Each time the Eagles offense breaks the huddle Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the players will search for the jersey with “52” on it.
Finding Khalil Mack is important, and fortunately for the Eagles, he’s hard to miss. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker is one of the NFL’s best edge rushers, and his presence draws a lot of attention each week. The Eagles are no exception.
“He’s a generational pass-rusher," Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said. “He’s the best in the league. So, we’ve got our eyes on him. He’s a difficult man to stop once he gets going. ... He’s strong and quick, he’s intelligent, that’s why he’s the best, man. He’s dynamic with everything he does, really."
The Chicago defense has been one of the best in the NFL this season at bothering quarterbacks, leading the league in hurries per drop-back (16 percent) and ranked No. 4 in pass rushing by Pro Football Focus.
Even after losing starting defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the Bears have managed this success with a talented front around Mack. They have two former top-10 draft picks in Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith, with Floyd coming off the edge and Smith at linebacker.
“That front seven is probably the most talented front seven in the league,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. “It’s going to be a tough test for us.”
Mack had double-digit sack totals each of the last four seasons, and he has tallied 5.5 this year already. The Bears typically move Mack around on the line, sometimes switching sides. Johnson held up quite well against him during last season’s wild-card game, but, for rookie tackle Andre Dillard, this could be his biggest challenge.
“I know that we’ll see that matchup at some point in the game,” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “We just got to be aware of where he is, obviously, and try to make sure that we minimize his impact as best we can. Andre’s done a great job the last two weeks."
Ertz said he and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert must make sure to chip in, literally, to help Dillard when they can against the All-Pro edge rusher.
“Dallas and I, if we’re called up to chip, if we’re called up to pass-protect, we have to take that extremely seriously,” Ertz said. “We always do, but especially with a guy like him.”
Dillard has received high marks on handling “games” or “twist stunts” up front, when two rushers will switch places shortly after the ball is snapped.
Against the Bears, he’ll have to continue to show that proficiency.
“It’s everything, with what we do, passing off games,” Johnson said. “If you don’t, then people get on different levels and that creates rooms for guys to go after the quarterback. It’s a big deal for us.”
Avonte Maddox and Miles Sanders were both full participants in practice Thursday, but DeSean Jackson was still limited. Maddox has made it back after missing four games with a concussion and neck injury suffered on a scary helmet-to-helmet collision that sent him to the hospital against the Green Bay Packers.
Sanders missed practice Wednesday with a hurt shoulder, but said he expected to play Sunday, downplaying the severity of his injury.
Jackson was limited for the second day in a row with an abdominal injury, but the wide receiver did participate in the beginning portion of practice, stretching with the team and getting reps during individual drills.
Brandon Brooks (illness), Nigel Bradham (ankle), and Jason Peters (knee) all missed practice Thursday.