Redskins vs. Bears: Five story lines to follow Sunday

October 18, 2013

Robert Griffin III, Niles Paul and the Redskins must do better in the red zone. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins will play their first home game in nearly a month on Sunday when they host the Chicago Bears at 1 p.m. on Fox.

The Redskins will try once again to take a step toward turning around their season. A win here is crucial, especially with a trip to Denver coming up next week, and another quality team (San Diego) lined up the week after that.

The Bears enter this game with a 4-2 record and have had plenty of time to rest since their Thursday night game against the Giants on Oct. 10.

Here are five story lines to monitor Sunday.

1.) Red-zone productionRobert Griffin III and Co. demonstrated an ability to move the ball up and down the field last week vs. Dallas. But drives stalled once they got to the red zone. The team had to settle for field goals on three trips inside the 20, and that’s not the recipe for success.

“It’s just unacceptable to have [433] yards and not score as many touchdowns as we should have,” Griffin said. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan agreed, saying, “You can feel as good as you want about getting yards, and stuff but it only matters when you get points and we didn’t get enough and that’s why we lost.”

Dropped passes, miscommunications, overthrows and poor run blocking cost the Redskins chances to score. This week, there needs to be a sense of urgency all game, but particularly when the end zone is in reach. Everyone must lock in mentally and take advantage of every opportunity against a Chicago defense that has allowed 26.8 points per game, which ranks seventh-worst in the NFL.

2.) Special teams execution – This is not the week for the Redskins to play poorly in the special teams department. Chicago – led by return man Devin Hester – leads the league with 636 kickoff return yards. The Redskins cost themselves the game against Dallas largely because of their inability to make stops on kickoff or punt coverage. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has expressed confidence that first-year special teams coordinator Keith Burns can get things turned around.

Washington signed linebacker Josh Hull and safety Trenton Robinson this week in hopes that they two can help boost the struggling unit with leading special teams tackler Bryan Kehl lost for the season to a torn ACL and former standouts Lorenzo Alexander and DeJon Gomes no longer with the team. The team also welcomes in a new long snapper in Kyle Nelson with Nick Sundberg done for the year with a torn meniscus. Nelson, who trains with Sundberg in the offseason and has the same snap coach, believes he can make a smooth transition into that crucial role.

3.) Hall and his posse vs. Cutler and his crew – Both have played down this meeting, but there’s no denying that DeAngelo Hall and Jay Cutler have history. From Cutler proclaiming in 2008 that he successfully led Denver to victory over Oakland because he went at Hall frequently to Hall in 2010 picking off Cutler four times for Washington in the Redskins’ last regular season meeting with Chicago, they’ve had their fair share of entertaining moments. Cutler said earlier this week that Hall is just “another player.” Hall didn’t take the bait, saying, “I am just another guy,” but he added that he felt good about he and his fellow defensive backs’ chances this week.

Stopping the Bears is no easy task, however. Cutler is off to the best start of his career and has one of the best in the receivers league (Brandon Marshall) as his go-to guy. Cutler has big targets in Marshall (6 feet 4), Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and tight end Martellus Bennett (6-6). Hall has played at a high level in his last three games, holding Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant largely in check while matched up with them. Josh Wilson did well against the Cowboys as Jim Haslett moved him all around the secondary, and Brandon Meriweather brings more versatility and flexibility.

4.) Rushing attacks – Both of these teams are built to run the ball. The Redskins haven’t done it as consistently as they would have liked, but the last two games have seen them make improvements. Griffin recaptured his explosive, elusive ways last week and rushed for 77 yards to complement Alfred Morris’s 81 yards. Getting the run game going will set up Washington’s passing attack and keep the Bears off-balance.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s Matt Forte ranks seventh in the league with 442 rushing yards (4.4 yards per carry). He also poses a threat in the receiving department. But Haslett believes the key to slowing Chicago’s quick-hitter passing attack is to stop the run and put the Bears in third-and-long situations, where plays will have to take longer to unfold. Washington’s defense has done better against the run in the last three outings. But twice during that span, they have seen the starting running backs leave early in the game with injury. Can they shut down a first-rate back like Forte?

5.) Clock management and communication – Mike Shanahan played down the struggles in these areas last week, but the Redskins did indeed hurt themselves by an inability to execute quickly in crucial situations with time running out, and because Griffin and his receivers weren’t always on the same page. The Redskins’ margin for error is so slim that they can’t afford to make careless mistakes and put themselves in difficult situations. Communication from the sideline to Griffin must be on point, and Griffin must then make quick adjustments and communicate effectively with his teammates.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice at 11:50 a.m. on Friday. On Sunday, our live blog starts up at 11 a.m., and Mike Jones will have a game day Q&A with a player and notes before the kickoff at FedEx against the Bears at 1 p.m.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Amerson gets insight on concussions from his father, a neuropsychologist

Cutler says Hall is ‘another player’

What if Andrew Luck had fallen to the Redskins? 

D.C. Sports Bog: Kehl on possible disconnect with special teams coach | More Bog

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

 

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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