Sunday, October 20, 2013
Bears at Redskins: 5 things to watch
By Michael C. Wright
Here's a look at things to watch when the Chicago Bears face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedExField:
Jay Cutler’s poise: He’ll certainly need to maintain it in what should be a raucous atmosphere rife with extensive crowd noise in front of 80,000-plus at FedExField. In addition to his job of recognizing Washington’s fronts and helping the offensive line adjust accordingly, Cutler will need to maintain his cool if he experiences difficulty early. The crowd noise will make it difficult to relay calls, and the offensive line could go through an adjustment period where it might suffer a lapse in protection.
Cutler needs to weather that initial Washington punch and maintain his composure while doing so. If he can get the offense settled in quickly, Cutler might be able to hurt Washington’s secondary. Interestingly, Cutler has a .926 winning percentage against teams with records below .500 at the time of the matchup.
“They show a lot of different looks, 3-4. So it’s hard to go against. You’ve got to prepare for a lot of different stuff,” Cutler said. “When they go nickel package, their front four, front seven is getting some pressure. They’re showing some different blitzes from the edge. They’ve got a veteran secondary that does a good job of keeping it in front of them. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. They get some turnovers with whatever you throw at them. Just like any week, we’ve just got to be ready and take care of ourselves.”
Matt Forte: Fortuitous circumstances kept the Redskins from facing some dangerous running backs this season. But they likely won’t be able to avoid Forte.
Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, and Eddie Lacy missed large chunks against the Redskins and Reggie Bush sat out Washington’s entire Sept. 22 matchup against the Lions.
Washington surrendered a 184-yard performance to LeSean McCoy on Sept. 9, and 132 yards to James Starks a week later, but have limited opponents to a 52 yards in its last three outings.
Forte presents the most significant test for the Redskins since McCoy. Forte ranks seventh in rushing yardage (442), and No. 4 in yards from scrimmage (686). If the Bears can establish Forte early, they’ll knock the Redskins off balance enough to work the playaction passing game effectively enough to feature the running back there, too.
The rush defense: The Bears deny they’re vulnerable against the run.
“Our struggles?” asked linebacker Lance Briggs when the team’s problems stopping the run were mentioned. “I mean, I’m pretty sure we had two games where we struggled stopping the run. In a lot of the games this year, we have stopped the run. It’s one of the things we have done recently.”
Not entirely. The Bears limited BenJarvus Green-Ellis to 25 yards in the opener, but gave up 100 the next week to Adrian Peterson. In six games, three running backs gashed the Bears for 100 yards or more, and Washington’s Alfred Morris is certainly capable of becoming No. 4.
“We’ve got all we can handle; we’ve got to tackle him,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s not an easy guy to tackle. He’s low to the ground, his pads are down, he runs hard and he’s got enough speed to generate explosive running skills. We’ve got our work cut out for us there.”
Chicago’s front four: In addition to playing a significant role in stopping the run, Chicago’s defensive line composed of defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin, and defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton will be tasked with minimizing the impact of Washington dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin rushed for 77 yards last week against the Dallas Cowboys, and signs indicate his surgically-repaired knee is improving tremendously.
So Chicago’s injury-depleted front needs to find a way to pressure Griffin on passing downs, while keeping him in the pocket to force errant passes, but also neutralize his impact as a runner.
The Bears will get plenty of opportunities. Griffin ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts per game (41.8). Griffin suffered three sacks last week, and the Bears haven’t generated that many sacks in a game since Week 3, with those coming off linebacker blitzes.
Devin Hester: The breakout game the team anticipates from Hester hasn’t yet come, although he did set a franchise single-game record in Week 2 with 249 kickoff return yards against the Minnesota Vikings. Perhaps now’s the time for Hester to put one in the end zone.
Washington gave up a touchdown on an 86-yard punt return last week, in addition to a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another Dallas Cowboys touchdown.
“It was a rough night for them, obviously,” Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “I’m sure that they’re going to be emphasizing that area, and I’m sure we’ll see a completely different team this week. Because I know once you have a game like that, it’s tough on your whole team. I imagine there will be a lot of veterans that are trying to get them going in the right direction.”