Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eagles Head to Chicago for "Must Win" Game

nfl footballeagles@chargers

The Eagles head to Chicago to play their second "Football Night in America" game in 3 weeks. They find themselves with some extra pressure to win due to their disappointing record thus far and some difficult games ahead, prompting Donovan McNabb to label it a "must win" game. The Eagles have the added burden of knowing that they have never won in the NBC Sunday night game of the week, compiling an 0-7 record.

McNabb appears be attempting to step up as a more vocal leader as he surveys a young team with key veteran leaders now departed. He has effectively issued a challenge to his teammates to find a way to come home from Chicago with a victory despite being somewhat decimated by injuries and a suspension. Brian Westbrook is officially out for at least the next 3 games as a result of his second concussion this season, so McNabb and his young offensive unit will have to come of age. Rookie LeSean McCoy and newcomer Leonard Weaver will split duties in an attempt to gain some semblance of a running game, protect McNabb and execute on the Eagles signature screen game.

Jason Peters has been hurt all season, and after sitting out last week, is listed as "probable", but does not possess a great track record of playing through injury. Big free agent acquisition Stacy Andrews has been a bust so far as he struggles to overcome off-season knee surgery. If the Eagles hope to make the post season and advance, both of them are going to have to play much closer to expectations.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will be playing again with a patchwork defense. The linebackers and secondary feature considerably different players than appeared on the depth chart at the start of the season. CB Sheldon Brown left last week's game with a hamstring injury, but vows to play. If he can, he surely provides a boost to an unit that will be without Joselio Hanson, Ellis Hobbs and Quintin Demps, but the team still needs to be prepared for limited effectiveness or an early exit.

The Bears come into the game having lost 4 of the last 5 games, with the only win coming against the lowly Browns. New QB Jay Cutler has struggled with interceptions all season, throwing 5 last week alone to give him 17 for the season. Sophomore Matt Forte has been less effective in the running game and has actually been more dangerous catching balls out of the backfield.

The Eagles defense would normally provide a tough match-up for this offense, but with several players out or playing in unfamiliar roles, it is reasonable to expect the Bears will move the ball and put up points. It is also reasonable to assume that they will be able to force a couple turnovers from the pressing Cutler.

This means that like last week, McNabb is likely to put the ball in the air in an attempt to outscore their opponent. Avoiding poor field position and drive killing penalties will be key. And, the Eagles hope to improve on their ability to convert on short yardage and in the red zone.

The NBC Sunday night drought and Bears home success notwithstanding, expect the Eagles to play with some urgency and score enough points to win. McNabb and Eagles should be able to move the ball freely through the air and could hit on a couple long passes. With McCoy and Weaver providing a threat on swing passes and screens, and Brent Celek and Jason Avant working the middle of the field, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin should be able to break free a few times.

Cutler will look for Forte and TE Greg Olsen to move the chains, and will likely find success. Devin Hester or Johnny Knox may provide a long touchdown, but Cutler will almost surely fire a couple ill advised passes as the Eagles keep pressure on him throughout the game. In particular, expect Asante Samuel to bait him and jump a route or two.

Eagles 27

Bears 24

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