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Need to Know: Forte is the Bear who should most concern the Redskins

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Need to Know: Forte is the Bear who should most concern the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, December 10, three days before the Washington Redskins play the Bears in Chicago.

Five early thoughts on Redskins vs. Bears

The thoughts aren’t as early as they usually are due to the short week but here we go:

—We have two opposing forces working against each other here. The Redskins have been good at bouncing back from bad losses. The followed up five of their previous six losses with wins. But they haven’t been able to win on the road, going 0-5. As has been discussed here, the Redskins don’t have a road problem so much as they have a problem playing teams better than they are on the road. Going into their last four road games their opponents had lost a combined total of one game. We will see what trend prevails on Sunday. (Note: The tiebreaker here could come from the Bears. They are 1-8 in their last nine games at Soldier Field.)

—Chicago is called the Windy City but on Sunday it’s going to be the rainy city, if we are to believe the weather forecast three days out. As of right now they are calling for rain all day on Sunday with temperatures in the 50’s and 15 m.p.h. winds. The conventional strategy would be to try to control the game on the ground but the Redskins have had great difficulty trying to do that this year.

—Jay Cutler was either the joke or the punch line the last few years in Chicago but under John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase he’s now having a pretty good season. He’s throwing the ball less this year compared to 2014 and enjoying it more. The 32-year-old had 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. I’m not sure if he will beat the Redskins on Sunday but I doubt that he’ll beat the Bears.

—If you ask Jay Gruden a question he will give you an answer but it might not always be the truth. When I asked him about making changes to a running game that is has averaged less than three yards per carry in seven of the last eight games, he said that they would look doing things differently. I’m not sure if they will or not but one thing they should look at seriously is junking the zone runs and going with the power scheme exclusively. Besides the zone not being what Bill Callahan likes to call and coach, the Redskins line is built for post. And zone blocking requires timing and teamwork and that is in short supply on a line that is inexperienced and has changed 80 percent of its personnel from a year ago. Power blocking is more complex than “go push that guy in front of you out of the way” but it is simpler than zone and probably better for the personnel the Redskins have in place.

—Bears RB Matt Forte has missed three games with a knee injury and he still is having a year most backs would love to have. He’s just 57 yards from hitting 1,000 combined yards rushing and receiving for the season. He hasn’t had a big game on the ground since the season opener when he went for 141 yards against the Packers. But he gained 84 against the 49ers last Sunday and a few running backs have revived their seasons against the Redskins this year. Forte is the player the Redskins should be most afraid of this Sunday.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:35; Jay Gruden and Joe Barry news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Redskins @ Bears 3; Bills @ Redskins 10; Redskins @ Eagles 16

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

MORE REDSKINS: FIVE UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

RELATED: FIVE REDSKINS UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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