Weary Redskins look to rebound vs. Bears
When it comes to the NFC playoff picture, the Washington Redskins are on the outside looking in with two weeks to play.
A win against the Chicago Bears on Saturday might not cure everything, but it certainly would help.
The Redskins (7-6-1) will wrap up their road schedule when they visit the Bears (3-11) for a Christmas Eve matinee. Washington has lost three of its past four games to slip a half-game behind Green Bay and Tampa Bay in the wild-card race, and a loss this weekend could wreck the team's chances of earning a second straight trip to the postseason.
If the Redskins prevail over the Bears, they will have to do it on short rest. Coach Jay Gruden's team is coming off a 26-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
"As far as mental preparation, this late in the year, we should be able to put a game plan together," Gruden told reporters during a conference call this week. "The physical part of it is what concerns me. These big guys, they take a beating on a Sunday or a Monday night football game. You need your rest. You need to recover. That's the biggest issue I have is the recovery time going from a Monday night to a Saturday."
The Bears have the benefit of an extra day's rest, but on paper they have few other advantages as a lost season winds down. Chicago has lost two straight games and five of its past six to guarantee a third consecutive sub-.500 showing.
That said, a last-minute loss to the Packers last week indicated that the Bears are not ready to roll over to playoff contenders.
"Our guys keep believing," said Bears quarterback Matt Barkley, who will make his fifth start in place of injured teammates Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer. "They never count themselves out. (It's important) just to keep that positive attitude in the huddle and keep that positive attitude on the sideline to know that we're still in it."
Washington has won six straight games against the Bears, which is its longest active streak against any opponent. The Redskins will try to make it seven wins in a row over Chicago with a high-powered offense led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is second in the NFL with 4,360 passing yards to go along with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Cousins has spread the ball effectively this season, which will make it difficult for the Bears to target a single playmaker with their 3-4 defensive scheme. Washington is the only team in the league this season to have six players with at least 40 receptions. The group is led by wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder, all of whom have eclipsed 800 receiving yards and have the 1,000-yard milestone within their sights.
Redskins tight end Jordan Reed has dominated the Bears with 18 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings. However, a shoulder injury has limited Reed in recent weeks, and he was ejected Monday night for throwing a punch at Panthers safety Kurt Coleman.
"I think he's frustrated," Gruden said. "He obviously has the makings and all the tools to be one of the best tight ends in the league, it's just that we've got to get him healthy. Hopefully with another week of rest and rehab, he'll be stronger for Chicago."
The Bears lack the same number of playmakers, but Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will look to build more chemistry with Barkley in his second week back from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Jeffery leads the team with 46 catches for 719 yards and two touchdowns.
Rookie running back Jordan Howard could challenge the Redskins' defense, which is ranked No. 29 in the league with an average of 375.4 yards allowed per game. Howard has rushed for 1,059 yards and six touchdowns this season, and he has a legitimate chance to make franchise history by breaking Matt Forte's rookie record of 1,258 rushing yards in 2008.
On defense, Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is fifth in the NFL with 11 sacks but is coping with an elbow sprain. Kerrigan and his teammates have allowed their fair share of yards this season, but they have compensated by forcing 15 fumbles, which is good for third in the league.
Chicago will counter on defense with an above-average pass rush that features three players with at least seven sacks. The group includes Willie Young (7.5 sacks), Akeem Hicks (7 sacks) and top draft choice Leonard Floyd (7 sacks).
The Bears also will welcome back inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. The team's top tackler missed the last four games because of a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Bears coach John Fox said he was eager to see his players compete as the seasons draws toward a close.
"I'm not going to be all bubbly about sitting here at 3-11," Fox said. "I think we'll be positioned to help ourselves pretty well moving forward, but we still have two games in the season, and we're still trying to evaluate and see who that nucleus will be."
Updated December 21, 2016