Eagles Opposition Report: Bears Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Bears Defense

Chicago has a reputation
for having one of the better defenses in the NFL, but that's not exactly
the case. In fact, they are pretty ordinary. The Bears are 19th in
points per game, and 25th in yards. They don't do anything particularly
well, and are especially prone to the passing attack, entering Monday
night ranked 28th in the league.

The reason is quite simple: they
are a unit anchored by three aging playmakers who are surrounded by
otherwise pedestrian talent.

RDE Julius Peppers
One of the few
gems from 2010's free agent class, Peppers migrated north from Carolina
last spring and enjoyed a fine first season in his new uniform. His
eight sacks were a little deceptive, as he was still disruptive and
commanded extra attention from time to time. Plus, he forced three
fumbles and intercepted two passes. Even at 31, there aren't many
defensive ends who can wreak havoc in such a variety of manners.

There
are signs he is finally slowing down in his tenth season though.
Peppers has just four sacks so far, and he's created zero turnovers. To
be fair, he was fighting through a sprained MCL at one point, and he's
still on pace to match last year's sack total. He's also a 6-7, 287 lbs.
monster-man, so that should probably be noted as well. But Peppers is
not quite the dominant force he was the previous decade either, and
that's good news for Michael Vick and Jason Peters at least.

MLB Brian Urlacher
The
middle of the field still belongs to Urlacher, who at 33 still has the
range to patrol huge chunks of turf in Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense.
Last season was his first trip to the Pro Bowl since 2006, and he's
working on what would be his eighth selection in 2011, already racking
up three interceptions on the year. He can blitz too, but hasn't visited
the quarterback yet this season. A genetic freak like Peppers, Urlacher
always was one of the few linebackers in the league who could almost
match athletic ability with Vick, and he can quickly turn a
highlight-reel scramble into a costly mistake.

CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman
One
of the underrated playmakers in all of football, Tillman has been
remarkably consistent throughout his nine-year career. Only twice has he
intercepted fewer than three passes, and he is one of the game's great
strip artists, punching 27 balls free and three or more in five of the
past six seasons. Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant should take note, as
they've each experienced spells of critical ball control issues.

Like
the rest of Chicago's core, Tillman's best days are likely behind him.
He hasn't done a whole lot in 2011 -- zero picks, and two forced
fumbles. And when a cornerback is knocking all those balls loose, that
means wide receivers are making catches. Protect the ball, and you've
beaten Peanut.

And now the rest...

OLB Lance Briggs
Don't
get me wrong, Briggs is a fine player, quite possibly the best 4-3
outside linebacker in the NFL since Derrick Brooks. He's a sound
tackler, fits well in the Bears' system, and constantly wants a new
contract, so we've no doubt all heard of him. He's also yet another
30-year-old -- 31 this Saturday -- and doesn't come up with many
game-changing plays. Briggs has 10.5 sacks and 13 INTs in nine seasons.
A sound veteran player, a perfect fit for their system... and possibly a
tad overrated.

LDE Israel Idonije
Not one to buck the trend,
Idonije is also going on 31, but last season was his first as a
full-time starter. He benefited greatly from the presence of Peppers on
the opposite side, doubling his career sack total with eight. He's
having another decent year at three so far, but the Niegerian-Canadian
won't overwhelm linemen, and isn't anything Todd Herremans shouldn't be
able to handle.

DT Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina
Believe it or
not, there is some youth on this defense, including the two starters
along the interior defensive line. A fourth round pick out of Texas last
year, Melton is in his first season as a starter, and has three sacks
thus far. The 27-year-old Toeaina finally stuck as a starter last year.
The former sixth-round pick by Cincinnati missed the last two games due
to injury, and figures to give the run defense a bit of a boost with his
return.

The rotation also features former Texans first round
pick Amobi Okoye, who remarkably is still only 24 in his fifth NFL
season, and Stephen Paea, this year's second rounder who appeared in two
games so far.

S Chris Conte and Major Wright
Chicago also has
a pair of young safeties. Conte is a rookie free safety out of Cal. The
third round pick has seen increased play time lately, taking over as
starter for the disappointing Brandon Meriweather over the last two
weeks, and recording his first interception last week. Wright was a
third round pick last season, and on the heels of the recent release of
Chris Harris, he's pretty much the man at strong safety.

The
Bears don't ask too much of their safeties in their Cover-2. They are
mostly there to prevent big plays down the field, which is why they can
get away with such inexperienced players. Just don't be surprised to see
a gameplan that attacks them.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).