When the Bears host the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs Sunday at Soldier Field, keep an eye out for the following matchups:
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller vs. Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery
The two know each other very well, having battled in practice as Bears teammates for three seasons from 2014-16. Fuller has had a breakout 2018 campaign, tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and topping the league with 21 pass breakups. His seven picks were the most by a Bears player since cornerback Tim Jennings led the NFL with nine in 2012. The emergence of Fuller, who has been voted to his first Pro Bowl this year, helped the Bears lead the NFL with 36 takeaways and 27 interceptions.
Fuller and the rest of the secondary will have their hands full with Jeffery, who bolted to Philadelphia in 2016 after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Bears. The 6-3, 218-pounder had 65 catches for 843 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games this year. In the first game that Nick Foles started in place of the injured Carson Wentz Dec. 16, Jeffery had eight receptions for a season-high 160 yards in a 30-23 win over the Rams.
“He’s a big target with a big catching radius,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “I think he’s a better runner after the catch than people give him credit for. He’s got deceptive speed. He’s gotten [to Philadelphia] and flourished.”
Bears guard Kyle Long vs. Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox
Much will be made about Long possibly going head-to-head with his older brother, Chris, a pass-rushing defensive end with the Eagles. But an equally intriguing matchup will pit Kyle Long against Cox, who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl this season and leads Philadelphia with 10.5 sacks.
“He’s an elite player,” Long said of the 6-4, 310-pounder. “He’s a special player. He’s somebody that you’ve got to be prepared for. He’s the total package. He’s a physically dominant player. He’s somebody that understands technique, very sound in his technique. He can beat you in a number of ways.”
After missing eight games with a foot injury he sustained Oct. 28 in a win over the Jets, Long returned to start at right guard in last Sunday’s regular season finale in Minnesota and played 29 snaps, all in the first half. The Bears are hoping that he will be able to handle expanding playing time in Sunday’s playoff contest against the Eagles.
“We’d love to be able to put him out there, start and play a whole game,” coach Matt Nagy said earlier this week. “We just have to see how he holds up. Even after 29 plays, I felt good with where he’s at, but we wanted to make sure we were being smart throughout that process with his health and where we were at as a team.”
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack vs. Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson
Mack enters his second career playoff game after registering a team-leading 12.5 sacks this season, the most by a Bears player since Richard Dent also had 12.5 in 1993. Selected to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, Mack also led the defense with six forced fumbles and 18 quarterback hits and ranked second with 10 tackles-for-loss.
While Mack lines up on both sides of the field, he no doubt will battle Johnson at times. The fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft was voted a first-team All-Pro last season when he helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl.
“He’s playing good,” Fangio said. “This is the best line that we’ve faced lately. I can’t think back to all the games, but they’re a very good offensive line. Both tackles are good. They’ve got good interior people with [center Jason] Kelce setting it up there. It’ll be a challenge for our front guys to play these guys versus the run and the pass.”