Bears offense vs. Redskins defense
The first thing that comes to mind in this matchup is the physicality of the NFC East. The two games in which Jay Cutler absorbed the most brutality this season were against the Cowboys and the Giants, both NFC East teams. Sure, the Seahawks sacked Cutler six times last week, but it wasn’t as physical. I worry about the offensive line’s pass protection in this contest against a defense much better than its ranking. The Redskins are No. 32 in overall defense, allowing 420 yards per game. They’re also allowing 19.8 points per game, ranking them 20th overall in that department. Despite their low rankings, the Redskins can bring the heat. They’re 11th in the league with 13 sacks on the season and five of those sacks have come from second-year linebacker Brian Orakpo. The Redskins can bring pressure from all different areas. One-time Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels has a sack, but most of their sacks come from the second and third levels of the defense. The player the Bears most have to keep an eye on — aside from maybe Orakpo — is strong safety LaRon Landry, who leads the NFL in tackles. He’s also had a sack, interception, and forced fumble. Much was made about the unbalanced offensive attack the Bears ran last week against the Seahawks. Despite being down by only one score for most of the game except a few minutes in the fourth quarter, the Bears passed the ball nearly quadruple the number of times they ran it. Lovie Smith acknowledged that a balanced attack is “50-50” run-to-pass, but he said he stood by their game plan last Sunday. With the kind of pressure that the Redskins can bring, I’m hoping the Bears keep the defense honest and utilize Matt Forte and Chester Taylor more. There’s a fine line in this particular matchup. The Bears have a better offense than the Redskins’ defense, but only if they can minimize the damage that their own offensive line can do to them.
Bears defense vs. Redskins offense
Many people were skeptical about the Bears’ run defense after a few weeks because opponents weren’t running the ball too often against them, but after seeing the way that linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher were playing, I knew they were closer to being the real deal than a fluke. After six weeks, the Bears are ranked No. 3 against the run while allowing just 84 yards per game. Interestingly, the Bears have allowed seven runs of 20-plus yards, second most in the league. What that means is if the defense didn’t have breakdowns on any of those seven plays, they’d probably be ranked even higher. They’re allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, third-best in the league. The Redskins are not a great run team and only have the 25th-ranked rushing attack, one spot ahead of the Bears. Running back Ryan Torain is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has scored three times. Briggs was listed as questionable on the injury report but he’s expecting to play. Having him back in the lineup would help in the run game because he’s among the best in the league at stopping opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage. Of course, the Bears need to be more concerned about quarterback Donovan McNabb, who has always seemed to have success against their defense. McNabb’s ability to avoid the pass rush will give the defense fits and despite his age he still possesses great talent and mobility to make plays while on the run. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan likes to get his quarterback outside the pocket and on the move and if that happens, the Bears could be in for a long day. What I worry most about in this matchup is how easily a talented quarterback can pick apart the secondary and methodically move down the field. It’s a Cover 2 staple to avoid the big play and keep all the action in front of them, and Smith’s wrinkle to the defense is to try to force the ball out of the receivers hands. Recording turnovers has been working for the Bears so far this season and has helped lead them to a few wins, but the Bears got none last week against the Seahawks and unless they get some this week against the Redskins, they could be in some trouble.
The Bears faced one of the best special teams units in the league last week and actually outplayed them thanks to good directional kicking and coverage and then, of course, Devin Hester’s record-tying punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter. We know that Brad Maynard is most dangerous when the Bears are at or near midfield and they’re trying to re-establish field position and pin opponents deep in their own territory. But, sadly, we witnessed firsthand against the Seahawks how much a liability he can be if the Bears are stuck by their own goal line, or deep on their own end of the field. Maynard doesn’t have much leg strength left, so for more reasons than one, the Bears need to avoid situations that have them backed up to their goal line. The Redskins have used a variety of kick returners this year, most recently Brandon Banks, who returned five kickoffs for a 25-yard average in last week’s game. He also had a long of 44 yards. Banks is more dangerous as a punt returner. He’s second in the NFL with a 19.4 average. Hester is one spot below him with a 17.0 average and two touchdowns. Danieal Manning had some trouble fielding kickoffs in the first quarter against the Seahawks due to the sun being in his eyes, but that’s not a lingering issue. Among players who have returned at least 10 kickoffs, Manning currently ranks 8th in the league with a 27.3 average. Robbie Gould is fourth in the league with 12 field goals made. He’s tied with Washington kicker Graham Gano, who’s missed four field goals and has a long of only 49 yards.
The fabled “Bear Weather” might be in effect for Sunday’s game, at least one of the three “Bear Weather” elements: rain, wind, and cold. The forecast calls for scattered storms beginning late Saturday night and lasting all the way through kickoff. Temperatures will be upper-60s, lower-70s, though. Chances of turnovers could be greater due to the wet field and ball, and hopefully the Bears will be the beneficiaries of such sloppy play. It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Martz adjusts his game plan and play calling accordingly or if he forges ahead and sticks with a pass-first philosophy. They say, after all, that slippery field conditions benefits wide receivers more than defensive backs because receivers know where they’re running and are less likely to slip out of breaks whereas defensive backs will be caught completely by surprise. That may bode well for the Bears’ passing attack, but it could hurt the Bears’ secondary, too. I’m interested in seeing how the offensive chess match of two bright offensive minds in Martz and Shanahan will combat each other, indirectly. This is one of those rare games in which the Bears have all the advantages on paper — and when clicking on the field, they can be a really good football team — but in which I still don’t have a good feeling about the game. I lost a lot of faith in this team with the way they played against a middle-of-the-road Seahawks team. And I certainly haven’t had much faith in either the offensive or defensive lines. I know I can’t exactly make a “contingency” prediction and say that if the Bears can keep McNabb in the pocket and keep Cutler upright that they’ll win the game. So, instead, I’m going to go with my gut feeling on this that they’ll have trouble slowing down the pass rush of the Redskins and won’t generate enough pressure on McNabb and come up a bit short on the scoreboard.
Final Score: Washington 20, Chicago 17