Here's a quick look at the key factors for Sunday's Bears-Redskins matchup.
Run the ball
The Bear spoke much this past offseason about the need to be able to run the ball once inclement weather hits the area. That scenario is approaching. It’s expected to rain at Soldier Field on Sunday, and the field likely won’t hold up well under the wet conditions, which means the club’s high-powered passing attack should probably take a back seat to the running game. By establishing the ground game, Chicago can slow down Washington’s relentless rush somewhat, which will enable the Bears to execute some play-action passes as the game progresses. The Bears should give the Redskins a steady dose of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor because of their differing styles.
Donovan McNabb isn’t totally comfortable in Washington’s offense. So he’ll naturally look for ways to buy extra time in the pocket with his feet, and try to hit Chicago’s defense with deep throws. The Bears need to make sure they keep the quarterback in the pocket and their defensive backs over the top of the Redskins’ receivers. If Chicago can do that, it can count on McNabb making mistakes. McNabb is completing just 58.1 percent of his passes, and he has been sacked 14 times. The quarterback displays issues with footwork at times (because of his tendency to scramble and throw on the run), which greatly affect accuracy and velocity.
The Bears expressed optimism about utilizing, for the second consecutive week, a starting offensive line featuring center Olin Kreutz, left guard Chris Williams, left tackle Frank Omiyale, right guard Edwin Williams and right tackle J’Marcus Webb. This combination gave up six sacks last week. Interestingly, 65.2 percent of Jay Cutler’s sacks on the season have come in his past two starts. Lack of communication has been the main issue, especially on the right side where the Bears are starting a second-year player (Williams) and a rookie (Webb). So the Bears need to overcommunicate on blocking assignments against Washington’s 3-4 front, which has proven adept at confusing offensive lines with movement and alignments.
Three keys for the Redskins
Work the middle
The Bears will likely keep safety help over the of Washington outside receivers Santana Moss and Joey Galloway, which should open things up down the seams with slot receivers and tight end Chris Cooley. While Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher usually holds his own covering the deep middle zone between the safeties when they’re in Cover 2, the Redskins should test the linebacker as much as possible with Cooley. On early downs, the Bears will likely utilize base personnel, which could make them vulnerable to bootlegs. So if McNabb can buy enough time to cause breakdowns in coverage, the quarterback can hit the Bears deep down the middle of the field.
Pound the ball
At 6-1, 218 pounds, Ryan Torain is somewhat of a bigger back. Such backs have given Chicago’s defense problems in the past. While the Redskins won’t be able to reel off substantial gains initially, if they continuously pound the ball through the teeth of the Chicago’s defense, it will eventually devote an extra defender or two to stopping the run, which will make them vulnerable on play action passes. The Bears have fared well against the run so far this season, but they’ve also shown a tendency to break down as a game wears on, especially when they’ve spent too much time on the field due to ineffective play on offense.
Respect Chicago’s special teams
Devin Hester leads the NFL with two punt returns for touchdowns and currently ranks third in punt return average (17 yards). Still, for the most part, teams haven’t stopped kicking to him. The Redskins need to buck that trend to prevent Chicago from potentially winning the game with just one or two plays on special teams. Washington also needs to be wary of Bears kick returner Danieal Manning, who ranks ninth in kickoff return average (27.3 yards). Manning has returned 15 kickoffs for 40 or more yards since 2008, which ranks as the most in the NFL during that span. So neutralizing Manning would go a long way toward limiting Chicago’s average starting field position.
The staff raves about Webb’s physical attributes and nasty demeanor, which will finally be put to the test Sunday against Brian Orakpo, one of the league’s elite young pass rushers.
It’s a given the Bears will deploy extra personnel to helping out on whatever side Orakpo lines up on. But when left alone with Orakpo, who possesses an explosive first step, Webb can’t whiff on pass-rushing moves, and definitely needs to make sure to block him to the whistle.
Orakpo is expected to line up in several spots throughout the game. But the Redskins will definitely try to test Webb, who struggled last week against the Seahawks. Lack of communication was a major issue for Webb last week, and the club can’t afford a repeat of that performance from the rookie.
The Redskins have won 11 of the past 14 meetings between the teams since 1986, in addition to each of the last three.
Johnny Knox has caught seven passes of 20 or more yards this season, which ties for seventh in the NFL. Seven of Knox’s 18 receptions on the year have gone for 20 or more yards, giving him league’s the sixth-best percentage on such catches among players with at least 10 receptions.
Quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t converted a third down (0 for 22) in eight quarters.
By the numbers
7: Chicago’s conversion percentage on third-and-10 or longer (2 of 27).
8: Wins by the Bears since 2004 (8-18) when they’ve rushed for 74 yards or fewer.
21: Points scored by the Bears off turnovers. Opponents, meanwhile, have scored 17 points off Bears turnovers this season.
16: Chicago completions this season of 20 yards or more.
1: Chicago replay challenges reversed in 2010 on challenges made by Lovie Smith. Since 1999, the Bears have called for 82 challenges with 28 being reversed.