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4 things to watch: Bears-Eagles

Posted Nov 26, 2017

Senior writer Larry Mayer identifies four storylines to watch Sunday when the Bears visit the Eagles, including the continued development of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

The Bears will look to snap a three-game losing streak Sunday when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the contest:

(1) Will Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continue to make positive strides?

With the Bears mired in last place, this season has become all about the development of Trubisky, the second overall pick in the draft. And the good news is that the promising young quarterback has seemingly improved with each passing game. Last Sunday against the Lions he successfully directed a two-minute drive—putting the Bears in position to tie the game late—after failing to do so in similar situations in losses to the Vikings and Saints. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains described the development as a "big step in his growth.”

Mitchell Trubisky
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky rolls out for a pass.

Trubisky also reduced the number of sacks he took from five the previous week against the Packers to one, rushed for 53 yards on six carries and continued to improve going through his progressions. Trubisky went to his third option for a critical 15-yard completion to receiver Dontrelle Inman to set up a potential game-tying field-goal attempt in the final seconds.

The Bears are hoping that Trubisky continues to excel Sunday against an Eagles defense that ranks seventh in the NFL in total yards. "It's going to be about us,” Trubisky said. "We're going to go in and execute. Stay manageable. Move the chains. Be efficient on third down. Finish in the red zone when we get the chance. Take what they give us and take care of the football.”

(2) Will an injury-depleted Bears defense be able to contain an explosive Eagles offense?

The Eagles lead the NFL with 320 points and have averaged 38.8 points over their last four games. Their multi-dimensional offense features a powerful rushing attack that ranks second in the league and a potent passing game that's led by young star quarterback Carson Wentz and former Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has caught six touchdown passes this season.

"They do a lot of things from a schematic standpoint,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "They'll spread you out. They run the zone read. They've got good schemed runs too. They play all their backs. They're the highest-scoring team in the league for a reason. They're a tough opponent to prepare for, but we'll prepare.”

The task will be more difficult for the Bears given their injuries to key players. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday against the Lions, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan hasn't practiced since hurting his calf Oct. 29 in New Orleans, and defensive end Akiem Hicks didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday due to a knee injury. Floyd, Trevathan and Hicks are arguably the three best players on the Bears defense.

(3) Will rookie running back Tarik Cohen continue to be involved on offense?

After touching the ball a total of eight times on offense in the previous three games, Cohen provided a boost last Sunday against the Lions, rushing for 44 yards and one touchdown on nine carries and catching four passes for 15 yards. He showed his quickness, athleticism and playmaking ability on a 15-yard touchdown run that tied the game 24-24 in the fourth quarter, sprinting around left end and flipping over Lions safety Glover Quin into the end zone.

Cohen's increased involvement in the offense did not hinder Jordan Howard's ability to make an impact; the second-year pro rushed for 125 yards and one TD on 15 carries with a long run of 50 yards that set up a touchdown. The Bears will need both Cohen and Howard to perform well Sunday against an Eagles run defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL.

"They're really talented, really well-coached,” Loggains said. "[Defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz, I had an opportunity to be with him at Tennessee. He's a guy that I respect maybe as much as anyone in this league and maybe learned as much football from as anyone I've ever been around. They're really good players, really talented. They play the wide-nine that we played in Tennessee when we were all there. They take on his personality. They're aggressive, they run to the ball. They do just enough schematically to create some issues for you.”

(4) How will the Bears respond to arguably their most difficult challenge of the season?

The Bears won't face a tougher task this year than playing on the road against an Eagles team that boasts the NFL's best record at 9-1 and leads the league in scoring. It appears to be a daunting challenge for a struggling team that has lost three straight games, is developing a rookie quarterback and has lost key players on defense to injury.

A strong performance against the Eagles could generate some much-needed momentum for a Bears team heading into a final stretch of the season that includes more-than-winnable home games against the hapless 49ers (1-9) and Browns (0-10), who are a combined 1-19.

The Bears have been competitive over the last six weeks; although they're just 2-4, all four losses have been by one score. They've actually been in every game this season except two, and the common denominator in blowout losses to the Buccaneers (29-7) and Packers (35-14) was that the Bears committed four turnovers in each contest. They certainly have to protect the ball Sunday in Philadelphia to enhance their chances of upsetting the Eagles.