With a bye week looming, it may be tempting for the Chicago Bears to look past their matchup Sunday with the Washington Redskins, but the possibility of picking up a road win after a lackluster Week 6 performance is likely too tantalizing a prospect to pass up.
The Redskins, a playoff team a season ago, have fallen on some hard times lately as their defense has struggled to get itself in order, and they also have been dealing with a quarterback in Robert Griffin III that is only now starting to look like his old self after looking a step slower than last year thanks to the torn ACL that ended his rookie campaign.
The question then for the Bears is how do they go about knocking off the Redskins and running their record to 5-2 on the season? It’s never easy to win on the road in the NFL, but there are several key elements to a potential Bears victory in the nation’s capital.
Bostic Has to Keep An Eye on the Play-Action Attack
The Redskins are a team that is known for employing several offensive looks, including a read option, but the types of plays that could pose the biggest problem to Bears middle linebacker Jon Bostic could be the play-action pass.
The Skins execute that play with a great deal of precision for several reasons. For starters, there’s the fact that teams are eager to stop Alfred Morris from running the football, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Their schemes are well designed too, but the biggest stumbling block that the Bears will face is just how quickly Griffin is capable of getting rid of the ball.
On several plays in the Redskins’ Week 6 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, Griffin took the snap and faked the hand-off to Morris, drawing the attention of Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. After the fake, Griffin wheeled around and fired the ball over the top so quickly that even when Lee recognized the play, he wasn’t able to get back in coverage in time to stop the ball over the middle of the field.
With a rookie middle linebacker making his first career NFL start, the Bears are going to have to be extra vigilant about that play, and will have to help Bostic defend it. That being said, he does have to do the hard work himself, and it will be interesting to see how he copes.
How Will McClellin Respond to Being Run At?
Another interesting technique that the Redskins employ in their running game is having three running backs in the backfield with Griffin, and more often than not, that means that they will be handing the ball off to Morris.
That trio of potential runners may not be a big concern to some teams, but with a defensive end like Shea McClellin who has proven particularly susceptible to the run this season, the Bears would be wise to pay attention. Morris may only be averaging 75.4 yards per game, but that number is likely suppressed not only by the fact that his quarterback runs the ball quite a bit, but also because the Redskins have trailed in a vast majority of their games this season, so they’re forced to abandon the run early and throw the ball frequently.
Even with that though, McClellin has to know that the run is coming at him. Morris had a 45-yard touchdown run last week against the Cowboys that illustrates just what he is capable of doing at the line. On the play, Morris ran to the strong side of the formation, and then cut back inside the B-gap, evaded a couple of tackles, and ran the ball in for the score.
McClellin is going to have to not only be focused on trying to get outside pressure on Griffin to force the quarterback’s hand, but he is also going to need to be able to shed blockers to cover his gaps on the run as well. If he can’t, then the Bears could be in for a long day.
Cutler Must Be Able to Find His Receivers
The last time the Bears played the Redskins, Jay Cutler threw four interceptions to Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Even though he has said that he isn’t worried about Hall lining up across from Brandon Marshall on Sunday afternoon, the fact of the matter is that no one would be surprised if Cutler came out at least a little bit gun shy in terms of throwing in Hall’s direction.
That strategy, while fitting the narrative of Cutler taking care of the ball and not making any bad decisions, is the wrong way to go for Cutler in this game. The Redskins have made it a habit this season of cutting off receivers in the middle of the field, limiting passes to the flat that target tight ends or pass-catching running backs. Where they have struggled is in limiting wide receivers, getting burned repeatedly for 100 yard-plus games by a wide variety of wide outs.
So what does that mean for the Bears? It means that Cutler (provided he gets adequate protection from his line, which we’ll revisit in a minute) is going to have to get ready to fire the ball outside of the hashmarks to both Marshall and Jeffery, and likely will need to get Earl Bennett involved as well. Cutler has shown this season that he is capable of throwing the back-shoulder pass better than just about any other quarterback in the league, and he will need his full arsenal of weapons available to him in order to best the Redskins’ secondary on Sunday.
Forte Must Be in Top Running Form Sunday
One of the primary beneficiaries of the Bears’ newfound emphasis on passing the ball has been running back Matt Forte, who has 33 catches on the season and is on pace for 88 grabs on the season. His running hasn’t exactly suffered, with Forte averaging 73.7 yards per game so far during the regular season.
Unfortunately for Forte, his life will be slightly more complicated against the Redskins on Sunday. As we alluded to in this post earlier this week, running backs haven’t exactly gone for big receiving days against Washington this season, and even guys like LeSean McCoy, who is arguably a better pass-catcher than Forte is, only had one catch for five yards for the Eagles in their Week 1 victory over the Redskins.
What that means for Forte and the Bears’ offense is simple. It means that they are going to have to take advantage of the holes that the offensive line is able to open up, and Forte has to be aggressive in getting through into the second layer of the Washington defense. At times, Forte can look a little bit too passive, tending to shuffle a bit as he looks for open running lanes, and that hesitation isn’t going to do him any favors against the Skins.
If he can be more assertive, then he should be able to find success against Washington. If he remains passive, then it might be a long and unproductive day for #22.
Can the Bears’ Thrive Against the 3-4?
One of the bigger stories for the Bears heading into both their Week 3 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Week 5 tilt with the New Orleans Saints was whether or not their young offensive line would be able to succeed against the 3-4 defense that those two teams employ. The Redskins also employ a 3-4, but according to Marc Trestman, it is a more traditional style of the defense, as opposed to the hybrid that the Saints, and to a lesser extent the Steelers, employ.
The blocking assignments for an offensive line going against a 3-4 defense don’t seem that difficult to execute on their surface. The center is isolated on an island against the opposing nose tackle, but the rest of the line has plenty to deal with. Not only do they have to contend with the incredibly athletic defensive ends that are a hallmark of the 3-4, but they also have to contend with linebackers who have the capability of either blitzing or dropping back in coverage, and it’s always tough to tell which those guys are doing.
For the Bears, they seemed to do a good job of reading 3-4 attacks by the Steelers, but it will be interesting to see if they can replicate that success against a more traditional system.