Thank you Chicago Bears, and thank you Nick Foles. I wrote an extensive column last week on why Foles is the best guy for right now, but this entire Eagles’ team deserves credit. The tremendous amount of resiliency and fight the 2018 Eagles have shown explains why they belong in the playoffs for a second straight year under Doug Pederson. After rooting for the Bears all of last Sunday, Matt Nagy and company now become enemies of the Bird Gang this Wildcard Weekend.
Khalil Mack is the best defensive player I’ve seen
And no, I was not alive for the final years of Lawrence Taylor’s career. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are names that, in my opinion, should be in consideration for best defenders of the modern era. Regardless, Khalil Mack is an absolute game wrecker and can ruin an offensive series on any given play.
It’s not only Mack that can cause offensive woes. The entire Bears’ defensive line has been rocking all season. From Eddie Goldman clogging up running lanes at the “nose tackle” position to Akiem Hicks running wild alongside Mack, this unit can cause problems with Foles’ immobility. The Eagles offense will have their hands full in order to limit their number of three and out possessions and keep the defense fresh.
To counteract this imposing front, expect even more of a quick strike passing attack. If Mack gets anywhere near Foles, he’s going down with a sack. Speedy weapons like Nelson Agholor and Golden Tate have to make the most of their targets; turning quick slants and hitches into promising gains. Getting the ball out of Foles’ hands quickly will help him get into a rhythm early and allow for opportune deep shots later on. Not to mention, Alshon Jeffery had some bulletin board material for his former team, so expect him to continue his recent streak of dominating defensive backs to back those remarks up.
Lastly, Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers, and Darren Sproles all are going to play a vital role in this game, but not in the way you’re thinking. Zach Ertz’s improved pass blocking has flown under the radar during his career year in receiving. The Eagles need to know where 52 is on every play. Ertz and Rodgers need to chip Mack or simply stay in protection to help out the aging and injured Jason Peters. That, combined with Darren Sproles staying back in pass protect should allow Foles enough time to take some shots over the top.
Most Important Player
The Chicago Bears offense is something to behold each week under Matt Nagy. From lining up three defensive linemen on goal-line packages to seemingly endless pre-snap motions, this is a difficult unit to gameplan for. But the player that worries me most is the “Darren Sproles of the Bears”, Tarik Cohen.
Cohen is the ultimate weapon out of the backfield and reminds me of what Brian Westbrook used to do for Andy Reid. He has that burst through openings in the run game and shakes defenders at the second level. Cohen also can take any swing or screen pass the distance with his elusiveness and track star speed.
Even though he will not be named Defensive Player of the Year, Fletcher Cox should be in serious consideration given his impact during the Eagles’ incredible run to the playoffs. Similar to Aaron Donald, he can ruin your offense from the inside by stuffing the run, or bulldoze linemen to get pressure on the quarterback. Keeping Trubisky uncomfortable and out of sorts should thwart Nagy’s complex offense enough to keep this game close.
That being said, I think Sunday’s game turns into a slugfest for both sides. Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy know what their counterpart is scheming, and the wrinkles incorporated into each coaches’ game-plan will be fun to watch. Keeping the Bear’s offense at bay while not surrendering consecutive three and outs on offense is the formula for success on Wildcard Weekend.
It’s going to be a low scoring affair with plenty of frustrating moments, but that’s playoff football. In fact, this game could come down to a key special teams play like a Darren Sproles punt return, a Cody Parkey missed field goal, or another one of Jake Elliott’s clutch game winners.
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