For those of us Bears fans who are also Chicago Bulls fans, don’t look at Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as a template for Derrick Rose’s return, because it could leave you with a sour feeling. That’s because Griffin is not the same player he was when he came on strong as a rookie last year.
Griffin underwent surgery on his knee for ACL and PCL tears following last season. Unlike the Bulls’ Rose, Griffin did not have to sit out a full season. And also unlike Rose, Griffin recently stated he was blessed to not have experienced any knee soreness. And the third difference between the two — at least Bulls fans are hoping it remains this way — is that Rose has looked like he picked up where he left off before his knee injury through four preseason games so far whereas Griffin looks like a much different player. A much less effective one.
Now, back to football.
Some analysts feel Griffin came back much too soon and he could have used more rehabilitation time. Some say he just doesn’t look fully healthy right now and others say he should not be playing. My theory is that the “RG3” we saw last year was more of a flash-in-the-pan mirage and we should never have set the bar so high to begin with.
Griffin wowed fans last year with his athleticism and ability to make plays on the run. Where he has yet to earn his stripes is as a pocket passer. No quarterback in today’s era can make a full career out of being a versatile, scrambling quarterback. Just ask Michael Vick. (And as a side note, I’d like to see if the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson develops as a better pocket passer or else his career will go down the chutes, too). And thus far in Griffin’s career, he has not been a good pocket passer. This is where the Bears can take advantage.
We know that through six games, the Bears have not rushed the quarterback particularly well. But the good thing about playing against a quarterback who is not a pure pocket passer is that all the defense has to do is keep him in the pocket and make him get happy feet. With the probable return of Stephen Paea, who will join forces with end-turned-tackle Corey Wootton, the Bears will have their strongest tackle combination since Henry Melton was in the lineup. These two men are the key to the defensive production this week and beyond. They need to be able to penetrate the middle of the offensive line, or at the very least, push the guards and center back into Griffin’s lap and force him off his spot. From there, Julius Peppers can get off the edge and beat his blocker.
Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Jon Bostic, who will make his first start while taking the place of the injured D.J. Williams. Bostic had his moments in the preseason where he looked like he “got it.” He also had his issues in pass coverage. I don’t expect to see him play like an All-Pro, but I also am not fearing a series of rookie mistakes. Bostic’s natural instincts and football intelligence will help him get to where he needs to be — along with instruction from fellow linebacker Lance Briggs. And Bostic’s speed and athleticism will help him correct false steps he may make.
I’m actually more concerned about the secondary, starting with its health. Although he sat out against the Giants, giving him ample time to rest, Charles Tillman is listed as questionable on the injury report with a knee injury. Do the Bears keep him inactive for the second straight game and use the bye week next week to give him almost a month of rest? Or do they let him play in a fairly important NFC game this week? Immediately following the bye week, the Bears have three potentially difficult games against the Packers, Lions, and Ravens. If it were my call, I’d say roll the dice and give Tillman more rest.
The Bears defense had issues all over the field against the Giants because they were fielding a team on the fly. Injuries caused Zack Bowman to start for Tillman, Bostic to enter the game midway through, and newbies Landon Cohen, David Bass, and Zach Minter to get some playing time. And the Giants are no pushover on offense. They have skill players. But the Bears got it done and held on for the Thursday night victory. The Redskins aren’t exactly a formidable offense to be worried about, but anything can happen on the road. Pierre Garcon is having a solid season for the ‘Skins with 35 receptions for 408 yards and two scores. And running back Alfred Morris is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Yep, 5.2 per carry. If the Bears tackle as poorly as they have the past few weeks, the game might not even hinge on how RG3 performs.
Offensively, I feel really good about the Bears’ prospects right now. This is a unit that has shown promise since the beginning of the season and continues to jell. It’s still early in the season and Jay Cutler has more to prove, but it looks like the Cutler-Marc Trestman marriage could be a good one.
Brandon Marshall had a strong performance against the Giants, pushing aside those strongly-worded columns suggesting he could relapse into the butt-head he once was. I don’t see it happening personally, but that won’t stop those in the Chicago media from stirring the pot. Alshon Jeffery fell hard from his solid game against the Saints to manage just one catch against the Giants, but you can’t make everybody in the offense happy. When one player is up, another might be down. But it hasn’t stopped the Bears from having the league’s 10th-rated offense and third-highest scoring team.
Tight end Martellus Bennett is on the injury report again, listed as questionable with a knee injury. But he said this week on his weekly radio spot that he’ll certainly be playing.
The Bears have a good opportunity to use Matt Forte this week. The running back is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and is ranked seventh with 442 rushing yards. The Redskins do not have a good run defense, allowing 123.4 rushing yards per game, ranking them 27th overall. The Bears could use Forte on the ground to move the chains and chew up clock, important ingredients when facing a team on the road. Not to mention, Forte is tied for second among running backs with 33 receptions. Those catches are often as good as running plays because they gain more yards and keep the clock moving at the same time.
The Redskins and Bears are Nos. 6 and 7, respectively, in points allowed per game this year. Does that necessarily mean Sunday’s game will be a shootout? No, but it certainly leaves the door open for one. What gives the Bears an advantage, though, is that the Redskins are not as formidable offensively as the Bears are. Washington is averaging just 21.4 points per game this season, ranking them 20th overall in that category. Between their struggles to put points on the board and the fact that the Bears have had extra time to prepare for them, my hunch is to lean toward the Bears in pulling off a big road victory heading into their bye.
Prediction: Chicago 30, Washington 20