Bears

Bears in-foe: Examining the Washington Redskins

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Bears in-foe: Examining the Washington Redskins

Too bad John Fox wasn't back in a first-year time warp from 2011. A 5-7 record and a battle for first place in a division would feel quite comfortable, since his 8-8 start in Denver worked out well (the Broncos won the division and a playoff game).

The difference four years later in the NFC North is that it finds him three games behind, in third place - unlike 5-7 Washington, which still holds the top spot in the wretched NFC East via tie-breaker despite Monday Night's wild 19-16 home loss to Dallas. Fifty-eight minutes of snoredom turned into an exhilarating final two minutes, which keeps the NFL the popular thing that it is. With both teams coming off gut-wrenching home losses, neither will be in a particularly cheery holiday mood. Just don't ask what to expect, especially with the Bears 1-5 at home and Washington 0-5 on the road.

Offense

RG-Who? The second overall pick in 2012 who set a rookie quarterbacking standard in 2012 - leading the franchise to its only winning record since 2007 (and only non-last place finish) has had nothing but health and compatibility issues since Jay Gruden took over as head coach in 2014. Reconstructive knee surgery, dislocated ankle, two concussions. Gruden got tired of waiting. Enter Kirk Cousins, at the risk of owner Daniel Snyder's wrath and Gruden's job security.

 

[RELATED - Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15]

But Cousins (a fourth-rounder in 2012, the same year Griffin was picked) has clearly taken over the signal-calling reins. RGIII is now "III-String" behind Colt McCoy. Cousins ("You like that?! YOU LIKE THAT!!") has taken control, especially after leading a comeback from a 24-0 home deficit versus Tampa Bay in Week 7 to a 31-30 win. The Michigan State product has been amazing at home (75.2 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions). He'll try to start fixing his 6:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road Sunday on the lakefront.

Alfred Morris (a sixth-rounder from that 2012 class that made an immediate impact) continues to produce, albeit at a more conservative clip. 2015 third-rounder Matt Jones is a tank (6'2, 231), but the combo averages only about 3.5 yards a clip, though both have home run abilities. 

The DeSean (Jackson) Drama from Monday Night was the mercurial wideout in a nutshell. He missed two months after a shoulder injury in the opener but in his fifth game back, tried doing too much on a late punt return that turned into a fumble and go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 left. Thrity seconds later, he caught the tying touchdown pass. He and Pierre Garcon will present an upgrade in challenges to Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller from the 49ers' receiving corps. Complicating matters is tight end Jordan Reed, whose 58 catches and six touchdowns lead Washington, despite missing two games with a concussion.

D.C. invested up front by selecting Iowa's Brandon Scherff fifth overall this past April, and sticking the former Iowa tackle at guard, stabilizing the right side, while three-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams remains a rock on the left side.

Defense

It was tough to truly evaluate Washington's defense against the Romo-less Cowboys, yet it still found a way to lose for just the second time at home. The Redskins came in ranked 22nd overall in defense, but let's remember San Francisco was 29th. Sunday's game turned into the ninth in 12 games the Bears managed two or fewer offensive touchdowns.

The reason Jarvis Jenkins is in Chicago is because Rod Marinelli's son-in-law, Joe Barry, signed Fox's former run-stuffer in Denver, Terrance Knighton, and former Bear Stephen Paea in free agency. Jason Hatcher rounds out the front, but he's been disappointing from a production standpoint since coming over from Dallas prior to last season. Chris Baker's been most effective rotating in with five sacks.

Ryan Kerrigan is the pass-rushing stud on the outside edge (6.5 sacks this year, 13.5 last year, 44.5 in his fifth season in which he's never missed a start). 2014 second-rounder Trent Murphy's starting to click on the other edge with another sack Monday night. Will Compton and Keenan Robinson do their jobs inside, ranking second and third in tackles, respectively.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The real interesting storyline comes in the secondary. With Chris Culliver recently placed on injured reserve, DeAngelo Hall is back in the starting lineup. The last time the Bears made the playoffs in 2011, Hall picked off Jay Cutler four times at Soldier Field (including one returned for a touchdown). They yapped at each other a few times since, though the 2013 encounter was quiet in D.C. before Cutler's groin injury. Opposite corner Bashaud Breeland had 12 passes defensed going into Monday night's game, while free safety Dashon Goldson was with Vic Fangio for his first two years in San Francisco before departing via free agency. 

Let's not also forget Fangio chose between the Bears and Washington for their respective defensive coordinator vacancies, and chose the Bears.

Special teams

Releasing Kai Forbath early in the season was a bit of a surprise, but replacement kicker Dustin Hopkins has gone 21-of-24, with those three misses nothing under 40 yards. Ex-Bear Tress Way was a "camp leg" who turned into one of the league's best punters (left-footed too) in 2014 and has picked up where he left off. More concerning for the Bears coverage units is that both Jeremy Ross and Andre Roberts have returned kicks for touchdowns this season.

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

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USA TODAY

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:

 

On the Bears’ season as a whole:

 

“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”

 

On Mitch Trubisky:

 

“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”

 

On Tarik Cohen’s usage:

 

“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.

 

“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”

 

On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:

 

“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”

 

On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:

 

“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.

 

“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”

 

On Matt Nagy:

 

“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.

 

“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.

 

“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”

 

While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:

 

“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”

 

One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.

 

The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.

 

But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: