After being gashed for 292 yards in the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles knew they had to make a change.
A drastic one.
So defensive coordinator Juan Castillo tweaked his depth chart and moved Jamar Chaney to his old spot, at middle linebacker.
It took some time — the defense surrendered 409 yards on the ground in the three games after the switch — but it’s finally paying off. Chaney’s voice in the locker room and his leadership in the huddle have helped turn the corner for a once-struggling linebacking corps.
“We’re not under heat no more? I didn’t know,” said strongside linebacker Moise Fokou, while laughing. “We knew things had to break sooner or later, we just been working hard week in and week out, and trying to get better.”
Fokou, along with weakside backer Brian Rolle, have found some continuity and teams are finding it hard to find running lanes against them. Credit Chaney for a large part of that. In the huddle, he’s not afraid to get in people’s faces and bang helmets when assignments are missed or when gaps aren’t filled.
“You’ll see him stomp his foot, yell, or grab somebody’s facemask and say, ‘Listen up’. It’s kind of exciting to see him take ownership of the defense and really take control of the MIKE linebacker position,” Fokou said.
Chaney’s emergence is a bit of a surprise, since he was an unheralded seventh-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. But the 25-year-old has all the intangibles and he’s thriving in his new role.
“I like the middle,” Chaney said. “On most teams, the MIKE is the signal caller and leader on defense. A lot of stuff gets put on the MIKE, and I like when that is put on me.”
3 things to watch
1. Stop Matt Forte.
Everything the Bears do starts and ends with Forte.
He’s the NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage, with 1,091, and accounts for almost 50 percent of the team’s offense. Plus, Forte is playing with an edge as he lobbies for a new contract.
The Eagles’ run defense is coming off its two best games, but they’ll have to take it to another level to stop a back several Eagles called the NFL’s best.
2. Keep it Shady.
Andy Reid insists he hasn’t changed his pass-first philosophy.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s handed the ball to LeSean McCoy 58 times in the past two weeks. The shifty back has emerged as a national sensation, with his speed and cut-on-a-dime moves.
The Eagles enter with the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack (179.9 yards a game) against the 12th-best rush defense (108.7 a game).
3. Sack Town.
Bears QB Jay Cutler has spent the majority of this season on his back.
The Bears’ O-line has allowed 21 sacks this season — and an NFL-worst 56 in 2010 — with Cutler under duress 28.9 percent of the time, according to ESPN. Meanwhile, the Eagles rank sixth in the NFL, with 22 sacks.
This could turn into a feeding frenzy for Jason Babin (nine sacks) and Trent Cole (four).