Four Downs With the Chicago Bears

Four Downs With the Chicago Bears

The Eagles blow into Chicago on Sunday night looking for revenge after last season's fourth quarter meltdown against the Bears, but this is not the same (second-rate) offense that marched 97 yards on 11 plays with under two minutes to go.  Stars such as Brian Griese, Bernard Berrian, and Muhsin Muhammad have all gone to better places.  You just can't replace that kind of talent experience group.

Oh they tried, how they tried.  Kyle Orton was finally given his long overdue shot, and to ensure his success, he's been paired with stiffs and castoffs like Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd.  They do have a nice situation at tight end, but come on!  And you guys complain about the Eagles receivers?  I almost pity the Bears.

Regardless of who lines up across from them, I'm sure the Eagles defense has not forgotten they cost the team a win last time, and they'll leave a little extra on the field to put it behind them.

Tommie Harris (if he plays)

As Tommie Harris goes, so the Bears defense goes.  If Chicago is going to win this game, they need to put a stop to an Eagles offense that has shown the ability to air it out.  For that to happen, Harris needs to take advantage of one of their few distinct weaknesses: the interior offensive line.  With Shawn Andrews out and Jamaal Jackson reportedly battling a quad injury, this could be an area of concern facing a prolific defensive tackle.

Harris is such a large part of what this defense does.  They don't blitz often, so it's important the front four generate pressure and allow the secondary to creep up in their cover 2 assignments and make plays on the ball.  He is just as crucial to stopping the run, as just his mere presence keeps blockers off of Urlacher and allows the middle linebacker to get to running backs faster and stop the play sooner.

Healthy Donovan

The last thing I want to do is create the usual injury panic about Donovan, but this is clearly the type of injury that interferes with the ability to throw a football.  The Eagles did the right thing letting him rest this week, and he is tough enough to deal with some minor discomfort even if he's not quite 100%.

By no means does that mean it should be understated.  One thing the Bears defense does as well as any team in the league is turn interceptions into 6 points, and any injury that changes the quarterback's motion or makes him think about taking a hit always has the potential to result in errant passes.  I think he's going be just fine, but make no mistake, the opponent will keep a close eye on his body language throughout the game.

Bears Offense VS. Eagles Defense

Advantage: Eagles.  The guy least looking forward to this game has to be Orton, especially once he watched the film from the Steelers game.  I actually have to give Orton some credit, he's no Rex Grossman, and I don't necessarily see him slinging pick after pick while he runs for his life.  Honestly though, what's he going to do?

The Bears offensive line is hurting, and they don't have any reliable receivers.  Rookie RB Matt Forte has been a nice addition, but the Eagles have had no problems stopping the run to this point.  All together, it creates the recipe for a long day for the Bears offense.  They are not so tragically hopeless to be written off completely, but if the defense plays with even half the intensity they showed last week, it's over.

No Westbrook?  No Problem.

You hear it all the time, the Eagles wouldn't be able to do what they do without Westbrook.  No doubt about it, anytime you take a player of  his caliber out of the lineup, you're obviously going to battle without a huge weapon.

Their supposed inability to win without him has been blown out of proportion though.  If this were January, I would be far more concerned about the possibility of West being out, but they should be able to do without against Chicago.  For one thing, Buckhalter has proven to be a more than reliable backup, and he may not be quite as dynamic as his counterpart, but Andy Reid is not afraid to split him wide or set up a screen for him.  In fact, love him or hate him, Reid's system has allowed the Eagles to get away with playing backups in important roles for years, and maybe that doesn't win Super Bowls, but it's usually good enough to beat a mediocre team in September.

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Usually when coming up with the final score, I actually try to break the game down drive for drive a few times and run through some different scenarios.  Each time I broke this game down, I simply started the Bears with a touchdown.  Maybe the defense scores, and Devin Hester is always a threat to break one, so right away adjust your thinking by seven.

Even once I had accounted for that, it was still difficult to project the offense actually threatening to keep the game close.  Can they score?  Of course they could.  The Eagles still have to take the field and win, so for right now, the Bears have a chance.

But this is no walk in the park.  Kyle Orton hasn't shown me anything to suggest he's ready for the onslaught he faces, and that's if his porous offensive line even gives him the chance.  This is the kind of team the Eagles need to flatten and continue to assert themselves as one of the best teams in the conference.  The Bears D isn't as good as it used to be, and the offense has next to no redeeming qualities, so I predict the good guys roll to 3-1.  Enjoy the game.

Final Score: Eagles 27, Bears 13



Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.