Eagles-Bears Wake-Up Call: Opposition Research
In this week’s installment of opposition research, we talked to Bears beat writer Dan Durkin. We discussed how Chicago will attack Carson Wentz, what key matchup will determine the winner of the game and who will come out on top, among several other topics.
What are the Bears’ strengths?
“Definitely their defensive front-seven. They invested a lot both in free agency and then via the draft, just the past year drafting [outside linebacker] Leonard Floyd. And you look at the previous season, they invested in [linebacker] Pernell McPhee — he’s not available at this point in time. But with the new regime change to John Fox, they switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4. So they’ve invested a lot in that defensive front, and I think you saw it a little bit this past Sunday against the Texans. [Defensive end] Akiem Hicks had a really nice game, [inside linebacker] Danny Trevathan and [inside linebacker] Jerrell Freeman — both of those guys really making impacts. Easily, the defensive front-seven is the strongest unit on this team. Their hope is that it protects what looks to be a pretty suspect secondary. But if you were to say one group that stands out above the rest, it’s definitely the front-seven.”
What are the Bears’ weaknesses?
“Defensively, it’s definitely their secondary. They have a lot of youth and inexperience back there. You have a guy that the previous regime drafted, Kyle Fuller, with their pick in the 2014 draft, who really just has not materialized into what you would assume a cornerback drafted that high would be. So you have him out with arthroscopic knee surgery — he’s still coming back from that. Their top corner is Tracy Porter, who’s kind of just been a transient player in the NFL; he’s only made it through one season healthy. I think this is his eighth or ninth season in the NFL. So last week, they were forced to start a kid named Jacoby Glenn on the outside. They have a second-year player who was an undrafted rookie last year, Bryce Callahan, who’s their nickel. And then you have another undrafted player, Harold Jones-Quartey, playing strong safety, and then a second-year guy, Adrian Amos, the other safety who started 16 games last year, but not very productive on the ball. If there’s one area on this team you could attack defensively, it’s definitely their secondary.
“And then on the offensive side of the ball, it’s just the reshuffling offensive line. I think they added talent with [left guard] Josh Sitton, obviously. If you can add an All-Pro player the week before the season starts, you should be better down the road, but right now this is too much in flight in terms of the movements along the offensive line. You have a kid named Cody Whitehair who’s going to be making his second start ever at center at any level; he’s a guy who played guard and tackle at Kansas State. The Bears bring him in, Hroniss Grasu tears his ACL in August and all of a sudden you have a kid that they thought was going to play left guard making line calls and picking up blitzing linebackers and picking up stunts at center, so the offensive line is definitely an issue for them.”
What Bears’ injuries or suspensions could impact the game?
“Fuller’s definitely going to be one. I think he was a limited participant at practice on Saturday. Since it was a Monday night game, I would be very surprised if Fuller plays in this game. And obviously, their best defensive player from 2015, Pernell McPhee, he’s on PUP so he may not be available until the midpoint of the season. Those are two guys that they were really counting on this year that both won’t likely be available.”
How do you think the Bears will try to attack Carson Wentz?
“To me, he wasn’t tested against the Browns. Let’s just call it what it is: the Browns are the worst team in football, and they’ve been the worst team in football for a long time. I was really impressed with Wentz’s poise, the moment definitely never looks too big for him. I liked his pre-snap reads, his ability to identify blitzers to get his protection right. Nice to see him able to step into the moment to find his receivers, but I think that the Bears are going to definitely make a concerted effort to take Ryan Mathews out of the game and make it a one-dimensional offense and put the ball into Carson Wentz’s hands. So, huge challenge coming from playing at home against the worst team in football to going on the road on Monday night, hostile environment and much better defense. So I think this will be a much truer test of what Carson Wentz has.”
What do you think is a key match-up that could decide this game? And who do you think will win?
“There’s a couple. I think this can be a close game — I picked the Bears to lose last week with the Texans. I think they’re going to win on Monday night. It’ll be a very close game, and I’m picking Bears 23, Eagles 20. A couple of matchups that stand out to me — I think Jordan Matthews out of the slot against Bryce Callahan is one the Eagles will definitely have the advantage against, there’s no doubt about that. When I look at the Eagles’ secondary, I see how banged up they are there. When you think of going from Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Hawkins and Corey Coleman to Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Kevin White, that’s a big step up in just talent and physicality. So, I think Nolan Carroll—Alshon Jeffery is one of the advantages for them — huge advantage for the Bears actually.
“But you brought up the Jim Schwartz scheme change from Billy Davis. Cutler has, in 39 games, a 99-plus passer rating, five of those came against Jim Schwartz’s defenses. So he has definitely had a lot of success against Jim Schwartz throughout his career, two of his 15 most efficient games have come against Jim Schwartz as well. I think he knows what to expect, basic coverage schemes, a lot of zone defense so there’s no doubt that the Bears understand what Schwartz will try to do to them.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
All the info you need in order to watch tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup.
Check out our Open Thread for Week 2 to get caught up on yesterday’s action.
Who picked the Eagles to start 2-0 tonight against the Bears?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Les Bowen of the Daily News has more on Malcolm Jenkins leading the Eagles’ protest tonight during the national anthem.
In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Jenkins is identified as the initiator of a group text on the topic among several NFL veterans, near the end of the preseason, that swelled to more than 70 players across the league by the next week.
“There’s no comfortable way to change anything,” Jenkins said after practice Saturday. “If somebody gets upset, then it’s probably because they’re not listening” to the reasons for the protest, which Jenkins said is not “anti-police” and has “nothing to do with the military, nothing to do with the flag itself.”
On social media, many fans seem not to have gotten that message. Jenkins happened to disclose his plan to join the protest on a Friday evening 94 WIP radio appearance, hours before two police officers were wounded in a West Philly shooting rampage. Jenkins was criticized for bringing up such a subject – part of the protest message has to do with how African-Americans are treated by police – at a time when anti-police sentiment seems to be fueling violence against law officers.
“If you listen, the message has been the same across the board,” in the various protests that have followed [Colin] Kaepernick‘s decision to sit during the anthem, Jenkins said. “The police are a key part of the solution, in this issue, across the nation.”
Jalen Mills expects to be tested often tonight against the Bears’ offense, pens Zach Berman of the Inquirer.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the Eagles could also use safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, and Jaylen Watkins at cornerback when needed, but Monday will nonetheless be a major test for Mills.
Mills said playing in the Southeastern Conference, where he was a four-year starter at LSU, prepared him for this stage. He saw wide receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in practice, and Amari Cooper, Laquon Treadwell, and Mike Evans in games. So Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White will be a challenge, but they won’t be the first time Mills has seen receivers of that caliber.
Jenkins said the key for Mills will be keeping the ball in front of him. The Bears receivers might make acrobatic catches when they’re covered, but that’s better than getting beaten deep.
Even though Mills was a seventh-round pick, the Eagles haven’t treated him like one this summer. They moved him up on the depth chart past 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe. Schwartz said Mills’ emergence made Rowe expendable, and even with only three cornerbacks active, Pederson said he does not regret trading Rowe. That’s because the Eagles think Mills belongs on the field.
The Eagles take on the Bears tonight at 8:30 on ESPN.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.