The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to extend their season for another week on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET, NBC) when they take on the NFC North champion Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Wild Card game.
The Eagles were able to get into the playoffs thanks partly to the Bears. Heading into the final week of the 2018 NFL regular season, the defending Super Bowl champs needed to beat Washington, while the Minnesota Vikings needed to lose to the Bears.
Luckily enough, both of those things happened as the Eagles shut out Washington, 24-0 and the Vikings lost 24-10 at home.
No one thought that the Eagles would get into the tournament after disastrous losses to both the New Orleans Saints (Wk. 11) and Dallas Cowboys (Wk. 14). But to their credit, they did not quit and won five of their last six games to end the season.
Now, the defending Super Bowl champs get a chance to not only defend their title but also do it against one of the league’s best defenses.
Here are three things to watch for in this Wild Card Round matchup:
1. Protect Nick Foles
Over the last three weeks, the Eagles’ offensive line has done a good job of protecting quarterback Nick Foles. Against the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Ryan Kerrigan, the o-line has only allowed a grand total of four sacks.
However, they will need to replicate this same type of performance against a Bears’ defense, which is fourth in the NFL in sacks (50). And not to mention, they got a guy named Khalil Mack, who gives opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
Eagles’ offensive coordinator Mike Groh understands the pressure that the line is up against, in particular, tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, but knows they will be ready.
“They’re obviously a huge part of the what we do. J.P. and Lane have been doing it at a high level for a really long time,” he said. “They are one of the big reasons for the success we’ve had. Every team can’t sit here and say that they have two bookend tackles like that.”
“Those guys usually rise to the challenge. They look forward to these kinds of opportunities to play against the very best.” Johnson and Peters will have to be at their best on Sunday as Foles is dealing with bruised ribs.
2. Commit to the running game
If the Eagles want to have a chance to win on Sunday, it starts with establishing the running game. In their last three games, Philadelphia is averaging 99 yards per on the ground, which is really good, considering they are without both Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement.
But they are going up against one of the league’s toughest run defenses in Chicago, which is only giving up 80 yards per game this season.
While it sounds like a daunting task for the Eagles, if there is a saving grace, it is that Chicago is 1-3 when they allow over 100 rushing yards. This means that head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh should give the Bears a steady dose of Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles.
3. Force Trubisky into mistakes
Mark it down right now. If the Eagles’ defense can turnover Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky at least once, then they will be in the driver’s seat to win the game.
Down the stretch, the defense has done a great of racking up sacks and quarterback hits but also takeaways. In their last six games, Philly’s misfit defense has come up with 10 takeaways, including six against the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
The Eagles will need Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett to apply pressure to Trubisky, who has thrown six interceptions on first down and hopefully force him to get rid of the ball before he wants to.