The Eagles beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, 22-14, and head into the bye week with a 5-4 record.
Here are my top five reasons for the Eagles win:
For the second straight week, the defense avoided the slow starts that had been plaguing Jim Schwartz’s unit in the first seven games. The Eagles forced three-and-outs on the Bears’ first five possessions. Chicago didn’t have a first down until the final minute of the first half.
For the second week in a row and only the fourth time this season, the Eagles led at the half. They’ve won all four of those games.
Carson Wentz, who has not played well in the first quarter this season — he went into Sunday’s game with a 70.7 first-quarter passer rating — completed 8-of-10 passes for 78 yards in the first 15 minutes, and engineered scoring drives on the Eagles’ first three possessions.
It was the first time this season that the Eagles scored on their first three possessions, even if two of them were Jake Elliott field goals after drives stalled inside the Chicago 10-yard line.
The offensive line had another solid game. It took advantage of the absence of Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who is out with an elbow injury, and controlled the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles, who rushed for a season-high 218 yards in last week’s win over the Bills, put up 146 Sunday, including 81 in the first half.
Jordan Howard averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down. The Eagles owned the area between the tackles all day. On their eight-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to open the second half that gave them a 19-0 lead, Howard had 17- and 13-yard runs, the second one for his sixth rushing TD of the season.
The blocks by right guard Brandon Brooks on linebacker Roquan Smith and right tackle Lane Johnson on nose defensive tackle Nick Williams opened up an interstate-wide lane down the middle of the field for Howard on his scoring run.
Carson Wentz was sacked four times, but one was a failed run and another came on a poorly executed screen play.
Rookie left tackle Andre Dillard had a good game, considering he spent a good part of the day blocking All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack. The Eagles gave him a lot of help, using 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) much of the game.
The Wentz-to-Ertz connection hasn’t been as reliable this season as it was last year. When you catch more passes than any other tight end in history and play on a team that is getting too little production from its wide receivers like the Eagles are, you’re going to draw a lot of coverage attention.
While he led the team in receptions, Ertz went into Sunday’s game with the lowest catch rate of his career. He had just eight receptions and five first downs in the previous three games.
But Sunday, it was like old times. Wentz targeted his good buddy 11 times, and Ertz caught a season-high nine passes for a season-high 103 yards and just his second touchdown catch of the year.
Eight of his nine catches produced first downs, including three on third down and another on fourth down. He had key catches on all five of the Eagles’ scoring drives.
In their win over Buffalo, the Eagles had a 14-play, 83-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive that ate up more than eight minutes of the clock and put the game on ice.
Sunday, they used yet another eight-plus-minute scoring drive to keep the ball out of the hands of the Bears and seal a victory.
Wentz, who completed 26 of 39 passes against the Bears and notched his sixth interception-less game of the season, was at his very best on the game-clinching drive. He was 5-for-5 for 52 yards and converted four third-down situations.
He completed a 13-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery on a third-and-3, connected with running back Miles Sanders on a 15-yard pass on a third-and-12, hit Ertz for 4 yards on a rub route on a third-and-3, and connected with tight end Dallas Goedert on a 16-yard middle screen on a third-and-9.
On the pass to Goedert, Wentz had to wait for his tight end to get separated from linebacker Leonard Floyd, which meant holding the ball a little longer than he had planned. But it all worked out and Goedert picked up the first down and kept the drive alive.
For the second straight week, the Eagles managed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. While their biggest tests will come after the bye against the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, they did a good job of hurrying the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky and getting him off his spot.
All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is almost back to where he was before last season’s foot injury, and Brandon Graham is on pace for the first double-digit-sack season of his career. He picked up his team-leading sixth against the Bears.
Genard Avery, acquired from Cleveland last week, played only three snaps but split a sack with safety Malcolm Jenkins in the second quarter on a third-and-10.
The Eagles pressured Trubisky on 12 of his 24 dropbacks, sacking him three times. They have been ineffective blitzers this season, but not Sunday. Schwartz sent extra rushers after Trubisky six times on 24 pass plays. He was 0-for-4 and sacked twice when the Eagles blitzed.
In their first eight games, the Eagles had just three sacks on 65 blitz opportunities and gave up seven touchdown passes.