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4 things to watch in Bears-Commanders game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears will look to improve to 3-3 Thursday night when they host the Washington Commanders (1-4) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) Will Justin Fields build on what was arguably his best game as a pro?

Exhibiting poise and confidence, the second-year quarterback established career highs with a 118.8 passer rating and 71.4 percent completion percentage in last Sunday's 29-22 loss to the Vikings. It was a promising leap forward for Fields, who revealed that he's learning to play at his own speed and stay calm in the pocket.

Asked about the key to building on his performance against Minnesota Thursday night when the Bears host Washington, Fields said: "Keep doing the same thing we're doing. Stay process driven, making sure I'm doing everything right, just process different stuff, protections and stuff like that. Staying on top of that."

Fields will face a Commanders defense that has allowed 11 touchdown passes while recording only one interception, but leads the NFL with a 39.5 quarterback pressure percentage, according to Next Gen Stats. All four of Washington's starting defensive linemen are first-round draft picks, and although end Chase Young (2020) remains sidelined with an injury, end Montez Sweat (2019) and tackles Jonathan Allen (2017) and Daron Payne (2018) are slated to play.

"[They have] two guys inside that are pretty dynamic and then Sweat on the outside is also equally dynamic," said coach Matt Eberflus. "It creates challenges when you have that many guys that can rush. So we're going to have our hands full."

The Bears broke out the new alternate orange helmets Wednesday at Halas Hall for their final preparations ahead of Thursday night's matchup with the Commanders at Soldier Field.

(2) Will the Bears defense be able to contain quarterback Carson Wentz?

The Commanders rank 10th in the NFL in passing yards behind Wentz, who has compiled more than 300 yards in three of five starts this year. The seventh-year pro threw for a season-high 359 yards last Sunday in a 21-17 road loss to the Titans.

Eberflus got to know Wentz last season when the Bears coach was in his final year as Colts defensive coordinator and Wentz was the team's starting quarterback. "I already know that he throws a really good deep ball," Eberflus said. "That guy can throw it a mile, and he's done that. He obviously had a great week last week. He's been putting up good numbers, so he's explosive."

Wentz has an array of weapons; Washington receivers have caught nine touchdown passes this season, the second most in the NFL. The group features Terry McLaurin (19 catches for 326 yards and one TD), Curtis Samuel (32-281-2) and Dyami Brown (3-111-2). Jahan Dotson, who leads the Commanders with four TDs, has been ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury.

The Bears are one of just seven NFL defenses with more interceptions (5) than TD passes allowed (4) this season, and they'll receive a boost Thursday night with the return of top cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who is expected to play after missing the last three games with a quad injury.

Get an exclusive look at linebacker Roquan Smith modeling the Bears' newest uniform combination, featuring the new orange helmet, orange alternate jersey and white pants.

(3) Will the Bears get off to a faster start?

In their first five games this season, the Bears have allowed 11 touchdowns in the first half and only one in the second half. They've yielded 56 points in the second quarter and 50 in the other three periods combined. Getting off to a faster start has been a major topic of conversation heading into Thursday night's game.

"I think it's going to just be coming out starting hot right away," said linebacker Roquan Smith, "not waiting to get hit in the mouth and then respond, just going out and taking the fight to those guys from start to finish, and I think if we do that, we'll see just how good we are."

Eberflus has considered changing how the Bears practice and altering their pregame warmup routine in an effort to get off to faster starts. Last Sunday in Minnesota, the Bears gave up touchdowns on three straight possessions in falling behind 21-3 before rallying to take a 22-21 fourth-quarter lead.

"We're looking at everything," Eberflus said. "You have to look at everything. Sometimes it's just a mindset, it's a mentality. Right now we have a great mentality for the second half, coming out and playing tough and playing strong and having stamina and all those things we talk about. But we've got to come out fast and start fast."

(4) Will the Bears continue to run the ball effectively?

While the passing game progressed against the Vikings, a running game that ranks fifth in the NFL remains the strength of the Bears offense.

They're the only NFL team that has compiled more yards on the ground than through the air this season and the lone team in the league to have three players with at least 175 yards rushing: running backs Khalil Herbert (56 carries for 328 yards and three TDs) and David Montgomery (47-179-1) and Fields (42-194-1).

Montgomery will play his second game in five days after missing just one contest with an ankle injury he sustained in a Week 3 win over the Texans. He was limited to 20 yards on 12 carries by the Vikings but scored a touchdown on a 9-yard run that drew the Bears to within 21-10 late in the first half.

Montgomery wasn't pleased with his performance, telling reporters Monday: "I didn't think I ran the ball well. I feel like I could have been better in that area and helped the offense and the team."

The Commanders run defense has improved in recent games. After permitting a season-high 191 yards to the Lions in Week 2, the unit has permitted just 72 yards to the Eagles, 62 yards to the Cowboys and 105 yards to the Titans.

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