- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Can they beat the Bears? Sure. The Bears’ defensive front has struggled all season, due to injuries and some down seasons by certain players (end Julius Peppers). They’ve allowed 29 pass plays for 20 yards or more. The opportunity is there for the offense -- as it was with Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay and even Detroit. But Chicago’s offense will be a tough matchup with the size it has at receiver (6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery) and at tight end (6-foot-6 Martellus Bennett), paired with strong-armed Jay Cutler. Running back Matt Forte does a lot to help, too. The defense continues to draw tough quarterback assignments.
Why do the special teams stink? They have an unproven first-year coach, preceded by a coach the players greatly respected (regardless of what fans think). Is it all his fault? It’s never that simple. The Redskins don’t have as many core special-teamers as they once did; they have some players who could develop that way and they don’t have a standout such as Lorenzo Alexander. Bryan Kehl was a good special-teams player; Alexander was great. They entered the season, partly because of injury, with a rookie returner, one who hadn’t returned a punt since high school. So chalk this up to a first-year coach and poor organizational planning.
Has the defense really turned it around? Let’s not get carried away. It was such a rough start that it’ll take another game or two to think they really have. But they have played much better the past couple games and did so Sunday at Dallas. After the first drive they missed fewer tackles; they played mostly disciplined in coverage, bothered quarterback Tony Romo enough and eventually stopped the run. They’re playing about how I thought they would entering the season: not a great defense, but capable of keeping them in games. Unless the special teams gives up two long returns and the offense settles for field goals in the red zone.
What’s wrong with the red zone offense? The problem hasn’t necessarily been what they’ve done here, the issue is getting to this point. Washington averages 2.8 trips in the red zone per game, 20th in the NFL (and below its 3.2 per game average in 2012). And the Redskins have converted just half of those trips into touchdowns, below the league average of 53.9 percent. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has struggled here, with a passer rating of 78.1 (only six quarterbacks who have played at least three games are worse). He’s completed just 11 of 23 passes, though five have been for touchdowns. Last season he was fifth in the NFL with a 105.4 passer rating in the red zone as he completed 24 of 39 passes for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was also a bigger run threat here than he has been this season.
Is there any chance for a turnaround? Not until one side of the ball establishes itself as the bedrock for this team. For now, every unit has taken turns looking terrible in a game and that needs to change. Last season you knew the offense would, usually, be strong (more big plays and fewer turnovers than this season). If the defense suddenly becomes consistent or the offense starts scoring more -- it's at least now moving the ball better -- then you can start eyeing a turnaround. Until that point there will be a lot of teasing. And they can reach this point, but the bigger question will then be: Is it too late?