Eagles vs. Bears Game Predictions: Three-And-Out
The Eagles visit the Bears today for Monday Night Football at 8:30. Here’s how we expect it to play out:
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
Paunil: Ron Brooks.
With Leodis McKelvin out, Ron Brooks is in at corner opposite of Nolan Carroll. Brooks will move inside to the slot in nickel situations while Jalen Mills fills in on the outside, but Brooks could see a lot of snaps against Alshon Jeffery. You could substitute Mills — the rookie seventh-round pick — or Nolan Carroll — who allowed 58- and 44-yard receptions against the Browns — for Brooks in this category, too.
Jeffery is a Pro Bowler who totaled more than 1,100 receiving yards in 2013 and 2014 (he only played nine games in 2015), combining for 17 receiving touchdowns. He’ll be a tough matchup for the Eagles’ secondary, and he could burn them on big plays after averaging more than 26 yards per catch in Week 1.
Brooks’ potential saving grace? The Eagles’ defensive line. Houston sacked Jay Cutler five times last week, and although the Texans have an impressive group of pass-rushers, the Bears’ tackles didn’t look very good. Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham will need to bail out the secondary and not force them to cover very long, but they’re more than capable of doing that against Chicago’s offensive line.
The corners will also get some help from Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, who turned in a quietly good game against Cleveland. Still, I expect Jeffery to have a lot of success against this secondary. It’s just a matter of if the Eagles can prevent him from completely taking over the game.
BLG: Trey Burton
Carson Wentz is the obvious answer here, but we’ll talk about him more later on.
With Zach Ertz out, the Eagles are down one of their top pass catchers. Ertz was targeted seven times against Cleveland. He finished Week 1 with six receptions for 58 yards despite suffering a rib injury in the first quarter.
The Eagles are counting on Burton to step up in Ertz’s absence. The third-year tight end missed last week’s game due to a quad injury but he’s healthy now. Burton is one player who really stood out in training camp this year. He showed great hands and had a knack for making stand-out plays on a regular basis.
Burton is unproven in real game action. The 24-year-old has three career receptions for 54 yards, including a 43-yard catch from last season. Monday night’s game is a real opportunity for him to step up. The Eagles are likely to employ multiple tight end sets, as they did in Week 1, so Burton figures to get plenty of playing time.
One factor that could work in Burton’s favor is the fact he’s had a lot of time to work with Wentz in practice. Wentz was obviously running with the third team this offseason due to being behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel on the depth chart. Burton, who is behind Ertz and veteran Brent Celek, had the chance to build a rapport with Wentz this offseason.
OVER/UNDER: 240 passing yards for Carson Wentz — Whaddya got?
Wentz surprised me last week by slinging the ball around for 278 passing yards, but he’ll face a tougher defense in a tougher environment tonight. Playing on the road at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football isn’t quite the same as the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field, and despite Wentz’s impressive poise, it’s not a situation he can prepare for.
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller is expected to miss the game, so Chicago’s secondary won’t be very good, but their front-seven is certainly better than Cleveland’s. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also has an advantage Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn’t have: NFL film on Wentz. Fangio obviously hasn’t seen much of Wentz in Doug Pederson’s system, but Fangio at least has one game to scheme off of. For example: It’d be surprising if Fangio calls cover-1 man against Wentz in the red zone after the rookie threw two touchdowns against the Browns using that coverage.
I expect Fangio to better disguise his coverages and blitzes than Horton did. Wentz completed all eight of his passes for 94 yards against the Browns’ blitzes, so I think it’s more a matter of confusing Wentz than pressuring him, as Horton may have concluded after watching the film. Regardless, Wentz remains difficult to project, and will continue to be until we have much more film on him.
Wentz looked like the real deal last week. He obviously has to prove he can play well consistently before he can dubbed as a sure thing, but this rookie quarterback has shown serious potential. I’m feeling optimistic about him going into Week 2.
Chicago writers have identified the Bears’ secondary as the weakness of Fangio’s defense. It’s no secret Wentz likes to be aggressive in taking shots down the field. This was seen last week on his touchdown throws. He’ll look to attack the Bears through the air. The Eagles coaching isn’t afraid to let the rookie let it rip.
The lack of Ertz could hurt Wentz’s chances of getting over the 240 mark, but Burton has shown potential to be an adequate replacement.
Paunil: Eagles 20, Bears 17
I expect Wentz to take a step back after his impressive debut, but he doesn’t need to be spectacular against what looks like a sub-par Bears team. Chicago’s front-seven may be the strength of their defense, but Lane Johnson and Jason Peters are still protecting Wentz on the edge, so Wentz shouldn’t have too much pressure in his face. I also anticipate Wentz making the right pass protection calls more often this week, decreasing the amount of hits he takes.
Wentz should get some help from Ryan Mathews on the ground, as Doug Pederson has repeatedly said how committed he is to running the ball. The Texans totaled 129 rushing yards against the Bears in Week 1, so the Eagles should have some opportunity in that aspect of the game. As for the receivers, Nelson Agholor looked good against Cleveland, but who knows whether he’ll show up this week as well? Although he only caught two balls last week, Dorial Green-Beckham got open in his limited snaps and could play a bigger role this week.
On the other side of the ball, I see Jeffery getting around 100 receiving yards and a touchdown, but I don’t think that will be enough. I envision the Eagles’ defensive line generating enough pressure to prevent Jeffery from single-handedly winning the Bears the game, while the front-seven slows the Bears’ ground game down.
BLG: Eagles 21, Bears 17
The feeling here is that Wentz follows up his Week 1 performance with another relatively strong outing. All of the “it was just the Browns” talk looks a little silly after Cleveland actually showed competency of being a real NFL team despite losing to the Ravens on Sunday.
With that said, I don’t expect Wentz to carry the entire team on his back. He’ll need more help from an Eagles run game that totaled 133 yards last week but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Philadelphia needs to be more efficient in that regard.
The Eagles defense also has to play better than it did last week. There were times last week when the Browns had open receivers and Robert Griffin III flat out missed them. One such moment included a red zone play where Griffin overthrew a receiver who had beaten Brooks badly for a would-be touchdown. Jay Cutler likely won’t be missing those easy throws.
This is a game where Philadelphia really needs to win on the edge. Bears tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are susceptible to giving up pressure. The Eagles’ pass rush struggled to get going in the first half of last week’s game. Griffin had way too much time to throw. The Eagles can’t give Cutler the same kind of opportunities. Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin, and Vinny Curry need to rattle the mistake-prone Cutler in order to give the Eagles a shot to win on the road.