Five game keys plus a Bears-Redskins prediction:
1. The Redskins need to be very afraid of kick returner Devin Hester but the numbers suggest that the Bears’ special teams may be slowing him down themselves. Yes, Hester is averaging over 30 yards per return but he hasn’t been impressive in the “what have you done lately” department. In the Bears’ first two games Hester returned six kickoffs and averaged 46.6 yards a pop. Since then he has 13 kickoff returns and an average of a more pedestrian 22.7 per return. The Bears have been hit hard with injuries and, as often happens in the NFL, the effects have trickled down to their special teams.
2. It was good to see Robert Griffin III running well and picking up some big chunks of yardage against the Cowboys and the Redskins hope he will keep it up on Sunday against Chicago. However, Griffin having a big day on the ground is not necessarily a key to victory. The game in Dallas marked the eighth time in his career that Griffin has rushed for 60 yards or more. The Redskins’ record in those games is 4-4.
3. The Redskins have only run up the middle 19 times this year but those runs have been productive plays. They average 9.6 yards per play when going up the gut. Coincidentally, there have been 19 rushing plays up the middle against the Bears’ defense this year. Chicago has give up an average of 5.7 yards on those plays, 28th in the NFL. Sending Alfred Morris into the middle of the line really isn’t the Redskins’ style but they might find that area to be a fertile hunting ground on Sunday. Perhaps they could give Darrel Young a few carries on quick hitters in the middle as well.
4. DeAngelo Hall was not covering Dez Bryant exclusively Sunday night just like he wasn’t on Calvin Johnson every play during the Lions game. But he was the guy who was primarily responsible for containing Johnson (7 rec., 115 yds., 1 TD) and shutting down Bryant (5/36/0). It will be the same situation with Hall on Monday when he will cover Brandon Marshall most of the time. If Hall again comes up big then the game may come down to how well Josh Wilson, David Amerson (assuming he plays) and the rest of the secondary do against wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett, and running back Matt Forte.
5. It’s probably too early to really worry about Kai Forbath, especially after he set such a high standard for himself last year by making his first 17 field goal attempts. But since then, going back to the 2012 season finale, he has hit on just three of six. Perhaps it’s not fair to be too hard on him for a 49-yard miss in Dallas; that’s about a 50-50 shot. But his miss in the season opener was from 40 and he missed his last attempt of 2012 against Dallas from 37. Again, it’s not panic time over Forbath just yet. But are you going to be able to watch if he lines up for, say, a 44-yarder with the game on line?
I think that Forbath will line up for that field goal with the outcome of a back-and-forth contest on the line. Does he make it?
Redskins 31, Bears 30
Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, January 18, 99 days before the NFL draft.
—NFL franchise tag deadline 43
—NFL free agency starts 51
—First Sunday of 2017 season 236
The coordinator search and more
—Did the Redskins underachieve this year? I know that a metric like Football Outsiders' DVOA is not the final word in the quality of a team but looking at it year after year it usually does work out that the teams with the better numbers in DVOA usually win more games than those with worse numbers. The Redskins finished 2016 eighth in DVOA. Considering that 12 teams make the playoffs, that could be considered a playoff quality team. Yet 15 teams finished with a better record than they did. I’m sure there are some holes in the formula for the stat but just looking at that it sure appears that the Redskins did leave some wins out on the field.
—John Keim is reporting that the Redskins are prepared to switch to a 4-3 defense if that is what their new defensive coordinator prefers. They have been in the 3-4 since Mike Shanahan arrived in 2010. Whether it is because of the scheme or lack of draft and free agent resources spent on the line and at safety, the defense hasn’t been very good. As Keim notes, they will need to make some personnel changes if they do change but with a full load of draft picks and $62 million in cap space this may be the time to do it.
—I expected the angst that was all over Twitter when word of the Rob Ryan interview got out. But it’s pretty dumb to get all worked up over an interview (with all due respect to readers here who may have been upset). It’s not a hiring. Look, somehow or another Ryan managed to stay employed as an NFL defensive coordinator for 12 straight seasons. I don’t know how to research it without going through some very time consuming and tedious steps but I’d be willing to bet that only about a few dozen men in the history of the league have been able to remain a defensive coordinator for that many season in a row. The organization can learn something from sitting down and talking to him for a few hours.
—I understand that we want things to talk about in a relatively slow time. But I just don’t see why there is fear out there over the possibility that Kyle Shanahan will get hired as the coach of the 49ers and somehow steal Kirk Cousins away to be his quarterback. The Redskins can maintain his rights via the franchise tag. They could tag Cousins and trade him to the 49ers but there would be a heavy price in terms of draft picks. But while it’s possible, it’s unlikely. The chances are very, very good that Cousins will be in a Redskins uniform this year via either the tag or a long-term deal.
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In case you missed it
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As the Redskins settle into the offseason without both an offensive and defensive coordinator, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler debate who will get the jobs, and when they will be announced.
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