Most likely the Bears matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night will come down to this: The Bears have the fifth-best passing game in the NFL and the Eagles’ pass defense is ranked 31st.
The Eagles have the NFL’s top running game and the Bears have the NFL’s 32nd-ranked run defense.
The Bears defense is 28th in the NFL in points allowed, the Eagles defense is 17th.
The defense that finds the best answers to those mismatches will win the game.
On the face of it, the Eagles’ defense is slightly less flawed.
But the Bears believe they might have some answers to the problem. Specifically, the return of linebacker Lance Briggs, the improvement of the defensive line thanks to the play of Jeremiah Ratliff and improvement by the defense overall.
As of Thursday, the return of Briggs still was just a hope.
Coach Marc Trestman talked about what it would mean to have Briggs back and Briggs talked about the impact he hopes to make, but he had not been cleared medically to play and that decision wouldn’t be made until Friday.
“I stand by being optimistic,” Trestman said. “You’ve always got to be cautiously optimistic because you don’t know what the next day is going to bring. But, based on the first two days of practice, we’re really hopeful that he’ll be able to play on Sunday night.”
That said, the Bears coach confirmed Briggs was again “limited” in practice Thursday.
How much can the Bears hope to get from a guy who hasn’t played in eight weeks?
Or viewed through another prism, should we expect Briggs to go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye before he’s even turned the key in the ignition?
“I’ve been playing football for a long time and it just happens that we’re going against a team that runs 80 plays a game offensively so that’ll be interesting,” Briggs said.
I believe conditioning will be an issue, but I also think it’ll be canceled out by adrenaline when the game starts. How long Briggs can keep the adrenaline flowing will be the key. The only guarantee is if he does play he’s going to be a truly wasted guy Monday.
“Lance is a great player,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “Not only is he assignment sound, but he can do his job, which can make others around him better and he can help out. When he’s doing that, he’s creating a little margin for error elsewhere.”
Just getting Briggs back is not enough to make a force of the worst run defense in the league and fifth-worst scoring defense. The Bears hope the addition of Ratliff will be.
There is no question that, in the Cleveland game, Ratliff gave the Bears the best defensive tackle play they’ve had all season. He was active and disruptive, making plays and forcing the ball to other players to make plays when they were in the gaps they were supposed to be in.
But this idea the defense as a whole and the run defense specifically have been better the past few weeks, there I have my doubts.
It appeared to me the Dallas Cowboys quit minutes if not seconds after they realized how miserably cold it was in Soldier Field.
Cleveland scored 31 points, 24 on offense, and they actually gained eight more yards on the ground than they have averaged for the season.
The Bears have an excellent chance to win this game. But it will almost certainly have to be because they put 35 to 45 points on the board.
The Bears defense being the difference still looks like an awfully tough putt.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.