Thursday, October 17, 2013
Double Coverage: Bears at Redskins
By John Keim and Michael C. Wright
Jay Cutler will use his big targets; Robert Griffin III hopes to count on a stable run game.
The Washington Redskins again are facing a must-win game -- that is, if they want to start achieving what many thought they would this season. Otherwise, they're staring at a disastrous season. The Chicago Bears don't need to win with the same urgency, but they need to keep pace with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North.
There's no doubt quarterback Jay Cutler wants a better showing than what he provided the previous time he faced Washington. Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season in large part because of his four interceptions off Cutler in the road win.
The Bears have not played in Washington since Dec. 6, 2007, when the emotionally charged Redskins, playing shortly after the death of safety Sean Taylor, won 24-16.
This also will be a reunion between Cutler and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who drafted the quarterback in Denver in 2006. Cutler threw for a career-high 4,526 yards in his last season with Shanahan (2008). The Redskins tried to trade for Cutler before the 2009 season.
ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright take a look at the matchup.
John Keim: The Bears have a strong-armed quarterback who has some big targets. And the protection seems pretty solid. How dangerous is the Bears' passing game right now, and is this just about talent?
Michael C. Wright: John, it's a combination of talent and scheme. The Bears prioritized protecting Jay Cutler when new coach Marc Trestman took over. So they went out and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson in free agency, and drafted right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. The Bears also added Martellus Bennett to give them a threat down the middle and somewhat of a mismatch against safeties and linebackers. The club already possessed weapons outside in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and in the backfield with Matt Forte. So the Bears used a combination of additions and Trestman's West Coast scheme, which emphasizes getting the ball out of Cutler's hands quickly, to get to where they are today.
It's difficult for me to characterize the passing game as "dangerous" right now because we haven't yet seen the Bears put together a full game in that department. What I will say is that Cutler has more weapons at his disposal than he's used to, and he's playing a much more efficient game now than he has in the past.
Sticking with quarterbacks, RG III clearly isn't the same guy, so I've got to ask whether the Redskins are trying to find a way to compensate for that? And if so, what are they doing?
Keim: That's a tough question to answer because there have been too many games in which they had to change their offense just because they had fallen far behind, especially in the first couple of games, when Griffin was not going to run the ball. He is running much better, so they're now back to what they used to do; it's just a matter of executing.
Griffin ran the zone read-option more Sunday night at Dallas than he had all season -- the Cowboys' playing a lot of man coverage helped open the outside for him. What they need to do is stay in games and run the ball. Their offense looks different at times because they can't use as much play-action, thanks to game situations. They're so much better when they're running well and using play-action. Griffin can operate in the pocket, but it's not what he does best. And he's shown signs of growth in terms of keeping the ball alive and finding receivers and not just running.
I wonder if the Bears will be able to pressure him. I know the Bears have had injuries up front, but it still seems like Julius Peppers is a bit too quiet. Is he still a dangerous player?
Wright: You want to say Peppers is, because it's hard for me to believe he has all of the sudden lost it after back-to-back seasons of 11 sacks or more. But we might finally be seeing Peppers on the decline. In four career games against the Redskins, Peppers has registered just two sacks. So far this season, he's posted only one, which is a concern, considering Peppers collected 3 1/2 sacks in 2012 through the first six games. Certainly, the injuries inside at tackle play a role in Peppers' lack of production. The Bears lost two starters at defensive tackle in franchise player Henry Melton (six sacks last season) and his replacement, Nate Collins. The club also has played without Stephen Paea, who is fighting through turf toe. That has forced the Bears to play starting defensive end Corey Wootton inside at tackle, along with a host of unheralded players such as Landon Cohen, who signed two days before the club faced Detroit on Sept. 29, and surprisingly played in that game. I think Peppers is still dangerous, but he certainly doesn't look the part now.
It looked to me like Alfred Morris was a big part of RG III's success last year, but early on he seemed to struggle. I know lack of opportunity played a part in that because the Redskins were behind. But do you see Morris sort of regaining his form moving forward because he looked better against the Cowboys?
Keim: I like Morris a lot and it's funny because I didn't think he looked that great against Dallas, with the exception of a few runs (including his touchdown). There's no doubt the coaches want him carrying the ball more, and his main issue this season has been the lack of carries. He's averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but has yet to carry more than 16 times in a game (he had three such games last season). Morris is a better runner than a year ago; a little quicker and more knowledgeable about where to hit the hole. With his patience and vision, he does an exceptional job setting up his blocks. But he needs more work -- and unlike last year, the Redskins have been unable to establish the run early in games. That must change.
The Redskins also need to make more big plays. And I see that the Bears have allowed 29 pass plays of 20 yards or more and have a new middle linebacker this week. Where do you think the Redskins can take advantage?
Wright: Not only do they have a new middle linebacker, John, but the Bears will line up rookie Jonathan Bostic, a second-round pick. So the Redskins might be able to take advantage there. Bostic turned heads in the preseason with big hits and a couple of impressive plays. But he made too many mistakes, which is why the Bears opted to start D.J. Williams at that spot in the first place. As far as the explosive plays in the passing game go, I think they're a function of the team being unable to generate pressure with the front four, which in turn leaves the secondary in coverage for way too long. Chicago's injury situation up front likely means it won't improve the pass rush sufficiently to help out a secondary that has struggled some at the safety position with Major Wright and Chris Conte.
Let's turn to the Redskins' defense. It pretty much shut down Dallas' high-powered offense Sunday. What can Chicago expect to see?
Keim: Good question, because the defense was dreadful for the first three games and in the fourth, it faced Matt Flynn playing behind a bad line in Oakland. Sunday night was a bit of a surprise, but in reality it's how I expected the defense to play entering the season. They have the talent to be middle-of-the-road, capable of a good game and also a clunker if the matchup is bad. They have used three corners and one safety in the secondary quite a bit, adding speed and giving them the ability to disguise coverages a little longer. They will blitz, from the slot in particular. They will run stunts up front -- linebacker Brian Orakpo, end Stephen Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield work well together. They will use five linebackers at times in obvious pass situations, with Ryan Kerrigan in a four-point stance. They need to play out of their base defense because their main goal is to stop the run. Their secondary has done a better job lately of limiting big plays, but everything starts with their ability to stop the run. If Forte has a big game, I have a hard time seeing the Redskins limiting this offense enough to win the game.