Washington Redskins Week #7 Preview: Chicago Bears
*Everyone wants to move up from a Buick to a Bentley. From a mobile home to a mansion. From cubic zirconium to a real diamond stud. And that is precisely what Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder thought he had done in March of last year when a deal for Denver Broncos’ quarterback Jay Cutler was finalized. Or almost finalized. Snyder had the press release all done. He was giddy with excitement. He would finally have his franchise quarterback. It was a complicated three-team deal (Cleveland being the other party) that would have basically swapped quarterback Jason Campbell, tight end Chris Cooley, safety LaRon Landry and a future 1st round draft pick for Cutler, tight end Tony Scheffler and a 3rd round draft pick. But the deal fell apart at the last second and Cutler was shipped to the Chicago Bears for quarterback Kyle Orton (who has far outplayed Cutler in his first season-and-a-half in the Rockies) and a slew of high draft picks. Snyder was heartbroken and drenched his European satin sheets in tears that night. The portrait for his Skins would have been far different had that deal been completed. Jim Zorn would have been fired immediately and Mike Shanahan would have been brought in to run the show then. After all, it was Shanahan who drafted Cutler in Denver. The big-armed quarterback out of Vandy looked like the next John Elway early on under Shanny. Just like Elway, he could whistle that pigskin into tight coverage as well as fire it the length of the field. But when Shanahan was canned in Denver, young head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t see Cutler as a fit and shockingly sent him packing. It wasn’t meant for JC to be in DC.
The results for Jay Cutler in Chicago have been less than mediocre. When you pay a king’s ransom to a team for your quarterback of the future, you expect a lot. And while Cutler did pass for nearly 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns a season ago, he did throw a league-high 26 interceptions and fumbled nine times. This frustrated loyal Bear fans and nearly cost head coach Lovie Smith his job. So Smith brought in offensive mastermind Mike Martz this season to manage that side of the ball. And there has been improvement under the guidance of the former Super Bowl-winning coach. Cutler’s quarterback rating after six games this season is up nearly 17 points to 93.2. More importantly, the Bears are 4-2 and a game up in the NFC North.
Like the Redskins, the Bears have had a hard time running the football and controlling the clock (ranking 27th in time of possession). Matt Forte is a talented tailback, but has rushed the ball more than twelve times only twice this season. Part of the problem is a battered, patchwork offensive line. Lovie Smith brought in former Seattle Seahawk head coach Mike Tice to help address that unit. Unless he can suit up, his line is in trouble. They have been getting manhandled consistently on a weekly basis. The New York Giants embarrassed them, running through them with ease, dropping Cutler on his head and sending him to the showers early.
Defensively, the Bears have a trio of superstars: defensive end Julius Peppers and linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Chicago lured Peppers away from Carolina with one of the richest contracts ever for a defensive lineman. And when he is motivated, he is a monster. He is a one-person highlight reel at times. Whether it is tipping Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen pass to himself before intercepting it or the amazing strip sack of Detroit’s Shaun Hill. Briggs signed a huge deal a few years back to remain in the Windy City. However, he misses a ton of tackles and has been criticized for his inconsistency. Urlacher is a perennial All-Pro when he can remain healthy. Sadly for him, that hasn’t been often in recent years. He isn’t the same player he once was. Injuries have sapped him of his greatness. When you see him run across the field a few weeks ago against Green Bay and force the game-altering forced fumble, you realize the Hall of Fame potential Urlacher once possessed. Those type of game-altering plays are too few and far between for spoiled Chicago fans used to the likes of linebackers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. Despite this trio of stars, the Bears’ defense has amassed just nine sacks after six games. They allowed a struggling Matt Hassleback to gain confidence a week ago and he led Seattle to a huge road upset. The formula for beating the Bears in Chicago has been established.
Homecoming For McNabb/Grossman
Donovan McNabb grew up in Chicago. A star at Mount Carmel High School before heading east to Syracuse University. The Bears wanted to draft him back in 1999. They thought of trading up from 7th for a shot at him that year. But the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him second overall. Remember the warm reaction Eagle fans had to that selection? Instead, the Bears traded down and chose highly-touted UCLA signalcaller Cade McNown. How’d that work out for Chicago? If Philly fans booed the selection of McNabb, they might have torched Madison Square Garden if the Eagles had picked McNown. He is rumored to be selling insurance now in Champaign. The Bears eventually did settle on Rex Grossman, who led them to the Super Bowl. But Grossman was never a fan favorite and never produced consistently in big games. Bear fans wanted him to be Jim McMahon. Too many times he resembled Vince McMahon. Getting body slammed, booed and blasted by Chicago sports media. All the way out of the Midwest. He landed in your nation’s captial. He is McNabb’s back-up with the Redskins now. Pray McNabb stays upright and healthy. Or DC fans will make those Philly fans look like Keystone State choir boys.
I have been highly critical of McNabb’s inconsistent performance in this weekly column. But the stats prove me out. His quarterback rating of 72 over the last four games is among the worst in the league. Part of it is adjusting to a new team. Part of it is an offensive line that has been racked by inconsistency and injury. Part of it is inexperienced tailback Ryan Torain who runs like Larry Brown on one play and Charlie Brown on the next. Part of it is an aging wide receiver corp. The reason why Anthony Armstrong was named a starter this week. Part of it is McNabb is just well past his playing prime and showing the effects of years of running for his life while carrying a suspect Eagle team. He does manage to make just enough big plays with his saavy leadership and ability to still move around the pocket to keep the Skins in offensive contention each week. So in that regard, Skin fans view him as an upgrade.
Defensively, the “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy of coordinator Jim Haslett took a hit on Sunday night against the defending AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were forced to kick four field goals (missing two) but tallied three touchdowns as well. Great teams score in the red zone. The Bears, however, are not a great team.
Pic’s Prediction: The Bears would love to head in to their bye week 5-2 and leading their division comfortably at the season’s midpoint. The Redskins must take away the run and force Jay Cutler to throw often in predictable situations. Make Chicago one-dimensional. (Their wide receivers/tight ends are ordinary. Johnny Knox has dropped so many balls he might be Chicago’s version of Jackass 3-Deep.) Washington didn’t do that against Indy. The stand-up, helter skelter defensive line strategy backfired. The Colts had too much success rushing the ball (over 170 yards). The Skins’ defense has to generate a Giants-like pass rush on Cutler from the start, continually move him out of the pocket (his comfort zone) and pound him into the Solider Field turf like the Giants did. His head is just clearing from the last concussion. The Skins did not do that to Peyton Manning a week ago. And Manning’s Megamind head was hard to miss. Cutler is no Manning. (That Picca is truly the master of the understatement). I see JC throwing a critical pick six late (possibly to Carlos “The Black Knight” Rogers) to seal a hard-earned Redskins’ road victory.
Washington 26, Chicago 17
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