Redskins at Bears: Weak Washington defense gives QB Matt Barkley a chance

4 storylines

Quarter poll: Matt Barkley now has started a quarter of the season, a tidy milestone that welcomes analysis as we ponder his future and the Bears' direction at quarterback. His 1-3 record leaves a lot to be desired, but he has helped the Bears position themselves for a go-ahead score in the final two minutes of all three losses. Barkley has proven capable of working through route progressions and often his timing helps compensate for arm strength that doesn't scare defenses down the field. He has six touchdowns and five interceptions. Some of those picks have resulted from poor decisions. Can he clean them up? Two games remain to find out.

Free, at last: The Bears welcome back inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman from his four-game PED suspension. How much did they miss him? Well, consider his 91 tackles still lead the team by 25 after his hiatus. Of course, they needed him last Sunday against the Packers. Their running backs, led by Ty Montgomery, rushed for 207 yards on 20 carries. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called it the Bears' worst tackling game of the season, and it certainly was uncharacteristic for a unit that has improved in that area. The hope for Freeman this week? "Just get back to the way he was playing and hopefully even a little bit better," Fangio said.

Primary issue: The Bears' undermanned secondary was in the spotlight throughout the week. First, undrafted rookie cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc allowed Packers receiver Jordy Nelson to get behind him on third-and-11 with 36 seconds remaining Sunday, enabling a 60-yard completion that set up the Packers for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Three days later, the Bears ended cornerback Kyle Fuller's season when he reverted to injured reserve. They had hoped the former first-rounder could return from mid-August knee surgery, but Fuller never felt comfortable playing through lingering pain. Don't be surprised if there are many new faces on the back end next season as the Bears place a heavier investment in it.

Rookie charge: As the Bears finish playing out the string, keep an eye on two rookies who are chasing personal milestones or accolades. First-round outside linebacker Leonard Floyd has seven sacks. He was leading all NFL rookies entering Week 15, but the Chargers' Joey Bosa got one to lift him to 7 1/2. Rightly or wrongly, sack totals always factor heavily in rookie of the year voting, so Floyd needs a strong finish in that category. On offense, running back Jordan Howard needs 180 yards to break Matt Forte's franchise single-season rookie rushing record (1,238). A big day is possible against the Redskins and could position him to set the mark next Sunday against the Vikings.

— Rich Campbell

Matchups: Bears on offense

  • In the air

NFL rank: Bears offense 14th, Redskins defense 26th

Matt Barkley hopes to steady his decision making and play more consistently against one of the NFL's worst defenses. Yes, he gets credit for rallying the Bears in close losses to the Titans and Packers, but he also helped dig those holes with bad interceptions. Alshon Jeffery versus Josh Norman on the outside will be fun to watch. "Plays pretty physical," Jeffery said. "Hell of a player." Redskins safeties Donte Whitner and Duke Ihenacho are not rangy and have been exploited in coverage all season.

  • On the ground

NFL rank: Bears offense 22th, Redskins defense 22th

Jordan Howard has an opportunity for a big day against an undermanned defensive line. Depending on how much offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains feeds him, of course. He needs 180 yards to break Matt Forte's franchise rookie single-season rushing record (1,238). Veteran defensive lineman Chris Baker is strong, nimble and plays multiple positions. Besides him, the Redskins struggle as a defense to win blocks, fill gaps and finish tackles. Former Bears castoffs Mason Foster and Ziggy Hood start at inside linebacker and nose tackle, respectively.

Bears 15th in total offense, 29th in points scored

Redskins 29th in total defense, 24th in points allowed

Matchups: Bears on defense

  • In the air

NFL rank: Redskins offense 2nd, Bears defense 6th

The Bears would catch a huge break if tight end Jordan Reed's separated left shoulder limits or sidelines him. In last year's Redskins victory at Soldier Field, he had nine catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. He moves like a receiver before and after the catch. But even if he doesn't play, the Redskins are loaded at receiver. DeSean Jackson's straight-line speed, Pierre Garcon's strength at the catch point and slot receiver Jamison Crowder's quickness will challenge the undermanned Bears secondary to keep up.

  • On the ground

NFL rank: Redskins offense 18th, Bears defense 23rd

The Redskins are coming off a disastrous rushing performance in Monday's loss to the Panthers. Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson combined for 18 yards on 11 carries. "Good lord," coach Jay Gruden said. "We can't do any worse." Communication breakdowns allowed unblocked defenders to fill holes, and they didn't sustain drives or stay in manageable downs-and-distances. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman returns from suspension. Despite missing four games, he's the Bears' leading tackler by 25. The Bears are coming off their worst tackling performance of the season against the Packers.

Redskins 3rd in total offense, 10th in points scored

Bears 9th in total defense, 16th in points allowed

— Rich Campbell

The assignment

Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (No. 91)

Measurables: 6-4, 265 pounds

Assigned: Bears RT Bobby Massie (No. 70)

Notable numbers: Kerrigan ranks fifth in the league in sacks with 11 and was named to the Pro Bowl this week for the second time in his career. … The Bears have allowed only three sacks in quarterback Matt Barkley's four starts.

Scouting report: Massie has made marked improvement since the season's first month. On Saturday, the veteran tackle will have to remain sturdy against Kerrigan, who has been disruptive all season. Kerrigan provided a win-sealing strip sack inside the red zone in the final minute of the Redskins' Week 14 victory at Philadelphia, exploding around right tackle Matt Tobin to devour Carson Wentz. That's a snapshot of his underappreciated quickness. But Bears tight end Logan Paulsen, a former teammate of Kerrigan's with the Redskins, acknowledges the outside linebacker most often uses his length to set up a rip move, a preference Massie will have to take into account.

Word from within: "What happens is guys start backing up and they settle their feet and then he hits you with the rip. And then you're edged. … Every down, every play, you're getting his best effort. But I also think people underrate his athleticism and explosion and how strong he really is. Having gone against him (at practice), I know all of those things very acutely. Every day, you saw he was a technician, he's strong as hell and he's explosive." — Paulsen

— Dan Wiederer

Scouting report

DeSean Jackson, Redskins WR

Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.

DeSean Jackson is in his ninth season in the NFL and his third with the Redskins. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound, 30-year-old wide receiver is in the final year of his contract and remains one of the best deep ball targets in the league. Fortunately for Jackson he has been more durable this season, missing only one game after sitting out seven in 2015.

Jackson has caught 49 passes for 857 yards (17.5 average) and four touchdowns and is two solid games away from reaching 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. He is coming off a season-high seven catches Monday night against the Panthers as the offense has had to make up for tight end Jordan Reed (sprained left shoulder) not being near 100 percent. Reed could miss the game and that would benefit the Bears as two of the four 100-yard games in his career have come against them.

"DeSean is a lot healthier than he was last season and you can see that in how he is playing," one scout said. "He's playing extremely fast and he's making more plays over the top of the defense. The defensive backs have to respect his speed and it has to affect how they play a little bit. Deep-half safeties are going to have to play with more depth and they're going to have to get their eyes on him much quicker. When he's even with a DB that doesn't matter much. (Quarterback Kirk) Cousins still is going to take a shot down the field.

"That's the thing about this offense. They have layers to the offense. They have (Pierre) Garcon and Reed work the short to intermediate stuff and they have (Jamison) Crowder who can catch bubble and tunnel screens and quick slants, and he has explosive ability. Now you add Jackson over the top and it really has helped Cousins post the big numbers.

"But Jackson doesn't like to catch the ball in traffic. If he's going to give you yards after the catch it's going to be a situation where he catches the ball and he already has a cushion or open field to work with. He's not going to run through tackles. He does put the ball on the ground a little bit. So you have to weigh the positive and the negative.

"He had a couple more drops Monday night and he's not very physical. But he's so lightning fast that he can change the game. He can have two catches for 110 yards. He's a matchup problem for (Tracy) Porter, (Bryce) Callahan and (Cre'Von) LeBlanc, all those guys, and especially those safeties. If I was Washington and the Bears were going to sit in that Cover-4 again like they did against Green Bay, I would put Jackson inside in the slot and get him up the field against one of those safeties, (Adrian) Amos, any one of their safeties."

— Brad Biggs

Predictions

Brad Biggs (8-6)

A lousy effort against the Panthers raises questions about how the Redskins will show up on the road in a short week. The Bears, of course, have only personal pride on the line and that has been enough to keep them within a field goal of division foes Green Bay and Detroit the previous two weeks. The Redskins have more firepower even if banged up tight end Jordan Reed can't go, and the Bears' secondary is a problem to be addressed in the offseason. Odds are against the Redskins coming out flat a second game in a row. Redskins 28, Bears 24

Rich Campbell (10-4)

Bears should be able to run effectively against Redskins' undermanned defensive line and exploit a defense that lacks speed and struggles to fill gaps. Doing that would ease the burden on quarterback Matt Barkley, who has been inconsistent at times with his decision making. Defensively, the Redskins passing game has enough talent to stress the Bears secondary, especially if the Bears opt to play man coverage. Here's thinking Vic Fangio saw how the Panthers beat the Redskins last Monday with zone. Jerrell Freeman's return will help the tackling. The Bears' defense gets the winning stop on a two-point conversion attempt. Bears 24, Redskins 22

David Haugh (9-5)

The NFL did the Redskins no favors scheduling a Saturday road game after "Monday Night Football.'' The holiday week gives the Bears an opportunity to catch a more talented team mentally and physically spent. With Matt Barkley improving and a defense eager to prove it really can tackle, the Bears finally will win a game they aren't supposed to win. It's time. Bears 27, Redskins 21

Chris Kuc (8-6)

Bears' last four losses came down to one possession. It could happen again and this time someone will come up big as the Bears eliminate the Redskins from playoff contention. Bears 24, Redskins 20

Mike Mulligan (8-6)

Rumor has it the way to stop Redskins' passing game is to get a safety or two deep and keep everything in front of you. Hey, wouldn't that have worked Sunday? Redskins 24, Bears 17

Phil Thompson (8-6)

The Bears have played two straight playoff contenders to the wire and come up just short. They should get over the hump against the Redskins, who rank 29th in total defense. Bears 26, Redskins 24

Dan Wiederer (9-5)

If we've learned anything about the last-place Bears over the past month, it's that they still have a commendable level of heart and tenacity, enough to stay with playoff-caliber opponents late into games. That's not enough to erase the team's 11 losses or make fans forget about this lengthy stay in the NFC North basement. But it will be enough to keep Saturday's affair competitive and entertaining. At this point, the Bears owe their home crowd an uplifting Christmas gift. It will come via a late Matt Barkley drive and a Connor Barth walk-off field goal. Bears 24, Redskins 23

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