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.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).