The Eagles offense, under the stewardship of quarterback Nick Foles, finished the last three games of the regular season against the Rams, Texans – both teams that qualified for the playoffs – and the dismal Redskins by scoring a combined 86 points and racking up an impressive 1,280 total yards as the team rallied to qualify for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season by the skin of their teeth.
However, Foles and Co. will have their work cut out for them to maintain those gaudy numbers on Sunday in Chicago for their NFC wild-card matchup.
Under first-year coach Matt Nagy, the Bears own one of the best defenses in the NFL and allowed the fewest points (17.7) and rushing yards (80) in the league and led the NFC in total yards allowed (299).
The reigning Super Bowl MVP has noticed.
“They’re an extremely talented defense,” said Foles. “I’m really impressed with what I see … what I see from their front, from their secondary, [and] from their linebackers.”
The Bears also ranked first this year in takeaways with 37, including 19 of 27 interceptions by their defensive backs. Paced by All-Pro Khalil Mack, their defensive line wreaked havoc on quarterbacks and recorded 50 sacks, which was third in the league, and shut down most running attacks.
The turnover and sack numbers are cause-and-effect statistics. The front seven brings pressure and either gets to the quarterback or forces him to make haste, and most often poor, decisions.
“We know they have a lot of guys over there that can make it hard on you,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “We have to do a really good job on those guys so they don’t wreck the game.”
The key for Foles is to get rid of the football fast but also to make smart reads on his throws. In the last three games, he has been quick with his delivery and successful finding open receivers.
He passed for a franchise record 471 yards in the win over the Texans, tied an NFL record with 25 straight completions against the Redskins and tossed six touchdown passes in the last two games.
“If it’s a ball out fast to the flat he’s going to get it there; if he has to hold it for a second to get it down the field, he’s going to know that,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who will likely try to protect his QB by calling for a lot of short passes to his wide receivers, tight ends and running backs to prevent Foles from holding on to the ball too long.
“It’s just understanding the offense, the down, the distance, the situation of the game and he’s been very accurate with his throws.”
Lining up against an elite defense in the playoffs isn’t foreign territory for Foles and the Eagles, either. In last year’s NFC title game, the Vikings ranked first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and point per game.
We all remember how that turned out, though. Foles threw for 352 yards, three touchdowns, and didn’t commit a turnover and the Eagles pounded the Vikings, 38-7 to reach the Super Bowl.
“We’re a confident team right now,” Foles said. “And with that confidence and that belief in one another, you can go out there and do great things.”