MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY ARE BACK
When John Fox was hired as the Bears’ head coach in 2015, he brought along former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with him to mold that side of the ball. Fangio, a onetime protégé of Dom Capers and Jim Mora, had built a dominating unit in San Francisco, helping Jim Harbaugh and company reach three consecutive NFC championship game appearances and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII.
Transitioning Chicago to an effective 3-4 defense has taken some time over the last few years, but it’s been well worth the wait. The drafting of players like Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd and Kyle Fuller, and the acquisitions of players like former Raider and UB alum Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks have turned the Bears from a bottom-feeder to an elite outfit that would make past Bear defenders proud.
While Fangio, who was retained by Matt Nagy, doesn’t like to blitz much – relying on a four-man pass rush most of the time – he does heavily employ well-disguised zone concepts. With Mack and Floyd adept at both rushing opposing signal-callers and dropping into coverage, Fangio has a lot of chess pieces at his disposal. They’ve paid off by becoming perhaps the most feared defense in the NFL.
Watch for the Bears to use Roquan Smith in man coverage in order to re-route Eagles tight end Zach Ertz at the line of scrimmage and not give Ertz a clean release.
BEARS’ OFFENSE A MIX OF OLD AND NEW IDEAS
Nagy, a former offensive coordinator for Andy Reid in Kansas City, has brought an intriguing version of the West Coast offense to the Windy City. According to the MMQB’s Andy Benoit, “(Nagy’s) system features the misdirection, presnap motioning and multi-option plays that are now in vogue. Nagy aims to isolate specific defenders (often linebackers) and present them with run/pass assignment conflicts. He also gets defenders flowing one way as the ball goes another.”
Trubisky, in his second year out of the University of North Carolina, reminds one of a mix between Jake Plummer and Kirk Cousins. While not extremely athletic nor having an elite arm, Trubisky has just enough of both traits in order to play effectively. He also is very good at play-action, is decently accurate has solid vision outside of the pocket, despite not being great at handling the timing and rhythm of the passing game.
Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel are excellent vertical threats, while tight end Trey Burton possesses sure hands and good short-to-intermediate route running ability. Running back Jordan Howard is great at working off of inside and outside zone plays, and scatback Tarik Cohen – reminiscent of a young Darren Sproles – is used in Nagy’s misdirection concepts like the Chiefs use Tyreek Hill.
Bears kicker Cody Parkey has missed 10 combined field goals and extra points this season – second-most in the NFL.
A FAMILIAR TALE FOR PHILADELPHIA
The Eagles are attempting to win their second consecutive Super Bowl the way they did last year – with starting quarterback Carson Wentz on the shelf and Nick Foles starting. While Foles did win them a world championship a year ago, his success is directly tied to the system Doug Pederson places him in, due to his talent level being below that of Wentz’s.
Wentz is very much like Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. He can extend plays inside and outside of the pocket, he’s intelligent, he’s strong-armed and accurate. Problem is, his style – like Ben’s – can also lead to injuries, hence Foles’ playing time over the last two years.
To compensate for the drop-off in skill, Pederson’s version of the West Coast offense helps out Foles with complex formations, intricate route combinations and run-pass options galore. The Eagles’ running game, carried out by a host of backs including Josh Adams, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, is schematically diverse. Veterans Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have been on the shelf for most of the season.
In addition to All-Pro tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles employ former Packers tight end Richard Rodgers and second-round rookie Dallas Goedert. Rodgers and Goedert replace the departed Burton and Brent Celek in Pederson’s multi-tight-end formations. Their wideouts are Alshon Jeffery, a great red zone threat, the speedy Golden Tate and Mike Wallace, and slot receivers Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews.
Philadelphia’s offensive line is one of the league’s best. Anchored by Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Issac Seumalo, this group has acquired many accolades over the years.
EAGLES’ DEFENSE BOTH SIMPLE AND CRAFTY
By definition, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme is a 4-3 defense predominantly featuring zone coverage, one-gap run fits and 46 pressure looks pre-snap that become conservative post-snap. But recently, Schwartz has developed more aggressive ways to get after quarterbacks.
According to Benoit, “One tactic Schwartz uses is to align (Pro Bowler Fletcher) Cox directly over the center. Then Schwartz either overloads one side or goes with a diamond look, flanking Cox with two defenders on each side. Both strategies isolate Cox against the center, whom he can always overpower.”
In addition to Cox, the Eagles boast an embarrassment of riches on their defensive line. Michael Bennett, Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Graham are the other starters, and they have performed so well for so long that even with former first-round pick Derek Barnett injured, proven veterans like Haloti Ngata and Chris Long can provide quality depth behind them.
The Eagles’ secondary has been ravaged by the injury bug all year long. Both of their top cornerbacks, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, are out for the season and nickel corner Sidney Jones has dealt with multiple ailments. Safety Rodney McLeod is also done until 2019 with a knee injury.
While Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox have held down the fort, they scare no one. Thanks to safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham, the team’s back-end has been kept afloat.
Philadelphia’s linebackers are led by Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks.
THIS AND THAT
- Eagles assistant defensive line coach Phillip Daniels played for the Bears from 2000-03.
- Eagles safeties coach Tim Hauck was a teammate of Daniels’ in Seattle in 1997.
- Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator Mike Groh was the Bears’ wide receivers coach from 2013-15.
- Pederson was teammates with both Hauck and running backs coach Duce Staley in Philadelphia, and was a player in Green Bay while both linebackers coach Ken Flajole and Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell were on the Packers’ staff.
- Hauck, Staley, Pederson and Nagy all played for Andy Reid during Reid’s stay in Philadelphia – with Pederson, Nagy and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo being colleagues of Reid’s in Kansas City.
- Donatell, Fangio, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and linebackers coach Glenn Pires were all on Fox’s staff in Chicago before Nagy arrived. Flajole worked for Fox while in Carolina.
- Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and Pires both worked for Nick Saban previously – Stoutland at Alabama, Pires at Michigan State.
- Bears offensive line coach Harry Heistand was on staff when Lovie Smith led the Bears to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.