Frank Heinz, NBC DFW
Will Washington's defense be celebrating or mourning against the Bears?
If a person talks about sports for long enough, there are several clichés that they are likely to hear. One of the most prominent ones is that statistics don’t tell the whole story, and the Washington Redskins are definitely a team that would have a legitimate claim to that saying.
That’s because on paper, they appear to be one of the weakest defenses in the NFL. They currently rank 27th in the league, giving up nearly 400 yards per game overall. They are no better in either passing or rushing defense, ranking 24th in passing yards against (271.6 yards) and 27th in rushing yards against (123.4 yards) in those two categories.
Looking at the first few games of the season, it’s easy to see why the 1-4 Redskins are in the predicament that they are in. In a Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Skins gave up 184 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson caught seven passes for 104 yards against their secondary. Week 2 was even worse, with James Starks rushing for 132 yards and Aaron Rodgers torching the Skins for 480 yards and four touchdowns. James Jones paced the receiving attack with a remarkable 178 yards.
Week 3 brought further issues, with Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson combining for 231 yards as the Detroit Lions knocked the Redskins’ record to 0-3 with their first victory in the nation’s capital in over 20 years.
Over the past few weeks though, the performances by the Redskins’ defense have picked up quite a bit. After giving up such huge rushing totals the first few weeks, the ‘Skins limited Rashad Jennings to only 45 yards in a Week 4 victory over the Oakland Raiders, and DeMarco Murray was the Dallas Cowboys’ leading rusher with only 29 yards. The passing attacks for those two teams weren’t much better, with Matt Flynn only throwing for 227 yards, and Tony Romo being limited to only 170 yards a week after throwing for over 500 yards against the Denver Broncos in the same stadium.
So what does all of that mean for the Chicago Bears? For starters, it means that they can’t be too over-confident going up against a team that doesn’t look all that great statistically. After all, the Bears are coming off a week when they were held to just three second half points by a team that is off to a horrendous start, as the 0-6 New York Giants are off to the worst start the franchise has seen in nearly 40 years.
Another thing to keep in mind too is that the Redskins are vulnerable to giving up big plays on the outside to wide receivers, so Jay Cutler is going to have to be ready and willing to target both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery early and often. That shouldn’t be much of a problem for the quarterback, as he generally settles into a mode of dishing the ball to whichever one of those guys is open the most, and the Redskins will likely oblige with weaker coverage against one half of that tandem.
One trap that the Bears can’t afford to fall into is trying to dump short passes over the middle of the field to either Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte. This season, the Redskins have actually been doing an excellent job of limiting the touches in the flat made by both running backs and tight ends, and it’s not like they’ve been doing that against slouches either. Jason Witten only had three catches last week for the Cowboys, and despite his insane rushing performance in Week 1, McCoy only had one catch out of the backfield, which is far below the norm for someone of his pass-catching pedigree.
There are exceptions to that rule, like Jermichael Finley’s six catch performance in Week 2, but for the most part, the key to success for the Bears will be to exploit the Redskins’ cornerbacks and safeties, who haven’t faced this potent of a receiving tandem since their Week 3 loss to the Lions.