Game preview: Bears at Redskins

Game preview: Bears at Redskins
October 18, 2013, 8:45 am
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DHall responds to Jay Cutler's comments

What: Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: Noon and 4 p.m. 

The Redskins’ primary failure this season has been the same, persistent problem from week to week: Robert Griffin III and Co. can’t seem to put together a complete, 60-minute effort in all three phases of the game.

When the offense has scored, the defense hasn’t made stops. When the defense has made stops, the offense can’t get into the end zone. Most recently, of course, there have been costly breakdowns on special teams.

In the words of first-year coordinator Keith Burns, his unit’s responsibility isn’t to win the game but rather “not mess the game up.”

Well, his units certainly made a right mess of Sunday’s 31-16 defeat in Dallas, where they surrendered an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another score. The unit couldn’t get out of its own way—literally—as Burns was also flagged for impeding an official on the sideline. 

At 1-4, the Redskins have virtually used up their margin for error. If they’re going to get back into the hunt, a second straight improbable run will need to begin Sunday in Landover—and it’s going to require strong performances in these three key areas:

  • The struggling kick and punt coverage units will be tested again. Not only will they be without leading tackler Bryan Kehl, who was lost this week to a season-ending knee injury, they’ll have to contend with Devin Hester, one of the game’s most dangerous returners. Hester has 19 career punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns (12 on punts, 6 on kickoffs, 1 on a missed field goal). He also ranks third this season in kickoff return average (30.3) and earlier this year set a franchise record for return yardage in a game (249) vs. the Vikings. “Anytime you give up a return, everyone is chomping at the bit to play you,” special teams captain Reed Doughty said. “But as I told the guys, the only way to fix it is for us to go and make plays.”
  • Griffin had the breakout rushing performance everyone had been waiting for on Sunday night, gaining 77 yards on nine carries. He showed increased burst, ran the ball more instinctually and drew two penalties for unnecessary roughness. “I thought it was his best game running athletically,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said of RG3's best rushing effort in 11 games. “He competed hard with his legs. He did a good job and it opened up some stuff.” But Griffin couldn’t put it all together. He misfired on more than a few throws and had at least two miscommunications with Pierre Garçon. It all added up to completion percentage of 48.7—his lowest in 14 games. Like the inconsistent Redskins, Griffin has yet to put a strong performance on the ground together with a strong effort through the air. But it certainly appears that he’s getting closer to becoming the dynamic playmaker he was a season ago. Will this be the week?
  • After getting shredded in the first three games, the Redskins’ defense has put together back-to-back strong games, limiting the Raiders and Cowboys to 298 and 213 yards of total offense, respectively. But the unit’s task figures to be a tall one this week against a Bears’ offense that ranks third in points per game (28.7). Under the tutelage of first-year coach Marc Trestman, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Cutler ranks sixth in both passing touchdowns (12) and completion percentage and has four pass catchers (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte) who are on pace for 75 or more receptions. “He’s doing a nice job getting the ball out of his hand,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Cutler. “I’m impressed with the way he’s throwing it. I’m impressed with the way he’s running; he’s running the ball more. And he’s got some weapons.” The matchups to watch will be DeAngelo Hall vs. Marshall and 5-10 London Fletcher vs. Bennett, who is 6-6.

Some other areas the team at CSNWashington.com will be monitoring:

1—Injuries. Cornerback David Amerson (concussion) will play Sunday if he continues to pass all of his neurological tests, Coach Mike Shanahan said. Meantime, Cameron Lawrence, he Cowboys’ linebacker who laid the blindside hit on Amerson, was fined $21,000, a league source said. All of the Redskins’ other dinged up players, including reserve nose tackle Chris Neild (calf strain), practiced fully on Thursday.

2—Penalties. The Redskins were flagged 12 times for a whopping 104 yards in Dallas and now rank as the 26th most penalized team in the NFL (7.6 per game), up from 7.0 a year ago. The most costly penalty last week was the illegal motion (Jerome Murphy) that forced the re-punt Dwayne Harris returned for a score. “Anytime you punt a second time, it’s never a good thing,” Doughty said. 

3—New faces. After the injuries to Kehl and long snapper Nick Sundberg, the Redskins added free agents Josh Hull and Kyle Nelson. The team also cut safety Jordan Pugh and replaced him with free agent Trenton Robinson. Hull and Robinson are expected to play on special teams, while Nelson has only four days to get into rhythm with kicker Kai Forbath and holder Sav Rocca.