By Bryan Dietzler
Following a difficult 30-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday, the Bears will try to turn things around in six days as they will play host to the 7-6-1 Washington Redskins. The Redskins have an even shorter turn around as they just played a game on Monday night and will play the Bears this Saturday. They went up against the Carolina Panthers and lost 26-15.
While the Redskins are fighting for their playoff lives, the Bears are just trying to close out the season and get to the “safety” of the offseason. This has been a remarkably difficult year for the Bears with so many injuries and so much turmoil. They just need to close things out and get back to rebuilding. But it’s hard to predict what is going to happen to this team during the offseason. There are a lot of questions about the coaching staff and management that need to be figured out first.
Ultimately what needs to be done is a lot of work in the offseason to put together a winning team. Simply put, the Bears have a lot of improvements to make and fans are getting frustrated. The Bears should start getting their act together or this franchise will be live in the NFL’s basement for a long time.
But there are still two games left for the Bears to play. Wouldn’t it be great if they could go out with two wins and have at least a little momentum heading into next season?
Let’s look at how the Bears and the Redskins matchup and see if Chicago has a shot at beating them this Saturday.
With each passing week, quarterback Matt Barkley continues to impress the coaching staff and fans with his play. He had some breakdowns in the game against the Packers last week with turnovers but growing pains will come and it’s about time he had a few. If you take away that third quarter, he had a consistent game and almost won it for the Bears.
He will face a pass defense that is ranked 26th in the NFL allowing 260.1 yards per game. Chicago is putting up an average of 250.8 yards per game. That is good for 14th in the league. When his receivers are catching his passes, Barkley can put up some decent numbers. His average yards per game for his last four starts is 270.5. That’s not too bad.
This could be a nice game for Barkley if he can keep playing as well as he has and eliminates the mistakes.
The wide receiving corps had very nice outing against the Packers after struggling to catch the ball consistently in the past few games. They got their number one receiver Alshon Jeffery back and after a peaceful three quarters, he came up with some big catches in the fourth. Cameron Meredith had a nice game and Deonte Thompson was the star of this group.
It’s likely the second and third tier wide receivers should step it up in this game because the Redskins will put their number one cornerback, Josh Norman, on Jeffery. It’s very likely, knowing Norman, that he just might shut Jeffery down. The other cornerbacks and safeties left to cover have not graded out well this season. If Barkley and his receivers can connect (and the receivers can catch the ball) this could be a very good game through the air.
After watching the Redskins attempt to stop Jonathan Stewart and the Panther’s rushing attack on Monday night, Chicago should feel good about their chances running the ball this Saturday. Chicago has Jordan Howard and he’s been doing very well rushing the football when he gets a chance. The coaching staff has trouble keeping him active and running the football however. It’s a mystery because despite the fact the rushing attack works well, it’s not used that often. It should be used more often.
Chicago is averaging 100.9 yards per game on the ground which is good for 22nd in the league. I say this week after week but those numbers are a little deceiving. The Bears do very well when rushing the ball but could be doing better. Howard can generate a lot of yards on the ground and hopefully they use him more often against a Redskins defense that is allowing an average of 115.4 yards per game (22nd in the league) so there is some running room there for Chicago.
Getting Howard going and using the passing game to move the ball as needed could work against this Redskins defense. The strength of Washington’s defense is on the left side. There they have outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and defensive end Chris Baker. These guys are solid and can stop the run as well as put pressure on the quarterback. The offensive linemen that these guys will be facing, Bobby Massie and Ted Larsen, are average and could get beaten in this game especially by Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a very talented pass rusher.
The offensive line has been solid lately despite the fact it’s been a bit of a revolving door due to injuries. Kerrigan and Baker will be a tough test but if they can limit their effectiveness and keep Barkley upright and clean, then they should have a success on offense.
Injury Update-Chicago’s Offense: This week’s injury report has a few offensive players on it. They include:
Wide Receiver Joshua Bellamy with a shoulder injury but has participated in practice, fully.
Running back Ka ’Deem Carey injured his shoulder in the Packers game and has been limited this week.
Backup quarterback David Fales has a right thumb injury and has been limited in practice.
Backup offensive lineman Eric Kush has a concussion and has not practiced.
Right tackle Bobby Massie has a toe injury and has been limited in practice.
Josh Sitton has still been nursing an ankle injury but he has been a full participant in practice this week.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson suffered a rib injury in the Green Bay game and has been limited in practice.
Injury Update-Washington’s Defense-The following defensive players have been listed on the injury report for the Redskins this week:
Defensive end Chris Baker has been limited with an ankle injury.
Linebacker Will Compton has been in and out of practice with a knee injury.
Safety Su’a Cravens has an upper arm injury and has not practiced this week.
Cornerback Quinton Dunbar has missed practice with a concussion.
An illness has kept linebacker Terence Garvin in and out of practice this week.
Linebacker Martrell Spaight has been limited with a shoulder injury.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been limited with an elbow injury.
Chicago’s defense was shredded by Green Bay’s running backs last week and Chicago need to shore that up. Injuries have struck the defensive line (more on that later) so getting the run shut down at the line, at least, may be difficult. So, second string players and other players (at other positions) need to step up this Saturday.
The Redskins are gaining an average of 103.6 yards on the ground which is ranked 18th. They aren’t a strong running team but after last week you never know what can happen with the Bear’s rush defense. Washington could have seen what Green Bay did and try that against the Bears. Chicago’s run defense is ranked 23rd in the NFL allowing 115.6 yards per game. They cannot allow the Redskins to run roughshod over them Saturday or they will lose. That is clear.
With injuries overtaking the defensive line, Chicago’s linebackers, although injured themselves, must take over and play strong. The nice thing about the game this Saturday is that the Bears will have their star linebacker back from suspension. Jerrell Freeman will be 100% ready for this game and by all accounts is eager to get out there and play.
Stopping the run will be key but the most fearsome aspect of the Redskins offense is their passing game. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and puts up a lot of yards. His receivers, with guys like DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed, are very good and hard to cover.
This will be a true test for the Bear’s pass defense.
Looking at the numbers, the Redskins are averaging a whopping 303 yards per game which is second in the NFL. Chicago’s pass defense is allowing teams to throw for an average of 219.9 yard per game which is ranked sixth. This game will see a very good pass offense go up against a “decent” pass defense. Something will give? Which side will have the most success?
To have success against the Redskins passing game, the outside linebackers, Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd, to start, then their “relief” (guys like Willie Young) need to get pressure on Cousins. The Redskins offensive line has some nice talent on the right side, with Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses there. The talent on the left side is mixed where Trent Williams is an elite player but Shaun Lauvao is not at all that great. With both of their tackles solid it’s going to take a lot of effort by the outside pass rushers to get to Cousins and get him down.
If the front seven can’t get to Cousins, then the secondary needs to cover very well. Chicago’s backfield has been up and down this season giving up critical plays at critical times. Some of these plays have cost the Bear’s wins.
The cornerbacks have been hot and cold this season. While Porter is usually pretty stout, if you look at the numbers, he is not playing that well. Cre’von LeBlanc is the opposite. He looks like he’s not playing well but his numbers are strong. These guys will have a tough test this Saturday and need to be playing very well to help put the screws on guys like Jackson and Crowder.
The safety play has been inconsistent all season. Deon Bush doesn’t have a lot of starting experience and his play, so far, has been rocky. He is improving but has a ways to go. Adrian Amos has been hurt the past few weeks but even before that he had not been playing as well as he did last season. He is still an above average player at the position statistically but it’s not showing up well on the field.
If the secondary can’t lock down Washington’s top receivers, then the Bears will easily lose this game. It’s as simple as that. The Redskins live and die by passing the ball and Chicago is good enough to shut that aspect of their offense down. Can they do it, like they have been doing it at points this season or will they break down and let the Redskins cruise to an easy victory?
Injury Update-Chicago’s’ Defense: Here is a list of Chicago defenders that were on the injury report this week:
Newly acquired cornerback Jonathan Banks was limited then practiced, fully. He had an ankle issue.
Cornerback/Nickel back Bryce Callahan was limited then didn’t practice with a knee issue.
Eddie Goldman’s ankle injury has kept him from practicing all week and he is doubtful for the game this Saturday.
A quad injury limited Akiem Hicks but he has practiced in full as the week has went on.
Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc has been limited with a knee problem.
Pernell McPhee was limited to start the week with his “usual” knee issue but practiced fully as the week went on.
Tracy Porter has a knee issue that limited him to start the week but he practiced in full as the week progressed.
Defensive tackle Cornelius Washington was out practice to start the week with a back injury but has returned and is limited.
Willie Young was out of practice early in the week with a knee issue and was limited as the week went on.
Injury Update-Washington’s Offense: The following players were listed on the injury report for this week:
Tackle Ty Nsekhe was limited to start with an ankle injury but has been a full participant in practice as the week has progressed.
Tight end Jordan Reed has not practiced all week due to a shoulder injury.
Guard Brandon Scherff has an ankle injury but has been a full participant in practice.
Looking at special teams, the Bears do have one the best punters in the NFL in Pat O’Donnell. The Redskins return game, for both punts and kickoffs, is decent as Crowder does well on punt returns. Field goal kicking is going to be even. Connor Barth and Dustin Hopkins have had similar success (and failures) this season. Chicago’s return teams are solid but not spectacular and with Eddie Royal on injured reserve, punt returns will not be as electric.
The Redskins offense is better coached than Chicago’s offense and that is clear. Washington’s offensive brain trust will be going up against one of the better defensive minds in the league in Vic Fangio. The matchup there will be a good one.
This should be an interesting game to watch as far as coaching goes. Will Bears’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains feature the running game, finally, or will he limit it and thus limit the Bears’ potential to win? Will John Fox coach his players to win or coach them not to lose? There is a difference.
The game this Saturday is going to be fun. Legitimately, the Bears can win this game as they have been very close for the past four weeks (with one win) and can play any team tough. The biggest question is, can they play to win. Winning for this team is running the ball, playing the run tough on defense and limiting mistakes by the secondary. In Chicago’s three wins this year all three of those aspects have been executed very well. Can they do it a fourth time?
I would look for another close game by the Bears but potentially this one could be just a little out of their reach. However, for the first time this season, I am going to do something I have never done before and call this game even. This is a strong matchup and either team can win this game. This may be the Bears’ most entertaining game of the year.