Four Downs: Keys to beating the Redskins (10/24/10)

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Max protect Jay Cutler
There are two issues with trying to keep extra players on the line of scrimmage or in the backfield in max protection on passing plays. First, it takes away extra downfield options and allows for double coverage on receivers and that could lead to Cutler forcing passes and getting intercepted. Second, the Bears haven’t exactly proven that max protection will even work. They couldn’t protect Cutler against a four-man Giants pass rush. They struggled against the Seahawks, too. But even though there aren’t any guarantees, they have to at least try because the Bears won’t go anywhere this season without a healthy Cutler. In this game, the Bears are facing the worst defense in the league and the second-worst pass defense. They have to try to exploit it.

2. Keep Donovan McNabb in the pocket
McNabb, despite his age, is still an athletic and mobile quarterback who can do major damage on the run with both his legs and his arm. He has been battling a hamstring injury the past couple weeks but it hasn’t altogethered hampered his ability to make plays with his feet. The Bears have no choice but to keep containment and not let McNabb get outside the pocket. Putting pressure on the quarterback has been a problem all season long and the Bears are at the bottom of the league in sacks. The issue has caused Julius Peppers to have to face extra blockers and even though he’s been having a good season, he could be having a great season if the Bears had a good pass rusher opposite him.

3. Take away the ball
The Bears had zero takeaways against the Seahawks on Sunday, a major reason why they lost the game. Sure, they had problems defending the pass and couldn’t protect Cutler or move the ball effectively on offense. But they only lost by three points and it’s conceivable that they might have won the game with at least one or two turnovers. It’s no secret around the league that the Bears’ defense thrives on turnovers. Because of that, teams are more inclined to protect the football better against the Bears, whether it be by squeezing the ball tighter or just going to the ground rather than trying to fight for more yardage. The Bears need to continue to try to punch the ball loose — but not sacrifice yardage in the process — and try to win the turnover battle. It won’t be easy, though. The Bears are ranked No. 8 in the league with a plus-2 turnover ratio, but the Redskins are slightly better with a plus-5 ratio, ranking them No. 6 in the league.

4. Run a more balanced offense

To me, it’s inexcusable that Cutler passed the ball 39 times against the Seahawks while Matt Forte and Chester Taylor ran the ball a combined 12 times. There are only two instances where such a pass-to-run ratio would be acceptable and neither one happened on Sunday: if a passing offense is putting points on the board and succeeding, or if the opponent is winning by a large margin and the offense has to try to play catchup. Cutler only completed 17 passes and the Bears scored just one offensive touchdown on the opening drive of the game, and the Bears were within one score for the entire game until early in the fourth quarter. I don’t care if the Seahawks had the No. 2 run defense in the league. If you don’t at least attempt to run the football, the defense will pin its ears back and get after Cutler. Not only do you want to keep the defense honest with a balanced game plan, but you preserve Cutler’s health because he’ll take less shots.

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