running backs in the NFL.
THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
... new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott dials up just as much pressure on the quarterback as his mentor, the late Jim Johnson, did time and time again. With Pace not playing anything like a future Pro Bowler at left tackle and Chris Williams still not totally comfortable at right tackle, the stage is set for the Eagles to orchestrate another elaborate array of blitz packages and force Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly. It would be nice to keep the backs and tight ends in to block from time to time for some max protection, but when Forte and Greg Olsen are maybe your two top receiving options, that's counterproductive.
Adam Caplan: I've felt all week that despite the injuries they have on the offensive line, running back, linebacker and in the secondary, the Eagles still have enough talent on paper to beat the struggling Bears. The Eagles have historically been one of the NFL's best road teams under coach Andy Reid, and forgetting their 0-8 record on Sunday night games, they just simply have more ability than the Bears. I don't see them struggling much on either side of the ball in this matchup. The only way this game is close is if they continue to kick more field goals and not as many extra points – EAGLES 27, BEARS 17.
John Crist: There is very little to like about the Bears these days, as the only win they managed to produce since their bye way back in Week 5 was a 30-6 thrashing of the atrocious Browns at Soldier Field. Sure, Reid has that bizarre winless record playing on Sunday Night Football, but Cutler has thrown 11 of his league-leading 17 INTs in three evening games. Much like the struggling actors and comedians performing at Second City, as Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi did once upon a time, this Chicago team is full of not-ready-for-prime-time players. – EAGLES 24, BEARS 20.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answered five questions from Adam, Click Here. To read Part II, where Adam answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Adam Caplan is the senior NFL reporter for Scout.com.