Reporting Laurence Holmes
This is an important game for the Bears. I won’t go so far to say it’s a ‘must-win’, but the difference between being 5-2 or 4-3 at the bye is stark. If you’re 5-2, you take your break leading the division, with an off-week focus of improving in some areas and getting healthy. At 4-3, the Bears will have lost 3 of their last 4 games and will have dropped 3 potential tie-breaker games in the NFC.
Like most teams in the NFC, Washington is a quality opponent with a bunch of flaws. Here’s what I think is important to watch…
Redskins Offense vs. Bears Defense
Donovan McNabb has thrown for 1,561 yards this year. He’s been nimble and his legs look fresh. Mike Shannahan’s offense is a nice fit for him. Washington runs a bunch of bootlegs that allow McNabb to get on the move. Their run plays have pass plays off of them. They run misdirection and fakes (which last week gave the Bears problems). It looks like Chris Cooley will play after suffering a concussion Sunday night. Even though he’s a tight end, he’s McNabb’s best option in the pass game. He’s super smart and adept at getting behind the defense for big plays. Santana Moss is still very serviceable. Anthony Armstrong is a deep threat that Danieal Manning and Chris Harris will have to pay close attention to. The Redskins have been pretty good between the 20′s, but have left a lot of points on the field. This would be a terrific time for Tommie Harris to make his presence known. They could use him to disrupt plays and cut off scramble lanes for McNabb.
Clinton Portis is out, but that’s an advantage. Ryan Tourain is a beast! He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. He runs hard, looking to inflict punishment. The Bears have to do a better job of tackling or he’ll have a big day. The weather report makes for a sloppy track and the Reskins have the better run game.
Bears Offense vs. Redskins Defense
Jay Cutler said this week that he expects Wasington to blitz and with good reason. The Bears have had a ton of communication issues that have kept them from doing a good job in blitz pick-up. It’s not just the offensive line that’s guilty. The specialists have to know what’s going on too. That means adjusting routes and knowing blocking assignments. I felt the Bears had their best success in the pass game on crossing routes and broken plays. Johnny Knox does a good job of working back to Cutler when plays go bad, but you’d like to see he and Cutler on the same page more. The intermediate routes are out there for the Bears to capitalize on because defensive backfields are protecting deep. The Bears haven’t converted a 3rd down with Cutler at the helm since the Green Bay game. That’s unfathomable!
The Redskins will show different looks. Their base is a 3-4 (which gives the Bears trouble), but their blitz packages range from routine to exotic. They experiment with a “spaghetti” defense. All 11 guys standing up, it makes it hard to know who’s the rushmen. Look for some variations on this for the Bears. Until the Bears make a team pay for blitzing, they can expect to see it all night. Brian Orakpo is a handful. Carlos Rogers is a corner that can really cover, but has awful hands. He’s dropped 5 or 6 interception chances this year. LaRon Landry is playing at a Pro-Bowl level. Washington gives up a ton of yards, but does a a good job keeping teams from scoring 7.
Will the Bears feel the need to run the ball? Will the elements play a role in that?
This is another good battle for Dave Toub and crew. The Redskins have good returners and do a decent job of covering. This would seem like a game where a great return from Manning or Devin Hester could make the difference. With rain in the forecast, it could limit Robbie Gould’s depth.
I’m very curious to see if we get a similar gameplan to the Carolina game. The Bears need to run the rock, but it’s very temptting to test Washington’s pass defense. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched, but I’m pretty sure Lance Briggs will be on the field and that makes a difference. The Bears missed Briggs last week. He’s a sure tackler who makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. On 3rd downs last week the Bears were forced to have their slowest linebacker (Pisa Tinoisamoa) on the fieild. A healthy-enough Briggs is enough to get the Bears into the bye with a win. BEARS 24 REDSKINS 21.