8:15 PM EST, Prime Video – Line: Bears -1, Over/Under: 38.0
If you became nauseous during last Thursday night’s affair, then this one may not be for the faint of heart, as Week Six kicks off with the Chicago Bears playing host to the Washington Commanders from Soldier Field, in a matchup of teams desperate for a victory. Indeed, this new era of football hasn’t gotten off on the right foot for the Commanders (1-4, 4th in NFC East), who after surviving their home opener against the Jaguars (28-22), have proceeded to drop each of their last four games, placing them firmly in the bowels of what has been a resurgent NFC East. With their third different moniker in four years, Washington was hoping to wash away the oily muck of controversy that had surrounded the franchise during that time, and though things haven’t necessarily gotten any quieter off the field (which is another matter altogether), it appears that they’ve gotten worse on the gridiron. Indeed, since winning the division with a 7-9 record back in 2020, which was just the third time that they managed to do that since the turn of the century, (Head Coach) Ron Rivera’s troops have sputtered their way to a disappointing 8-14 mark, which includes this current losing streak that they find themselves mired in. Of course, a major reason that this season was supposed to be different for the club formerly known as the Redskins, was the addition of (veteran Quarterback) Carson Wentz, who was acquired via trade with the Colts back in the spring. In need of yet another change of scenery, the former Pro-Bowler was unceremoniously dealt away following just one season in Indianapolis, with hopes that a return to the NFC East would help restart his once promising career. So, how has he performed thus far, you ask? Well, through five games he has completed 62.9% of his passes for an average of 278.0 yards (his most since his breakout 2017 campaign in Philadelphia) though has netted just 5.49 net yards per attempt, due in large part to suffering twenty sacks already (his most through five games since he led the league in that category two years ago). To put that into perspective, he was sacked thirty-two times in seventeen games last season. That has been the primary issue for the Commanders thus far, as an Offensive Line that has suffered many high-profile losses over the past few years (I.E. Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff) has really fallen by the wayside, and it’s indicative in their inability to protect Wentz (pictured below) or run the football for that matter. Washington ranks twenty-eighth in rushing yards (89.0) and twenty-seventh in yards per rush (3.9), which has affected their ability to move the chains (38.2% on third down) and succeed in the red zone (58.3%). Yes, (Offensive Coordinator) Scott Turner has a bevy of weapons in the passing game, but the Backfield has left a lot to be desired; (third-year Tailback) Antonio Gibson was relegated to return duty due to his fumbling problems, while the team’s third-round pick, Brian Robinson, only returned last weekend following a gunshot wound that forced him to miss he first four games of the regular season. Balance has been this unit’s biggest flaw, making it difficult for them to stay on the field, averaging just 2:31 per drive, ranking twenty-seventh overall. This in turn, has left a Defense that was already short on playmakers out on the field longer than Rivera and (Defensive Coordinator) Jack Del Rio would prefer; Washington is shipping 25.6 points per game (25th Overall) on 345.6 total yards (17th Overall), and though they’ve been strong on third down (30.4%), they’ve only managed to force ONE turnover thus far, the fewest in the NFL. With (former Defensive Rookie of the Year) Chase Young roughly a month away from his return from a torn ACL, this group must find a way to generate big plays where they can.
When we last saw the Commanders, they followed an ugly 25-10 loss to the Cowboys, with a narrow 21-17 loss at home against the Titans. This one was truly a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as Washington came oh so close to retaking the lead in the affair’s waning moments. Trailing by four points with just under five minutes left in the game, the hosts engineered a marathon EIGHTEEN-play, 87-yard drive all the way down to Tennessee’s two-yard line, with the aforementioned Robinson converting a crucial fourth and one from his own 20-yard line to keep the possession alive. Wentz, who completed 10-of-16 passes during this stretch, could not complete his last as he was intercepted in the end zone on a short pass intended for (veteran Tailback) J.D. McKissic. In the end, Rivera’s troops authored another unbalanced performance in totaling 385 yards but rushing for just forty-three on seventeen attempts and converting a miserable 1-of-11 third downs. Wentz completed 25-of-38 passes for 359 yards, two touchdowns, and that crushing interception, while also fumbling on three occasions, though they were all recovered by the home side. With (Rookie Receiver) Jahan Dotson sidelined with a tender hamstring, (Sophomore Wideout) Dyami Brown erupted with two touchdown receptions for 105 yards. As for Robinson, he toted the rock nine times for twenty-two yards, though it was nothing short of an achievement for the young man making his professional debut. Defensively, the Commanders were solid enough to keep this one close, relinquishing a season-low 241 total yards on fifteen first downs, sacking (Titans Quarterback) Ryan Tannehill five times and hitting him on eleven occasions. With that said, they couldn’t bottle up (former Rushing Champion) Derrick Henry, whose 102 yards and two touchdowns proved to be the difference in the game. Looking towards tonight’s matchup, the Commanders a middling 4-6 straight-up in their last ten games away from FedEx Field, and 4-5 against the spread in those contests. Furthermore, they are 3-7 straight-up in their last ten outings as an underdog, and 4-5 against the spread. With that said, they’ve OWNED Chicago of late, winning seven of their last ten versus the Bears straight-up and against the spread, and are 9-1 in that regard in their last ten trips to the Windy City. Lastly, the club formerly known as the Redskins are 8-2 against the spread in their last ten meetings in which they’ve been branded underdogs. It should be noted that Wentz has never lost to the Bears, winning all three meetings, in which he completed a stellar 64.2% of his passes for an average of 218.7 yards on 5.77 net yards per attempt with five touchdowns and no turnovers, though they haven’t crossed paths since early November of 2019. On the injury front, the aforementioned Dotson is listed as questionable for this contest, along with (Tight End) Logan Thomas, (Cornerback) William Jackson, and Wentz, who was limited throughout the short week with a sore shoulder.
Meanwhile, stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Bears (2-3, 3rd in NFC North) are rebuilding again. Yes, after the previous regime authored a modest 34-31 record over the course of four years, which included a division title in 2018 and a pair of trips to the playoffs, the franchise ultimately decided to completely start over, with new leadership in the form of (Head Coach) Matt Eberflus and (General Manager) Ryan Poles, along with a roster that featured more turnover than any other team in the NFL. Eberflus and Poles have repeatedly stated that they’re taking the long road approach, resisting any quick fixes and trades in an attempt to rebuild the old-fashioned way: drafting and developing talent. With that said, 2022 is very much Year Zero for Chicago, who are simply learning what they have and who they want to keep in house moving forward. By and large, that’s reflected in their performance on the gridiron; these fledgling Monsters of the Midway have struggled mightily on the offensive side of the football, ranking twenty-seventh in points per game (17.2), thirty-first in total yards (293.2), dead-last in passing yards (135.8), and twenty-sixth in net yards per attempt (5.50), while committing eleventh-most turnovers in the league (8), and really having a rough go of it on third down where they’ve converted just 35.0% of their attempts (28th Overall). Though they’ve been able to run the ball with success behind the likes of (Tailbacks) David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, all eyes have been fixated on the development (or lack thereof) of (Sophomore Quarterback) Justin Fields, who has yet to really find his footing a quarter of the way through his second season as the starter in the Windy City. Make no mistake, the previous regime was fired wholly on their inability to build this kid up, and through five games it seems that their successors aren’t doing any better; Fields is completing a disappointing 55.7% of his attempts (down 3.2 points from his rookie campaign) for an average of 135.8 yards per game on 5.50 net yards per attempt, with more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3), while suffering eighteen sacks, which equates to a percentage of 17.0% (up 5.2 points from last season). Needless to say, the Bears were expecting MUCH MORE than this when they drafted him eleventh overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, for his mechanics, anticipation, and ability to read defenses has left much to be desired through seventeen games. Granted, while it’s easy to pile on the 23-year-old, he hasn’t enjoyed much help, for there may not be an Offense in the league with less talent than Chicago. The Offensive Line has been in transition for three years now, while the Receiving Corps lacks any legitimate threat, let alone a security blanket for the young Quarterback. Sure, (young Wideout) Darnell Mooney is coming off a breakout season in which he amassed 1,055 yards and four touchdowns, but through five games is averaging little more than half of the yardage that he did as a sophomore (34.6). Putting this into proper perspective, this unit is the only one in the NFL that doesn’t have a single player with ten or more catches. Unfortunately, their struggles on this side of the football have really put a ceiling on a Defense that is going through its own transition; for years, Chicago ran a base 3-4 front with a multitude of complex coverages with their personnel reflecting that formation. Of course, Eberflus comes from the Seattle Cover-3 school, which utilizes smaller, quicker defenders that can cover ground and rally to the football, which is really a complete about-face from what they’ve been doing over the last six years. Basically, the coaching staff simply doesn’t have the requisite personnel run their schemes, and it’s been apparent in their play thus far; they rank next-to-last against the run at an embarrassing 170.0 yards per game (31st Overall), while shipping the highest success rate on third down in the league (50.7%).
When we last saw the Bears, they dropped their second game in a row, falling to the Vikings in a 29-22 affair that was a lot closer than it probably had any business being. Midway through the second quarter, it appeared that Eberflus’ troops were going to get rolled as they trailed their NFC North rivals 21-3 at the 7:20 mark of the period. Minnesota came out like gangbusters, scoring touchdowns on each of their first three drives of the afternoon, marching at least seventy-one yards downfield on each possession, while the visitors could muster only a field goal on their first three drives. However, Chicago got one back right before halftime, as Fields found Mooney for a 39-yard completion before Montgomery strolled nine yards into the end zone to make it 21-10 at intermission. The visiting side continued to build momentum out of intermission, taking the opening possession of the second half sixty-seven yards downfield in eight plays as Fields found (Rookie Receiver) Velus Jones for a nine-yard strike, cutting the deficit to five points. Then, after blocking a 51-yard field goal attempt, (veteran Kicker) Cairo Santos drilled a 43-yard field goal of his own to draw even closer. Seven plays later, (Vikings Quarterback) Kirk Cousins was intercepted by (young Cornerback) Kindle Vildor, setting up yet another field goal courtesy of Santos, granting the Bears the lead for the first time of the contest. However, Cousins would atone for mistake, putting together a marathon 17-play, 75-yard drive that bled seven minutes off the clock, sneaking into the end zone for a score and completing the two-point conversion to retake the lead. With 2:26 left to play, Fields managed to push his side to midfield, only for the day to end in heartbreaking fashion; the youngster found (young Wideout) Ihmir Smith-Marsette fifteen yards down the left sideline, only for (Vikings Cornerback) Cameron Dantzler to wrestle the ball out of his hands, returning it sixteen yards before being knocked out of bounds, effectively ending the affair. When it was all said and done, Chicago was at a considerable disadvantage in total yards (271-429), first downs (14-29), and time of possession (23:16), but managed to take advantage of the hosts’ inept special teams (two failed field goals) and interception of Cousins. Fields finished 208 yards and a touchdown on an efficient 15-of-21 passing, while rushing for another forty-seven yards on eight carries, and though he did fumble twice, his side did recover them both. Montgomery would rush for just twenty yards and a score on twelve attempts but was a factor in the passing game with sixty-two yards on four receptions. Looking to tonight’s matchup, the Bears have been largely mediocre in their last ten outings, posting a 4-6 record straight-up and 4-5 against the spread, while offering an identical mark in their last ten contests at Soldier Field. Though we touched upon their struggles against the Redskins/Football Team/Commanders over the years, they’ve been MONEY when they’ve worn the designation of a favorite, covering all but one of their last ten such games regardless of the venue. On the injury front, the Offensive Line continues to be banged up with Cody Whitehair on injured reserve with an ailing knee, while Alex Leatherwood is still on the comeback trail following an unspecified illness.