By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (3-11) host the Redskins (7-6-1) on Saturday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Former Bears running back Anthony Thomas was called the A-Train. Jordan Howard is the J-Train. Now pushing toward a 1,200-yard season, he’s within reach of the Bears’ rookie rushing record in the final two games, despite only 12 carries in the first three weeks of the season. While it won’t be easy, the Redskins are 1-2 when a back hits 100 on them. They’re 27th in the league in percentage of runs gaining at least four yards and also 30th in rushing defense on first down, giving up 4.98 yards per carry. There’s an opportunity for the Bears to run the ball on the Redskins to set up Matt Barkley’s play-action passing game.
Defense: Speed watch
Kirk Cousins has a cache of weapons with speed in DeSean Jackson, who has three 100-yard performances in the last four games. Bet on the Redskins testing the Bears’ still-evolving secondary with some deep balls to Jackson. The diminutive Jamison Crowder has more than 800 receiving yards, a team-high seven touchdowns and is a valuable third-down target. Pierre Garcon has the most catches on the team, with 71, and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis have combined for 104 receptions and seven more touchdowns. It’s a tough offense to stop. After springing a leak against the run against the Packers, the Bears will have to be disciplined against the Redskins’ run game featuring rookie Rob Kelly, who ran for 137 yards five weeks ago against the Packers. The Bears are 0-3 when allowing a back to reach the century mark this season.
Special teams: Fair catch, please
Crowder is a dual threat for the Redskins, now third in the NFL in punt return yardage, including an 85-yard touchdown in Week 5 against Baltimore. He’s averaging 13.1 on his 22 returns with 13 fair catches. Bears punter Patrick O’Donnell is having a terrific season with 29 fair catches called on his punts and only 20 returns, due in part to his 4.45-second average hang time, which ranks ninth-best in the league.
Intangibles: No quit
The Bears have proved to be a pesky outfit for playoff-contending teams like the Giants, Titans, Lions and Packers over the last five weeks, making them work for their wins. Those four losses all were by six points or fewer and by a combined 18 points. The Bears are playing competitively through the four quarter. I know it doesn’t carry a lot of weight when the losses mount, but it’s a step in the right direction. On a short week, off a loss and on the road, Washington is susceptible against the feisty Bears.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.