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Eagles expose Bears' fatal flaw: Soft defense could cost Chicago playoff berth

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Where have you gone, Brian Urlacher?

The Chicago Bears, a team traditionally and recently known for tenacity and defense, showed none of either Sunday night as a chance to clinch a division championship rapidly devolved into one of the franchise's more embarrassing losses.

The Eagles torched them in prime time, 54-11, and the players in the losing locker room had just as few answers about the loss as they had during the loss.

"We played flat the whole game," Devin Hester told Yahoo Sports. "We started out flat."

Why?

"I don't know what it was," Hester said. "We didn't show up."

How a team doesn't show up for the biggest game of the season is beyond explanation, but what also stretches reason is how the Bears were a little too willing to ditch this debacle and move on to a winner-take-all game next week against the Packers at Soldier Field.

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LeSean McCoy and the Bears left the Eagles flailing at them for much of the game. (AP)

"I don't think we'll study this much," quarterback Jay Cutler said after the game, allowing a grin. "There's not much to study."

This was supposed to be a game that didn't matter to the Eagles. Philadelphia is locked into its own winner-take-all game next Sunday in Dallas. The home team supposedly had nothing to play for (though that's always a fallacy in the NFL). Instead, the Eagles came out like a team needing desperately to win, and the Bears came out punchless. They were down 21-0 after one quarter.

"We're from Philadelphia and we fight," Eagles head coach Chip Kelly declared after the game. The Bears are from Chicago and they should fight, too. Even harder, considering a title was there to be won. A game against your hated rival for the playoffs in Week 17 is an opportunity, but it's also an enormous threat. That threat could have been avoided.

A couple of the Bears said "what really matters" is that a win next week vaults them into the playoffs. That's true in the important sense that the team can make everyone forget about this loss with a win at home against Green Bay.

But what also matters is the team's horrendous play against the run. That problem is worse than ever, and it showed up conspicuously on Sunday. Both LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown had more than 100 yards rushing for Philadelphia, and even Chris Polk had a touchdown on the ground. Yes, credit must go to Kelly's signature offense, but the Bears have to figure out how to stop the run, or a division title next week would only serve as a precursor to more ugliness.

"We gotta stop the run," said free safety Chris Conte. "It's been the biggest issue all year."

Asked why it's festered so long, Conte said, "We've been trying to figure that out all season."

That's alarming, to say the least. There will be talk this week about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and whether he'll be healthy enough to play after a left collarbone fracture kept him out for the past seven games (since the first time the teams met in Green Bay). Whether or not Rodgers plays, the bigger concern for the Eagles should be whether Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy plays. Lacy, who re-aggravated an ankle injury in Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, is not the kind of runner who can dart and dash like McCoy, but even straight-ahead, downhill rushers have been able to blister the Bears. Coming into Sunday, the Bears gave up a league-worst 152.4 yards per game on the ground – more than 17 yards per game more than the second-worst Jacksonville Jaguars. That was before they gave up 289 yards on the ground to the Eagles.

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The Bears defense yielded 289 yards rushing to the Eagles. (USA Today)

Last season, the Bears gave up 101.7 yards per game – eighth-best in the league.

No, it's not all because of Urlacher's departure. It's not even all because of Lovie Smith's departure. There have been some key injuries, most notably Charles Tillman's torn triceps.

Yet no matter how good Marc Trestman's offense has looked at times this season, a turnstile-like run defense is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs – or in a playoff-like game. That was painfully clear Sunday. If a team can control the ball and score multiple times before you get a first down, you will likely lose. That's what happened to Chicago here.

Even if the Bears beat Lacy and the Packers next week at home, how will they do against Frank Gore, or DeAngelo Williams, or Marshawn Lynch? This is something the team will have to answer, perhaps next week or the week after or during the offseason. Nothing Cutler or Josh McCown does will solve this.

The old Bears were frustrating at times on offense. That gave their fans fits for years. But at least if you got them into a setting like Sunday's, where a win in a hostile environment could be had with physical defense and a few offensive breaks, the Bears would show up.

The Bears did not show up Sunday. Now they have to show up next Sunday, and not just on offense.

Because it's been clear all season in Chicago: The days of Urlacher are long gone.

 

 

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