By Bryan Dietzler
There were several experts, fans and members of the media, including this writer, that thought that Chicago had a good shot at beating the Washington Redskins this Saturday. After all, Chicago’s last few games had been very close. Throw in the fact that their third string quarterback, Matt Barkley, had been playing well and the Redskins weren’t world-beaters, the Bears had an excellent chance of winning. It was in the cards. If anything, it was going to be a close game.
But Chicago derailed big time. They fell apart in all phases and in the end, ended up having no chance to win. Granted, they put up a lot of yards but the defense allowed Washington to do the same. Barkley could not keep up and make a lot of mistakes trying to do so. Making those mistakes basically handed the Redskins the game. It’s an arguable point to say that this could have been the Bears worst game of the season. All this after playing well (but not well enough to win at times) for several weeks.
Once the Redskins took control the Bears could not storm back, like they did against the Packers last week, to get even. Barkley’s turnovers made sure that wasn’t going to happen. And the defense, in particular the secondary (yet again) didn’t offer much help.
The scoring started out in the first quarter when Redskins running back Chris Thompson punched the ball into the end zone from seven yards out to put Washington up 7-0. Thompson would strike again a little later in that quarter when he hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins. That gave the Redskins a 14-0 lead still in quarter number one.
Washington would make it 17-0 after their kicker, Dustin Hopkins, added a 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Chicago would get their first score of the game when running back Jeremy Langford put the ball into the end zone from on yard out. The Bears would come to within ten with that score, making it 17-7.
Cousins, a talented quarterback both through air and on the ground, put Washington up 24-7 after a nine-yard touchdown run. At this point, it appeared as if the Redskins could not be stopped.
The Bears would make it a little more interesting as time started to run out in the first half. Barkley connected with wide receiver Cameron Meredith on a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14.
The first score of the second half went to the Redskins and it happened to be the only score of the third quarter. Cousins got his second rushing touchdown when he jogged into the end zone from one yard out to make it 31-14. It seemed as if the game was out of reach for the Bears at that point.
A 20 yard Hopkins field goal would put the Bears even farther behind as the score reached 34-14 early in the fourth quarter. There wouldn’t be any comebacks (Like last week). But Chicago would add an additional and final touchdown to cap off their efforts. This score came when Barkley connected with wide receiver Deonte Thompson on a three-yard touchdown pass. That put the score at 34-21. But it wouldn’t be the final score of the day.
The Redskins would cap off the game with a huge 61-yard run from Mack Brown. That would make the final score 41-21.
So where do you start? Barkley had been receiving a lot of praise by fans and media members over the past few games due to his efficient play and ability to limit his mistakes. We saw “cracks” in his ability last week and this week those cracks broke the dam and the flood waters spewed forth. It’s clear to see now that Barkley is not ready to become an NFL starting quarterback.
Of the five interceptions that Barkley threw four of them were clearly his fault. One of them was on the receiver. Granted, that isn’t saying much and there is no excuse for what he did, but you must give (or take away) credit where credit is due. He threw for a lot of yards (323) but couldn’t overcome those mistakes. But he wasn’t the only reason the Bears lost.
The Bears need to work on their quarterback position diligently this coming offseason. Right now, they don’t have a true starting quarterback on the roster except for maybe Jay Cutler and he may be gone soon. They need to look at free agents, trade possibilities and the draft for help them here. Until they get that help, they will continue to be a bottom rung NFL team.
One bright spot for the Bears’ in this game, as well as throughout the season, has been the play of running back Jordan Howard. Howard, a rookie, has broken the 1000-yard mark, is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and is seemingly very durable. But the coaching staff, in particular offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, has failed to figure out how to utilize Howard. We saw that in this game (although was Howard dinged up a little bit in this game) was the coaching staff not utilizing him enough. We have seen that all year. The team has been very inconsistent in their use of Howard and that has been a huge disappointment.
The Bears were having some success with the running game. Had they stuck with it, taking the onus off Barkley, they might have helped to limit Barkley’s mistakes and may have been much more competitive. They could have even been competitive enough that they could have possibly won. Over and over this year, the Bears have failed to utilize the rushing attack to its fullest potential and left trying to win games on their quarterbacks. That formula has not worked well.
In this game though, Howard was just about the only “bright spot” and one of the few they have had all season.
When it came to catching the ball, the Bears receivers had a strong day. The best receiver on the day was Meredith as he had 135 yard receiving yards and a touchdown. Most of his catches came at critical points in the game. Alshon Jeffery, who was shadowed by former All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman did manage to have a decent afternoon despite the fact Norman was on him. Deonte Thompson had a nice game also. There weren’t too many dropped balls and the receivers made some nice catches.
The tight ends were involved a little bit Saturday. Daniel Brown, who had been playing well the last few weeks almost had a critical fumble but it was reviewed and he was ruled down. The blocking by the tight ends was decent overall. These guys were just a bit of a bright spot Bears’ Christmas Eve debacle.
Chicago’s offensive line did protect Barkley well allowing just one sack. They opened some nice holes in the running game as well. Despite the fact they have been a revolving door of sorts with injuries this year, the Bears’ offensive line is not that bad. But they still lack star power at a couple of positions (left tackle being one of them) and need to get Kyle Long back healthy next year. Otherwise, for depth this is one of the best “depth” units in the NFL. All the backups have filled in very nicely.
The defense needs to shoulder some of the blame for this loss just like the offense should. Yes, Barkley’s five big mistakes did not put the defense in a good position but they had some breakdowns that cost the Bears.
One thing the defense did do was make Cousins look good despite the fact he didn’t have a strong day passing the ball. Cousins added 270 yards and a touchdown to his season total on Saturday. He also had two rushing touchdowns. Chicago had no answer for him. They didn’t sack him, they got limited pressure on him and they allowed him to beat them. Of any quarterback the Bears have faced this year, aside from Aaron Rodgers, Cousins probably did the most damage to the Bears’ defense in any game this season.
Injuries rocked Chicago’s defense even before the game started. The team placed defensive lineman Eddie Goldman on injured reserve prior to Saturday. This left the team without its number one defender on the defensive line. The remaining members of that group, guys like Akiem Hicks, Mitch Unrein, Cornelius Washington and C.J. Wilson had to step up play well. Hicks had a good game (five tackles) but the other members of the line did not play well. With that, you could see that the Redskins running attack flourish because it wasn’t being stopped at the line.
The outside linebackers, in particular Pernell McPhee, did get some pressure on Cousins but didn’t get enough. The didn’t register a single sack and that was a big problem. For the first time all season, McPhee appeared to be faster than normal and was really hustling. Maybe, after several months, his knee is finally feeling better.
Rookie “near sensation” Leonard Floyd left the game with a concussion adding to the injury issues for the defense. That also took one of their best pass rushers out of the game and that was damaging. The hot and cold Willie Young came in but wasn’t able to reach Cousins. It was a tough day for these guys.
The inside linebackers had more success than any other defensive unit on Saturday. Jerrell Freeman, back from his four-game suspension for PED use, had the most tackles (eight) and was all over the field. Nick Kwiatkoski had another solid game and made several nice plays. Despite the injuries and suspensions that have affected this group, they just keep going thanks to their great depth and solid performances. This is easily the best unit on the team.
The secondary had a horrible game allowing long completions, critical catches and yards after the catch/run. Injuries struck this group hard as the game went on, though. Guys like Deon Bush went out injured giving way to less experienced players coming in. Tracy Porter had another near horrifying game leaving some to think that he has become a liability rather than an asset. Sometimes his play on the field is great but his numbers tell a different story. Granted, he has been injured almost all season but some of what he has put the team through has nothing to do with being hurt. It’s just been a series of poor decisions.
Jonathan Banks, acquired just a little over week ago, played some but looked as if he was a little confused and out of positon at times. Chalk his issues up to learning a new defense in a short amount of time. Younger and less experienced players got into the game as well and had breakdowns. Some of us started out the season feeling that the cornerback position was going to be solid but it has turned out to be a revolving door of inconsistency and trouble. Hopefully management will get this position shored up during the offseason.
Another two positions of concern (and one that has been of concern for several seasons) are at both the free and strong safety. Many had thought that at least one positon was secured with Adrian Amos coming last year. He had a nice season in 2015 but this year, at least on the field, he appears to have slipped a bit. Granted, his numbers are solid but his play on the field has declined.
The other safety position has been manned by “still developing” or second tier talent. Guys like Harold Jones-Quartey and Bush have not been the answer to that spot. The Bears need something better.
For this game, the safeties struggled in pass coverage as well as helping get up and take on the run. Jones-Quartey did have strong game making tackles (six) and getting in on plays but it was a less than stellar effort all the way around by this group.
Once again, the secondary let the team down and had a huge hand in Chicago losing this game.
Special teams had their struggles Saturday. Kicker Connor Barth had a field goal attempt blocked and the return teams did not do well. The coverage units did ok but overall, this group needs a lot of work. The issues on special teams speak to the depth the Bears have. Some of it is good but the return specialists are not going to get you a lot of yards on returns or a touchdown. The return teams have just not been the same since Devin Hester was in Chicago but then again, a guy like Hester comes along once in a lifetime. The Bears and their fans were spoiled with him.
The Bears’ coaching staff was clearly beaten by the Redskins staff. Even Vic Fangio was caught off guard by what Washington was doing although he has a bit of an excuse. The injuries the defense had suffered prior to and during the game give him a bit of a pass. Execution was very poor on defense because of the injuries and youth.
On offense, Dowell Loggains, once again, could not figure out that the running game could be the team’s path to success. Instead of using Howard to carry the offense, he put the game in Barkley’s less-experienced hands. That was a costly mistake.
In the Bears’ last four games, they played those games tough and never gave up playing hard right up until the very end. They did win one of those games (against San Francisco) but they went right down to the wire in the games they lost. The coaching staff instilled a desire to win then. That desire, along with the will to fight and compete was not present against the Redskins. It appeared as if the Bears came out of the locker room flat and didn’t put in as much effort as they could (or should) have.
It looked like they were playing to finish the season and close up shop rather than win.
This write up has been a compilation of some of the Bears struggles this season. Why? It’s because this game signifies what the Bears have gone through all year. If you needed a summation of what this team has been struggled through, this past Saturday’s game is perfect. It’s all wrapped in one three-hour bundle.
We will have more on the Bears’ season, a whole, after their final game against the Minnesota Vikings. That is coming up next Sunday. There will be a full preview of that contest posted by the end of this week.