By Jason Keidel
While the NFL has mastered the outhouse-to-penthouse mystery of pro football, some games make parity look like a parody.
Like yesterday’s gridiron destruction in Philadelphia, where the Eagles vaporized the Chicago Bears. Not even the 31-3 eyesore of a score painted the entire picture. The Eagles whipped the Bears from whistle to gun.
And it raised the right questions. Are the Eagles (10-1) this good? Or are the Bears (3-8) that bad?
No doubt the Eagles have a fine roster, a rabid pass rush, and a hybrid rushing attack that wears out their foes by the fourth quarter. But beyond the nuance in rosters and the cyclical nature of pro sports, the biggest difference between the Bears and Eagles was under center.
We’re hearing the Bears are nursing Mitchell Trubisky, giving him bite-sized portions of an NFL offense until he gets his football legs. Perhaps the plan is sound. Maybe this is exactly what Trubisky needs, and all he can handle. Maybe he matures into a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback.
But you didn’t hear such limits or lamentations regarding Carson Wentz. You didn’t hear that the Eagles’ standout QB could only throw screens and check-downs, or play the position inside a 10-yard bubble. The way he’s playing, you’d think Wentz were in his fifth or sixth season. But the early choice for NFL MVP is just an NFL sophomore, coming off a fine rookie season.
Call it a combination of the physical and metaphysical. Whatever it is, Carson Wentz has it. He enters a room with it. He walks with it, runs with it, throws with it. And wins with it. Yes, he’s a big, burly guy who has the muscular bona fides and stretches the tape measure. But plenty of flameouts looked great in shorts and tank tops. They throw a beautiful ball in a dome, in practice, in pristine weather.
Chicago is setting offense back to the single-wing, averaging just 287.5 yards per game. And that’s including the production from their two-headed rushing attack of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, who make up the league’s eighth-best rushing attack (120.4 YPG.) The Patriots average more yards passing (297.0) than Chicago gets on the ground and in the air. Indeed, the Bears (177) have scored just 11 more points than the Browns (166) this season, which adds up to just 16 points per contest, in a league that bent the rules so hard toward offense that clubs practically back into 21 points.
So you can imagine the Bears have a sub-Super Bowl passing attack, and you’d be correct, with 167.1 yards passing per game, which is 31st out of 32 NFL clubs. It reflects the dearth of decent talent they have on offense, and the lack of trust in Trubisky.
All that is fine, except the Bears not only traded up to draft Trubisky — which speaks to their monolithic love for him — but also signed Mike Glennon. If they were so spellbound by Trubisky, why give Glennon $45 million? Or we can tweak the question. If the Bears knew Trubisky needed a year clutching the clipboard, why isn’t the NFL veteran Glennon playing? It speaks to a lack of direction or focus or formula.
And perhaps it speaks to the delicate hold John Fox — who has a 12-31 record with the Bears — has on the head-coaching spot. And it seems the media and masses are anxious in the Windy City.
So are the Bears that bad or the Eagles this good? We just may not know yet. Surely the Eagles have earned the NFL’s best record, but more importantly they got their guy, drafted him, started him, and stuck with him. And there were no training wheels on Wentz. It’s not sexy, particularly when you hear Bill Belichick recycle terms like “process,” but there is merit in a plan, and the Eagles stuck to theirs.
Not that the entire football world is sold on the Eagles. The Eagles have, after all, defeated just one team that has a winning record today (at Carolina in Week 6). But as one of the post-merger patriarchs of the NFL, Bill Parcells, often said, you are what your record says you are. And these days surely it’s much better to be Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles than Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.