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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (5-4) at Chicago (4-5)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in strikingly similar predicaments for this Sunday's key clash between the two slumping teams from historic Soldier Field.
Both the Bears and Eagles are presently mired in two-game losing streaks that could impact their postseason prospects down the line, with an inability to cash in on scoring opportunities playing a big part in each club's most recent setback. These Week 11 foes have also been forced to rely heavily upon their high-profile quarterbacks as of late, due to subpar running games that have been plagued by either injuries or ineffectiveness.
Turnovers were the determining factor in Chicago's last outing, namely the five interceptions Jay Cutler threw in a tough-to-stomach 10-6 loss at San Francisco in Week 10. Two of the struggling signal-caller's picks came with the Bears inside the 49ers' 15-yard line, the last of which occurred in the end zone in the game's waning seconds, while another helped set up Frank Gore's second-quarter touchdown run that wound up providing the winning margin.
Cutler has now been intercepted a league-high 17 times in his first nine starts as a Bear, and 15 of them have come in Chicago's five defeats.
Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb was considerably more efficient than his counterpart this past Sunday, with the Chicago native piling up 450 passing yards and two scores while tying his own franchise record with 35 completions in his team's matchup with the San Diego Chargers. That incredibly productive performance still wasn't enough to prevent the Eagles from being handed a frustrating 28-23 loss in a game marred by another concerning injury to running back Brian Westbrook.
Returning from a serious concussion that caused him to sit out Philadelphia's two previous tilts, Westbrook was forced to exit in the third quarter after taking another blow to the head that rendered him woozy. Although a subsequent neurological exam revealed that the two-time Pro Bowl participant should make a full recovery in time, it's safe to presume he won't be making it back to the field any time soon.
With Westbrook out of commission and the Chargers having jumped out to a 21-6 lead early in the second half, the Eagles attempted only 13 rushes and mustered a paltry 29 yards on the ground. Philadelphia also failed to come away with a touchdown on three trips inside the San Diego 10-yard line, settling for short field goals by kicker David Akers on each occasion.
Sunday's setback put the Eagles into a second-place tie with the New York Giants in the competitive NFC East race, one game behind division leader Dallas, and they're one of four teams currently at the head of the pack in the battle for the conference's two Wild Card berths with a 5-4 record.
The 4-5 Bears stand one game off the pace in the Wild Card standings, but trail surging Minnesota by four games for the top spot in the NFC's North Division.
Like its upcoming opponent, Chicago has had its problems in attempting to establish a capable ground attack. The Bears enter this weekend's play averaging an anemic 85.2 rushing yards per game, and top back Matt Forte' was held to a non-threatening 41 yards on 20 carries in the November 12 loss to the 49ers.
The Bears hold a 26-8-1 lead in the all-time series with Philadelphia, which dates back to 1933, and Chicago has won each of the last two head-to- head meetings. The Bears were 24-20 winners when the clubs met at Soldier Field in Week 4 of last season, and earned a thrilling 19-16 victory when they last visited Lincoln Financial Field, in 2007. The Eagles' most recent win in the series was a 19-9 affair in Chicago in 2004.
The Eagles have won two of the three postseason meetings with Chicago all- time, including a 33-19 road win in a 2001 NFC Divisional Playoff. Perhaps the teams' most memorable confrontation came in the infamous 1988 "Fog Bowl," an NFC Divisional Playoff in the Windy City that Chicago won, 20-12.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is 5-2 in his career against Chicago, including the '01 postseason tilt. The Bears' Lovie Smith is 2-1 against both Reid and Philadelphia as a head coach.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Even though McNabb (1685 passing yards, 12 TD, 4 INT) was nearly able to bring his team back with last week's pass-heavy display, the Eagles have been a tougher team to handle when they've shown balance on offense. Philadelphia has averaged over 130 rushing yards in its five wins this season, but only 66 during its four defeats. Rookie LeSean McCoy (353 rushing yards, 2 TD, 23 receptions) has been a credible fill-in during the games Westbrook has missed, and the second-round draft pick will be asked to handle the primary backfield duties this week with an assist from versatile fullback Leonard Weaver (126 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 2 total TD). You can still count on the Eagles airing it out quite a bit come Sunday, with McNabb utilizing the talents of a quality corps of receivers in the team's trademark West Coast scheme. Tight end Brent Celek (46 receptions, 5 TD) has developed into a dangerous downfield threat who's caught a touchdown pass in three straight games, while young wideouts DeSean Jackson (34 receptions, 621 yards, 6 total TD) and Jeremy Maclin (31 receptions, 4 TD) both have speed to burn and excel at gaining yards after the catch. Slotman Jason Avant (23 receptions, 1 TD), who posted career-highs of eight receptions and 156 yards in the San Diego game, also must be accounted for in the league's ninth-ranked aerial attack (250.1 ypg). Left tackle Jason Peters, who sat out last week with a sprained left ankle, is expected to return on Sunday to protect McNabb's blind side.
If the Eagles decide to focus on running the football, there figures to be a chance of obtaining success on a Chicago defense that's permitted over 150 rushing yards per game over the past four weeks and allowed Gore to put up 104 yards and a score in their encounter with the 49ers. The Bears, who stand just 21st in the league against the run (118.4 ypg), have had a hard time filling the void created by star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's season-ending dislocated wrist in Week 1, while standout tackle Tommie Harris (12 tackles, 1 sack) has been less of a force due to chronic knee problems, although the three-time Pro Bowler did record three tackles in a sack against the Niners. Weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (71 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), a four-time Pro Bowl selection, has continued to play at a high level and came up with a team- best 12 stops in the Week 10 loss. The Bears had one of their best showings of the year on defense their last time out, limiting San Francisco to 216 total yards and 12 first downs.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
While Cutler (2353 passing yards, 14 TD, 17 INT) has taken plenty of heat for his turnover-prone ways, the offseason acquisition isn't solely responsible for Chicago's offensive woes. A suspect front line has had problems opening up lanes for Forte (482 rushing yards, 3 TD, 38 receptions), with the second-year back averaging a mediocre 3.4 yards per carry on the year, while a still- developing group of receivers too often hasn't been on the same page as their strong-armed quarterback. Jump-starting the running game is essential if the Bears are to engineer a turnaround, along with Cutler keeping his mistakes to a minimum. The 26-year-old has only been intercepted twice in the club's four wins in 2009, while Chicago has lost all three games in which he's thrown for 300 yards or more. Dynamic return man Devin Hester (48 receptions, 596 yards, 3 TD) has shown flashes of becoming a top-tier wide receiver, but tight end Greg Olsen (34 receptions, 6 TD) is the one establishing himself as Cutler's go-to guy. The former first-round pick followed up a three-touchdown day in a blowout loss to Arizona two weeks back by registering season-highs of seven catches and 75 yards against the 49ers. Forte is an accomplished pass-catcher as well and is fresh off establishing personal bests of 120 receiving yards and eight receptions in the San Francisco game.
Cutler will be presented with a challenge from an aggressive Philadelphia defense that has put together the second-most takeaways (22) and stands third in the NFL with 15 interceptions. The Eagles have some serious health issues to deal with in the secondary, though. Starting cornerback Sheldon Brown (25 tackles, 4 INT, 9 PD) isn't likely to play this week after straining his hamstring last Sunday, while key reserves Ellis Hobbs and Joselio Hanson (29 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD) also aren't available due to a season-ending neck stinger and a suspension, respectively. That puts seldom-used special teamer Dimitri Patterson (8 tackles) as the probable starter alongside playmaking corner Asante Samuel (24 tackles, 5 INT, 8 PD), with one-time Lions practice- squadder Ramzee Robinson the favorite to assume nickel duties. The defense may also be without weakside linebacker and leading tackler Akeem Jordan (53 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) for a second straight week because of a hyperextended knee, meaning raw rookie Moise Fokou (19 tackles) could be pressed back into starting service. The Eagles will have their best pass rusher on the field in end Trent Cole (34 tackles, 7.5 sacks), a premier disruptor who's notched at least one sack in six of the first nine games of the year.
With two teams that throw the ball a lot, whether it be by choice or out of necessity, the quarterbacks and receivers will be the ones taking center stage from a fantasy standpoint in this showdown. Cutler has thrown for enough yards and touchdowns to be considered a usable No. 1 quarterback, but his inordinate amount of interceptions and a matchup with an opportunistic defense raises some serious red flags. Westbrook's injury not only upgrades McCoy's value, but McNabb, Celek, Jackson and Maclin figure to benefit from Philadelphia's expected reliance on the pass as a result. Each has enough upside to justify a spot in lineups this week. Don't be fooled by Avant's huge game from a week ago, as he's merely the fourth option in the offense and the Eagles should show more emphasis in running the ball on Sunday. Forte's receiving skills have helped offset his lack of production as a runner and keep him viable at the running back position, while Olsen makes for an excellent start against a Philadelphia squad that often struggles in defending the tight end. Hester also gets enough looks from Cutler to warrant a play this week. Finally, start Akers, the league's co-leader in field goals, and the Eagles defense that gets to go up against a mistake-prone quarterback.
While both of these teams have some glaring flaws, the Bears seem to be the ones more susceptible of having their shortcomings exposed in this game. The aggressive Eagles are plenty good enough along the front seven to clamp down on a Chicago ground attack that's been virtually non-existent this season, and the Bears have proven to be very vulnerable when they've been one-dimensional on offense. While Philadelphia has been stubborn to run the ball and often struggles within the opponent's 20-yard line, the Bears have been among the league's worst red-zone defenses and haven't exactly been a stone wall as a whole on that side. Winning the turnover battle usually leads to winning games, and an Eagles team that's very proficient in that aspect should be able to take advantage of a Chicago offense that's been extremely careless in protecting the football as of late.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 27, Bears 17
11/19 18:09:07 ET