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4 things to watch: Bears-Redskins

Posted Dec 23, 2016

Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses four storylines to watch Saturday when the Bears host the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field.

The Bears (3-11) will look to rebound from last Sunday's loss to the Packers Saturday when they host the Redskins (7-6-1) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) Will quarterback Matt Barkley continue to impress while also eliminating turnovers?

Barkley led a furious comeback in last Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Packers, engineering touchdown drives of 75, 78 and 75 yards on three straight possessions to forge a 27-27 after the Bears entered the fourth quarter trailing 27-10. The USC product passed for 362 yards in the game, the most by a Bears quarterback against the Packers in the 95-year history of the storied rivalry.

On the other hand, the Bears no doubt wouldn't have had to stage such a big rally if Barkley hadn't committed turnovers on four straight possessions, including three to open the second half that the Packers turned into 17 points. One came on an ill-advised pass over the middle intended for tight end Daniel Brown. It was the kind of decision and throw that Barkley must eliminate if he wants to be considered for the Bears' starting quarterback position next season.

"The one interception down the middle was just him being a little too aggressive, not listening to his feet and forcing the ball a little bit," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "The progression was to move on. He had Cam [Meredith] underneath coming free, but he was just too aggressive on the play. As he plays more and as he gains more reps he'll understand the progressions and the timing of each play a little bit better and learn to listen to his feet and understand once you take two hitches don't throw that ball late down the middle."

Jordan Howard
Bears running back Jordan Howard enters Week 16 ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing with 1,059 yards.

(2) Will the Bears defense be able to contain a potent Redskins passing attack?

A young Bears secondary that has struggled with penalties and allowing big plays will be tested Saturday by a Redskins offense that ranks third in total yards and second in passing yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has had an excellent season, completing 67.5 percent of his passes for a team-record 4,360 yards with 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 98.3 passer rating.

The Redskins have three receivers with at least 800 yards in Pierre Garcon (71 receptions for 851 yards and 3 TDs), Jamison Crowder (64-828-7) and DeSean Jackson (49-857-4).

"This group is probably one of the tougher groups collectively that we're going to go against," said cornerback Tracy Porter. "It's not just one receiver in particular is going to provide a challenge. All of them have their own unique assets that they bring to the table, so it's going to be up to us to communicate, to study film, break these guys down, play with proper technique, trust in our front seven and make plays when the ball is in the air. We have to do a better job on the backend of attacking the ball when it's in the air."

(3) Will the Bears lean on rookie Jordan Howard and the running game?

One way to slow down Cousins and the Redskins passing attack is to keep them off the field by controlling the ball and the clock with an efficient ground game. The Bears certainly have a running back capable of doing that in Howard, who enters Week 16 ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing with 1,059 yards and six touchdowns on 211 carries.

Since becoming a starter in Week 4, Howard has rushed for 992 yards, the third most in the NFL behind only the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott (1,277) and the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell (1,146). Howard's next 100-yard game will be his sixth of the season, breaking a tie with Beattie Feathers (1934) and Rashaan Salaam (1995) for the most by a rookie in Bears history.

The Redskins defense ranks 29th in total yards and 22nd against the run. In a 26-15 home loss to the Panthers Monday night, Washington allowed Jonathan Stewart to rush for 132 yards on 25 carries.

(4) Will the Bears defense rebound from its worst tackling performance of the season?

The Bears run defense allowed a season-high 226 yards in last Sunday's loss to the Packers due in part to what coach John Fox called "our poorest tackling game for sure." Asked whether the tackling was "deficient," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: "Deficient is being nice. We had a bad tackling day. We've been a good tackling team most of the two years we've been here. That was our worst tackling game. It really hurt us."

The return of Bears leading tackler Jerrell Freeman after serving a four-game PED suspension should provide a major boost. Said Freeman: "Tackling is all about the attitude and want-to. Sure, you're not going to be perfect. You're not going to get that perfect tackle every time. Just wrap up and try to get them down. If you don't know how to tackle by now … we've been doing this all our lives. We've just got to get out there, wrap up and finish, bring them to the ground."