What: Redskins (5-7) at Bears (5-7).
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago.
Watch: Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic (12 p.m.); Redskins Postgame Live (4 p.m.).
My five storylines/matchups to monitor:
1-Road woes. The Redskins are a league-worst 0-5 on the road this season and haven’t won a game on away from FedEx Field since upsetting the Cowboys on Oct. 27, 2014, a span of nine contests. That’s the longest active road losing streak in the NFL, and it’s nudged them one defeat away from setting a franchise record for consecutive losses away from home. Three of the Redskins’ final four games will be played away from FedEx Field. To put it bluntly, there’s absolutely no chance they’ll qualify for the postseason unless they end the drought. And, if you’re being realistic, it could take a couple of road wins to get in. Interestingly, the Bears are almost as bad at home as the Redskins are on the road. In fact, they’re 1-8 at Soldier Field dating to last season.
2-Running back rotation. Earlier this week, Coach Jay Gruden said Alfred Morris remains the Redskins’ No. 1 running back, despite the fact that he played only eight snaps in Monday’s loss to the Cowboys. But as I’ve often said, it’s more important to watch what a coach does, rather than listen to what he says. And recent history (as I outlined in this article earlier this week) shows that Matt Jones’ involvement has continued to grow as Morris’ production has continued to diminish. Who’s going to get the majority of the work Sunday? That’s unclear. But we can be sure of this much: if the Redskins are going to enjoy any success on offense, they’ll need to exploit a bad Bears’ run defense that’s allowing 128 yards per game (29th). Interesting number: The Redskins are averaging 129.6 yards on the ground at home but just 44.8 on the road.
3-Pass rush production. After sacking Eli Manning three times in Week 12, the Redskins’ pass rush had a quiet night against the Cowboys. In fact, Matt Cassel was sacked just once and rarely touched, which helped the journeyman signal caller rebound from a ragged start. Things don’t figure to get any easier Sunday when Washington faces Jay Cutler, who has been sacked only 16 times (23 quarterbacks have been sacked more). But the Ryan Kerrigan-led rush will need to find a way. “As a group, we do have to get better,” Gruden said. “And in order to get better, we need to get more third-down-and-medium-to-longs, so we can really tee off and rush.” Overall, the Redskins rank 26th in the NFL with 21 sacks. Kerrigan has a team-best 6.5 sacks and Chris Baker has 5; no one else has more than 3.
4-Special or nah? The special teams units had been performing solidly…until Monday night, that is. There was a missed field goal in the fourth quarter. DeSean Jackson’s fumble. The Cowboys’ 44-yard kickoff return in the final seconds. It all added up to a gut-wrenching loss. Will those late struggles carry over? Or can Dustin Hopkins and Co. put it in the review and rebound against the Bears? Since replacing Kai Forbath in Week 2, Hopkins has been good on field goals (87.5 percent/12th-best) and outstanding on kickoffs. Sunday will mark the first time he'll have to bounce back from a shaky performance.
5-Alshon Jeffery vs. Bashaud Breeland. Despite ranking just 24th in points per game, the Bears' offense has some weapons. Included in that arsenal is Jeffery, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver who plays even bigger. Although he has only two touchdowns, the 25-year-old is the Bears' most productive player. He's averaging 98.6 yards per game, which ranks third best behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. Lining up across from him figures to be Breeland, who is playing as well as any corner in the NFL right now. Indeed, it's going be a matchup to savor. So sit back and enjoy.
Finally, the Redskins have some injury concerns heading into Sunday. Gruden is not optimistic about Chris Thompson (shoulder) suiting up, which could mean Jones getting more snaps on third down and a practice squader like Mack Brown or Christine Michael getting called up. Linebacker Perry Riley (foot) will be replaced by surprise performer Mason Foster for a second straight game. Defensive end Stephen Paea (toe) is not expected to suit up. There’s also some concern about end Jason Hatcher, who is battling a pinched nerve and an ankle injury. Later Friday, Gruden will rule the injured players as probable, questionable, doubtful or out. So check back for an update.