Week 7 – Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins
Part 7 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season
The Chicago Bears head to Washington to face the Redskins after a long week following a Thursday night win. The Bears are 4-2 and looking to get ahead of the Detroit Lions in the division race. This is the team’s last game before their bye week, and they are hoping to end the first half of their season on a positive note.
The team has pretty well-shaped its identity, and at this point, they have shown what they are going to show this season. They are still a work in progress, but the offensive development is apparent, and the impact of new head coach Marc Trestman is definitely felt.
The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are on a different trajectory. They are 1-4 and are struggling to stay alive in their division. Their only win has come against the Oakland Raiders, and on paper, they have a very difficult schedule for the remainder of the season.
Regardless, the Mike Shanahan-Robert Griffin III combination is a dangerous one, and it is very difficult to count them out until they are actually out. A big home win against the Bears would undoubtedly turn their season around.
Week in and week out, Charles Tillman continues to be involved in the team’s most important matchup. He gets the daunting task of defending the opposing team’s best receiver, which always puts him in a difficult position. While he rarely exclusively covers one receiver, he is responsible for them for the majority of his snaps.
Tillman was beaten badly through the first three games, but a bounce-back game against his mortal enemy Calvin Johnson got him back on track. He has been battling a knee injury as of late, causing him to miss last week’s game against the New York Giants. He is expected to play in this game, however.
Pierre Garçon is having the best season of his career, despite his team’s struggles. His 11.66 yards per reception is ahead of the likes of Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker, among others. He is also 12th in the league in yards per game. He has been Griffin’s favorite target by far, and his 59 targets are eighth most in the league, despite already having his bye week.
The Redskins’ next closest receiver has half as many targets, and none of the other receivers have been able to make the impact that Garçon has. From a defensive standpoint, he must be carefully monitored.
Getting Pierre going is very important for the Redskins offense. Not only can he put RGIII into a comfort zone offensively, but he can also dictate the coverage from the Bears’ defense and open things up for the other receivers.
Conversely, if Tillman and co. can keep Garçon well covered, Griffin will be forced to throw to his other receivers that have not been able to consistently produce.
The Bears have put a major emphasis on keeping Jay Cutler protected, and as a result, he is among the least sacked quarterbacks in the league. A big reason for this newfound protection is all of the new additions along the offensive line.
Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills have played the poorest among the new starters, making their performance in this game all the more important. Neither has been awful by any means, but they have struggled at times, because often times they go against opposing defenses’ two best pass-rushers.
That is certainly the case in this game as they face Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Kerrigan is tied for eighth in the league with five sacks, while Orakpo has three. Prior to last season, Orakpo was the much more dominant of the two, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010.
However, in 2012, he missed most of the season with a torn pectoral, and it allowed Kerrigan to burst onto the scene with 8.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl of his own. Now Kerrigan has stolen the spotlight, but Orakpo is still very good at what he does.
Because of the Redskins’ dynamic duo, the Bears will likely use tight ends even more frequently in this game, but they cannot afford to be helping both tackles on every play. Both Bushrod and Mills need to be able to manage Kerrigan and Orakpo with limited assistance in order for the Bears offense to run smoothly.
If they can’t, the Bears offense will resemble that of 2012, something no Bears’ fan wants to think about. For the Redskins, if the two pass-rushers can harass Cutler, then the defense should have a pretty easy time slowing down the Bears’ offense.
If Bushrod and Mills can hold their own, the Redskins will be forced to find other ways to get to the quarterback, creating more opportunities in the secondary for the Bears’ receviers.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have been two of the best receivers in the league this season. They have made the Bears one of two teams in the league with multiple receivers that have over 450 yards each on the season, with the other team being the Denver Broncos.
Marshall has always been this good, but the emergence of Jeffery has surprised even his most dedicated fans. He is a legitimate number two receiver in the league and could be a number one receiver on a number of teams. Jeffery has nine fewer yards than Marshall on 11 fewer receptions.
Where Marshall has had the advantage is in the endzone, where he is tied for third in the league in touchdowns among wide receivers.
The two defenders that will be relied upon to cover these two hot receivers are DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. Hall has some history with Cutler, picking him off four times in their 2010 matchup. Both teams have changed significantly since then, and that game should have no realistic impact on this game.
Jay Cutler is not the type of person to be scared of Hall because of it, and it is expected that he will do the opposite, and he will attack Hall to try and catch him being to aggressive.
Wilson has played well this season, despite not having an interception to show for it. Both cornerbacks have been strong, but their struggles at the safety position have been the main reason for their 24th ranked pass defense. Still, it starts with the corners, and if they cannot keep up then it makes it all the more difficult for the safeties.
The last time the Redskins faced a pair of dynamic receivers was in their week two loss versus the Green Bay Packers, where they allowed James Jones and Randall Cobb over 120 receiving yards each. If they allow Marshall and Jeffery to play like that, the game result will likely be the same.
On the other hand, if Hall and Wilson can keep the two receivers under control, Cutler will be forced to look elsewhere for targets. Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte are the only other weapons that Cutler has shown much comfort throwing to, and Earl Bennett is the only other wide receiver that has seen significant playing time this season.
Cutler loves his two towers on the outside, and limiting them will certainly limit the Bears offense as a whole.
Can Devin Hester take advantage of the Redskins’ special teams’ futility?
The Redskins have really struggled on special teams this season, and it came to a culmination last Monday against the Dallas Cowboys. They gave up an 86-yard punt return touchdown to Dwayne Harris, and later they allowed him to return a kickoff 90 yards.
Just one game earlier, this group allowed a punt to be blocked and returned for a touchdown. In addition, special teams penalties have weakened their unit, having five flags in week six alone.x
Redskins’ punter Sav Rocca has the worst yards-per-punt average in the league with 41.83, and kicker Kai Forbath has not been able to hit a field goal deeper than 40 yards out. This kind of ineffectiveness is detrimental for both the team’s offense and defense, and it creates easy opportunities for opposing returners, such as Devin Hester.
Hester has had an up and down season, looking lost at times while showing dominance at others. He set a Bears record for most kickoff return yards in a game week two, but in other games he has not been able to get anywhere.
In that week two game against the Minnesota Vikings, Hester was able to get the ball past midfield multiple times, so he has shown that he still has the ability to make big plays. Against a special teams as poor as the Redskins, Hester has a chance to have another big game.
However, the Redskins may try to neutralize Hester by kicking away from him, as have many teams. That is a big reason that Hester only has six punt returns through six games. Most teams do not like kicking to him. Still, they are forced to kick to him on kickoffs, so he should have at least a few attempts.
According to Sportingcharts.com, the Redskins are 27th in the league in touchbacks, with none coming on punts, so the opportunities should be there for Hester. How effectively he can utilize him is what is most unpredictable. If he can make some big plays, the Bears should be rolling, but if he is stagnant and is not able to get things going, the Redskins will be in a pretty good position.
Can the Bears keep up with RGIII?
Even though he may not be 100-percent healthy, Griffin is still extremely dangerous. His combination of running and passing ability is one of the most difficult things to defend in the league, as defense must be prepared to stop either a pass or a scramble by the quarterback every time he has the ball.
He averages 5.52 yards per rush this season, with his most successful rushing game coming last week against the Cowboys.
For Griffin, however, rushing success does not always correlate to passing success. Some of his better games rushing have been some of his worst games passing, and other times he has thrown well while running poorly. However, he has not exactly had a great team around him at all times. One player can only do so much, as football is a team sport.
Even so, few players impact each game as much as RGIII, and it is up to the Bears’ defense to contain him in this game.
The Bears have struggled at times versus mobile quarterbacks in recent games. Last season, Russell Wilson was able to tear apart a worn out Bears defense.
They were able to keep up with him for most of the beginning of the game, but by the fourth quarter, they were running out of gas, and Wilson was able to string together a game-tying touchdown drive, immediately followed by a game-winning overtime touchdown drive.
Earlier that season, the Bears’ defense faced Colin Kaepernick in his first career start, and he was able to gash them for 243 yards and two touchdowns on just under 70-percent completion, finishing with a 133 quarterback rating.
Prior to that, Cam Newton threw for 314 yards against them, although they were able to pick him off twice in that game. Regardless, the dual threat quarterbacks have given the Bears troubles.
How well Griffin is able to perform against this Bears’ defense is what will most likely be the factor that decides this game. If he can run them ragged, then he should have his way with them, but if the defense can keep him contained, then he is going to have to beat them with his arm, something he has struggled to do at times. It will be interesting to see how each side handles the other.
Can either of these teams put it together for all four quarters?
Although these two teams have very different win-loss records this season, they do share some trends this season. Both have had some dominant quarters and halves this season, but neither team has been able to be really successful for an entire game.
Even against the lowly Raiders, the Redskins allowed them to jump to an early 14-0 lead before shutting them out for the remainder of the game. Against the one-win Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bears burst onto the scene for a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, but would allow them to score 20 points through the second and third quarters, cutting the Bears’ lead to only four in the fourth quarter.
In their seemingly disastrous game against the Lions, the Bears allowed 27 points in the second quarter, but they were right there with the Lions in the other three, scoring a couple of late touchdowns to make it a one-possession game.
The Redskins too have a number of fourth-quarter drives that have brought them back into some close games. They have five fourth-quarter touchdowns this season. It is worth noting that the Bears have yet to allow a fourth-quarter touchdown, however.
Both teams have shown the ability to be strong for multiple quarters in games, but neither can do it for an entire game. If either team in this matchup could put on a dominant performance for four quarters, it would say a lot about their team and how the rest of their season will go.
Despite their different records, these are both good teams that have faced similar issues. A full, four-quarter success from either team would be huge.
While Griffin may be the more dynamic athlete, Jay Cutler is the superior quarterback as he is slowly establishing himself as a top-10 passer in the league. Both Alfred Morris and Matt Forte have had solid seasons out of the backfield.
Morris has been the better rusher, but Forte has been one of the better receiving runningbacks in the league. Neither one is better than the other. At wide receiver, Garçon has been the only big-time producer for the ‘Skins, but they have had decent performances from Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, and Josh Morgan. In Chicago, Marshall and Jeffery have established themselves as one of the best WR duos in the league.
Despite battling injuries, Martellus Bennett has been solid for the Bears at tight end, while the Redskins have gotten inconsistent play from all three of their ends. Along the offensive line, the Bears have not been perfect, but they have been good enough while the Redskins’ group has been less than stellar.
After playing poorly in 2012, the Redskins kept relatively the same group, so their struggles have not been very surprising. On paper, Bears appear to be the more offensively potent team.
Both teams have had very poor defensive line play this season. The Bears’ line has not been able to generate a pass rush to safe its life, while the Redskins’ line, which is relied on more to stop the run, has 20 tackles on the season as a group.
That is fewer tackles than 114 different players around the league have on their own. As a result, the Redskins have the 27th ranked run defense, although some of the blame falls on the linebackers as well.
Overall, the Redskins linebackers have played very well, beyond the aforementioned Kerrigan and Orakpo. Inside linebackers Perry Riley and London Fletcher are first and second on the team in tackles, although Fletcher has really started to show his age, looking slow and missing tackles at times.
For the Bears, rookie Jon Bostic will be making his first career start for the injured D.J. Williams who was placed on injured reserve. He, along with Lance Briggs and James Anderson form a linebacking group that has played surprisingly well. They have been strong in coverage, but the play of the rookie will be important to watch.
The Redskins’ issues in the secondary have been well documented, with the majority of the problems coming at the safety position in Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty. The Bears are in a similar situation, but to a lesser degree.
Tillman and Jennings have struggled occasionally but overall have been fine, while Chris Conte and Major Wright have had detrimental mental lapses that have resulted in some avoidable big plays for opposing offenses. The duo is young, but at times they have taken a step back in their development. Still, they have not played as poorly as Meriweather and Doughty. Both defenses have some major flaws.
As mentioned, both the Redskins’ kicker and punter have played extremely badly this season. Robbie Gould of the Bears has yet to miss a field goal this season, and he has been as sharp as ever. Punter Adam Podlesh has had another mediocre season, but he has not been as bad as Rocca.
Kick returning has not gone much better for Washington. They average 19.3 yards per kickoff return as a team, which is among the some of the worst in the league. Punt returning has not gone much better, as their team long on a return is only 11 yards.
Like the kickoffs, they are near the bottom of the league in yards per return, and overall, the Redskins have one of the worst, if not the worst, special teams units in the league. Even if Hester is not breaking long returns against them, he and the other phases of the Bears’ special teams are much better than the Redskins’.
Despite the team’s many flaws, the Redskins are still a formidable team. A lot of things have gone wrong for them, but in a division as terrible as theirs, they are not out of the playoff race yet. Certainly they have a big hill to climb, but they are only two games out of first in the division.
Washington has a lot talent on their roster, but for them, it is about putting it all together. Griffin, Morris, and Garçon form a solid, young quarterback-runningback-wide receiver core that is only improving. Even if they cannot get it done against the Bears, they will have opportunities to draw closer to their division rivals, although they face a difficult schedule.
The Bears on the other hand are hoping to roll through this game and build momentum heading into their bye week. This will be a good barometer game for the defense, in facing both a mobile quarterback and a struggling offensive line.
RGIII will stretch out this defense to their limit, and he can really highlight weaknesses and put the defense in uncomfortable situations. How they respond in those situations will tell a lot about them.
The poor offensive line will give the Bears’ defensive line an opportunity to try to build some confidence to get things going, although they were not able to take of the Giants’ dreadful line last week.
No game in the NFL is ever easy, even against a 1-4 team like the Redskins. Even the 0-6 Giants were able to keep it close against the Bears’ next week, and it is certain that Trestman will not have his team overlook these Redskins. Griffin has put on some magical performances for the Redskins, and one against the Bears would almost certainly lead to a win.
The Bears’ defense will have to be on their toes and at their best to avoid a debacle against a team that many expect them to beat. But in the NFL, especially with RGIII, anything can happen.
Game Prediction: Chicago Bears 31 – Washington Redskins 21