NFL Preview - Chicago (4-2) at Washington (1-4)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - With Chicago Bears linebacker D.J. Williams out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it's time for the next man to step up.
That would be rookie Jon Bostic, who will make his first NFL start when the Bears visit the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedEx Field.
Bostic, who started at middle linebacker during the preseason, got a taste of his first regular season action in last Thursday's 27-21 win over the struggling New York Giants at Soldier Field. Williams sustained a ruptured left pectoral tendon late in the third quarter against the Giants and ended his season with 27 tackles and two sacks.
Williams is the third Chicago defender lost for the season, joining tackles Henry Melton (knee) and Nate Collins (knee).
Now it's up to Bostic to be the man in the middle. Bostic had two tackles - one for a loss - versus the Giants and head coach Marc Trestman has faith in the youngster.
"I thought he was active," Trestman said of Bostic's play. "He was around the football. It's the next-man-up mentality and I think he's mentally ready to take on playing that position. The experience that he has will certainly help him down the road."
Bostic said this week he feels "more ready each and every day" and is grasping the defensive philosophy better. He was asked about getting thrust into the lineup.
"I wouldn't really say anything was too difficult about it," Bostic said. "Every week I'm preparing like I'm the starter anyway. I wasn't too surprised about it. But now I've got to step up. I don't want any drop-off from D.J. to me. I've just got to go out there and just prepare the best I can and go out there and do my best."
The Bears' defense hasn't been its tradition dominating self and is only 12th against the rush (102.0), 20th in total yards allowed (373.0), 23rd in pass defense (271.0) and 26th in points allowed (26.8). But the Bears have scored four touchdowns on defense: three interception returns for touchdowns and a fumble returned for a score. Bears defensive back Tim Jennings had a 48-yard INT return for a TD in the win over the Giants and finished with two picks. Chicago has won 12 straight when picking off a pass and returning it for points.
"That's what we do, we take the ball away," Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We stress it in practice every day, and it carries over to the game. We have to continue to do that on a weekly basis to continue to win, and I believe we'll be able to do that."
Under first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears are 30th with only 8.0 sacks. Chicago's main priority this week is to apply pressure on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and the team is only ahead of Pittsburgh and the New York Giants in sacks.
It doesn't help that two of the top tackles went down, but the Bears aren't making any excuses. Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs had the only sack last Thursday in that win over the Giants.
"I think we've got to get more continuity in our rushes," Trestman said. "We're trying to find ways to improve our techniques and fundamentals and coordinate different ways of getting to the quarterback."
The lack of pressure up front is one of the reasons why the Bears are struggling to stop opposing offenses. However, they're 4-2 and sit tied with Detroit atop the NFC North standings. Green Bay is just a half-game behind. After visiting the Redskins, the Bears will enter their bye week.
Washington dropped to 1-4 following Sunday night's 31-16 loss at Dallas and a 10-point fourth quarter by the Cowboys was the difference.
The Redskins, who posted their first win of the season on Sept. 29 at Oakland and was coming off a bye, registered 433 yards of offense - a season-high 216 rushing - and still failed to come away with a win. Griffin passed for 246 yards with an interception and ran for 77 yards on nine carries. Alfred Morris continued to carry the workload with 81 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
"We're close on offense, but close doesn't do it in this league," Griffin said. "We did move the ball effectively the majority of the game, we just have to punch it in when we get in the red zone and finish those drives."
Washington was 0-for-3 in the red zone and settling for field goals is something veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said needs to change.
"Honestly, it shouldn't have been a problem for us because we have a pretty good offense in the red zone," Moss said after catching two passes for 42 yards and is 71 yards shy of 10,000 in his career. "We have to go back to the drawing board, see where we're falling short on and just correct it."
That's easier said than done. On the bright side, the Redskins posted their first game of at least 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards since Week 7 of the 2012 season at the Giants. Sunday's game marked the first time this season the 'Skins failed to score at least 20 points.
Washington, which hasn't started 1-5 since 2001, still has a demanding schedule on the horizon with Chicago, Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Kansas City looming. Griffin still believes the Redskins can push through over the remaining weeks.
"We're the defending NFC East champs, and we're sitting here 1-4 right now," Griffin said. "So we have to take that medicine and move on to the next week, learn from it and don't let it put us in the tank. For me, my message to the team would be that we have to continue to push through. No matter what your record says, you have to go out there and put your best foot forward every game."
The all-time series, including the playoffs, between the Bears and Redskins is even at 23-23-1. Even though the Bears have lost four in a row against the Redskins, they have a 20-19-1 edge in the regular season (3-4 postseason).
The teams met for the NFL Championship four times between 1937 and 1943, with each claiming two crowns. The Bears' 73-0 win in D.C. following the 1940 season has taken on legendary status in NFL annals. Chicago also won a 1984 NFC Divisional Playoff on the road, while Washington came into Soldier Field in 1986 and 1987 and won Divisional Playoff contests.
In the last meeting - a 17-14 win by Washington on Oct. 24, 2010 at Soldier Field - Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall tied an NFL record by intercepting four Jay Cutler passes, returning one 92 yards for a touchdown.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Cutler has played well the last two games, throwing for 620 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions. In the win over the Giants, the strong-armed Cutler completed 24-of-36 passes for 262 yards and a pair of scores for a Chicago offense that is third in points scored (28.7).
"Jay was very efficient with the football," Trestman said. "He took care of it, did an excellent job with that. We talk about it all the time. If you take care of the football and you create turnovers, you're going to be in the game in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win."
Cutler faced the Redskins in the aforementioned loss in 2010, as he completed 26-of-40 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown and those four picks.
The Bears, though, are only 11th in total yards (369.2) and 13th in passing yards (260.8). The passing game is what killed New York last week and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, florescent green shoes and all, hauled in nine passes for 87 yards and a pair of scores. Marshall wanted the ball more and got his wish. Tight end Martellus Bennett had 68 yards on six catches and will try to team up with Marshall again in Washington. The Redskins are giving up 271.6 passing yards a game and 395.0 total yards per game.
Another weapon Cutler has is second-leading receiver Alshon Jeffery, who sits behind Marshall with 456 yards and two scores on 29 catches. Marshall leads the team in receptions (40), yards (465) and TDs (5). Jeffery, though, had just one catch for 27 yards last week.
Washington shouldn't have to put much emphasis on Chicago's ground attack, which is 17th in the league at 108.3 yards per game. Bears all-purpose back Matt Forte can carve up defenses in the passing game, but has yet to rush for more than 95 yards in a game this season. Forte, however, is second on the team with 33 receptions.
The Giants did not sack Cutler and Washington is hoping to get the QB's uniform a bit dirty Sunday. But that could be a problem because the Redskins sacked Tony Romo once Sunday night. Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan leads the team with five sacks and linebacker Brian Orakpo owns three. The Redskins will need those two to pressure Cutler into forcing throws and making mistakes. Hall benefited from that with for INTs of Cutler a few years ago, when the signal caller was sacked four times, including twice by Orakpo.
The Redskins held the Cowboys to 213 total yards of offense Sunday night, their best defensive performance since holding the St. Louis Rams to 172 yards in Week 4 of the 2011 season.
In iron man news, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher played in his 245th consecutive regular season game, extending his record for the most by a defensive player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He also started his 204th consecutive regular season game, second-most by an NFL linebacker all-time (Derrick Brooks, 208).
Think back to when the Redskins were 3-6 a season ago and head coach Mike Shanahan said it was time to start evaluating the future of the roster. That sparked the team and seven straight wins led to an NFC East title. Shanahan was asked Monday if this team can pull off a similar comeback.
"The thing you can't do is look down the road. What you have to do is look at today, and that's what we'll do," Shanahan said. "We'll be tough on ourselves today, look at the things we did poorly. The players will come in and get a workout in, look at the film. Then Wednesday we'll get on to Chicago. But in order to beat a team like Chicago, you've got to take it a day at a time and just concentrate on that football team. If you get better as a group, then you've got a chance to win and at least that's the formula that I look at."
Washington, which is still embroiled in an ongoing battle concerning the nickname of the team, has to play better defensively in order to begin what could be another strong turnaround. Pressure up front has to improve and creating turnovers is a must because the offense can move the ball. The Bears, though, want to remain in first place and Cutler's the man to keep them there. Look for Cutler to use all of his weapons in a close win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 31, Redskins 27
10/17 14:09:25 ET