We’re just two days away from a war at Soldier Field. The Philadelphia Eagles have kicked down the doors to the playoffs and will storm Chicago with every intent of keeping their title defense alive. Much has been said of Khalil Mack, Nick Foles and the incredible relationship between Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, but when it comes to what we see on the field, the two teams have yet more similarities.
There has been such a large emphasis of success inside the red zone since the arrival of Doug Pederson, on both sides of the ball. After a stunningly efficient 2017 season offensively for the Eagles, things started to change one season later and have slowly started to pick back up. But on the other side of the ball, Schwartz only found more of the same success he enjoyed one year ago.
Coming into Sunday’s matchup, the Eagles have the league’s best red zone defense. Opponents are finding the end zone on just 44% of their trips inside the 20 and when playing on the road, that number only jumps up 4%. When you take into account just how banged up the Eagles secondary is, (to a point where not a single starting CB is currently playing) and how many other bumps, bruises and season ending injuries they’ve endured, to still be boasting the NFL’s finest red zone unit speaks volumes about the ‘bend but don’t break’ culture.
But they will face a very stiff challenge this weekend. Matt Nagy’s creative offense ranks sixth in red zone scoring percentage, finding the end zone on 66% of their drives inside the 20. In their last three games, that number has spiked to 80% and when playing at home, sits at an equally intimidating 73%. A red zone fire meets ice showdown seems imminent. One of the league’s top red zone scoring units will clash with the the NFL’s very best red zone defense. To make things even more interesting, there is the unavoidable relationship between two of Andy Reid’s most successful padwan’s.
But I think sometimes, you kind of know maybe the psyche of a coach, what he thinks, how I think. Having been in meetings together, I think that part can maybe at least shed a little bit of insight maybe in a situation.
“Obviously you can see Matt’s creativity in the offense and some of the things they are doing in the red zone and stuff like that.” Pederson said earlier this week. “Because we’re both on the same side of the ball, probably makes it a little bit, probably equal.”
If both of their armies were to completely neutralize in this epic battle of coaching chess, then the other sides of the ball would surely play a role…and that’s where things get even more interesting.
Over the last three weeks, the Eagles have converted on 60% of their red zone drives, while the Bears are forcing opponents to a field goal or left. This is a big improvement over their performances earlier in the year, but the issue was never converting inside the red zone, it was getting there to begin with.
Meanwhile, the Bears red zone defense isn’t exactly bad. In fact, is very, very good. Ranking 6th in the NFL, they’re allowing touchdowns on just 50% of opposing drives, while allowing a stunningly low (and league best) 25% in their last three weeks. That number is likely skewed due to the Niners blowout, but also involved a trying Vikings offense and a Packers offense scrambling for any kind of identity remains. The scheme that Chicago deploy is reliant on those instinctive defensive backs like Eddie Jackson feasting on the carnage caused up front…and it shows when the pressure is at its highest and the field is at tis smallest.
No matter which offense is driving down the field, the most important part of each drive will be what happens inside the 20. Two elite red zone defenses will try to stop a pair of very creative offenses, built on the same principles and differing based on experience and coaching personality. This will perhaps be the toughest challenge both Nagy and Pederson have ever endured because their respective teams are built to cancel each other out, especially inside the red zone.
This could be a low-scoring battle of attrition. But which team is best prepared to withstand the storm?
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports