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Gameday Preview: Redskins v. Bears
|Chicago Bears (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)
September 11, 2005
It has finally come. After weeks of mini-camps, two-a-day practices, and meaningless exhibition games, the 2005 NFL season kicks off this weekend. While the match up between the Redskins and Bears may not garner the billing of “game of the week”, it still should be a very good game between two teams seeking to recapture the glory that both of the storied franchises once held.
On paper, both teams are very similar. Both teams have above average defenses that keep their respective teams in most games. Both teams have offenses that are still looking to find their groove through the air as well as on the ground, despite having quality backs in their backfield.
The Bears’ struggles on offense can be linked to their inconsistency at quarterback, which results from the lack of depth behind oft-injured Rex Grossman. Grossman recently suffered a major injury to his ankle and will be lost for most, if not all, of the 2005 season. In his absence, both last season and early this season, the Bears have found little success. They have now placed the team in the hands of another talented rookie, Kyle Orton of Purdue.
Orton has tons of talent, and could prove to be better than Grossman in the end, but he will need to have the mettle to survive being thrown into the fire that is the NFL season. The rookie looks to have drawn a heck of a first assignment against the Redskins defense, which, in addition to playing at home, will also have the services of LaVar Arrington once again.
Orton will have talent to work with at receiver with the free agent addition of Mushin Muhammad, who comes off of a career season with Carolina. The Bears also have Thomas Jones and rookie Cedric Benson in their backfield. Jones has been solid throughout the preseason and looks to have accepted the drafting of Benson as a challenge. Benson signed late in the preseason after a lengthy holdout that may have cost him a shot a being the starter.
The Redskins expect to see both backs at some point in the game. With a rookie at the helm of the Bears offense, the Redskins will undoubtedly challenge the young quarterback to throw the ball. This means that the Redskins defensive front and linebackers will be called on to thwart the running attack of Jones and Benson. Whichever team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage will go a long way in determining how much success the Bears will have on Sunday.
The Redskins have also had their share of inconsistency from the quarterback position. Coach Gibbs named Patrick Ramsey the starter early in training camp and hasn’t swayed from that position despite Ramsey’s erratic play throughout the exhibition season – an exhibition season in which Mark Brunell has played almost flawlessly. Gibbs has expressed confidence in Ramsey and feels that he can lead the team. If the confidence of Coach Gibbs doesn’t translate into better play on the field, Ramsey could find himself sporting a hat and clipboard sooner rather than later.
Whoever is under center will look to the new corps of receivers to spread the field and open up the running game. The Redskins’ offense will also be facing a formidable defense in the Bears. The running game of the Redskins is the key to success for the offense. If the Redskins offensive line, now at full strength with the return of Jon Jansen, can punch holes in the Bears defensive line for Clinton Portis to run through, it will open up the rest of the offense. It will be interesting to watch the offensive line against one of the better defenses in the league, as they will be implementing new blocking schemes that are designed to better suit Portis’ running style.
Getting Portis and the running game on track will be huge for a Redskins offense that was at the bottom of the league in production in 2004. The Bears, much like the Redskins, may look to take away the running game and force the Redskins to pass against a solid secondary. The revamped receiving corps, lacking a big, physical play maker, will need to show an ability to get separation and go across the middle, a problem that plagued them for the past few seasons.
Both teams will need to be able to control the line of scrimmage in order for their respective offenses to be successful. Considering that the strength of each team is their respective defense, this might be easier said than done.
In a game where neither team appears to have a clear-cut advantage on either side of the ball, it could be decided by special teams play. The Redskins have struggled to find a quality punt returner as of late but may have found their man in Antonio Brown; a player that combines the speed and quickness sought in a kick returner. His play, in a game that looks to have plenty of punting, could be a deciding factor for the Redskins.
Key Player Match-Ups:
Clinton Portis v. Brian Urlacher
Clinton Portis ran all over Chicago's defense last year, gaining 171 yards on the ground. His speed and cut-back ability are complemented this year by an offensive scheme that is more likely to play to his strengths—so Chicago should have their hands full this Sunday.
For Chicago, a healthy Urlacher has high hopes to return to his Pro-Bowl form of previous years, which could spell trouble for Portis. In facing a Redskins offense that will likely implement more zone-blocking schemes, Urlacher will need to hit gaps hard and fast if he hopes to contain the Skins' blazing RB. In a zone-blocking scheme, Portis will enjoy the advantage of choosing between several gaps on any given play. In this sense, Urlacher will have to think more quickly than Portis if he wants to be in on the play, anticipating Portis’ moves and going in for the kill.
Certainly this will be an electric matchup, but look for Portis to do a little more cutting back and juking than Urlacher is going to be able to handle.
Thomas Jones v. Lemar Marshall
With Cedric Benson questionable due to injuries, look for Thomas Jones to take the bulk of the carries for Chicago. Behind an improved offensive line, Jones seems ready to go for the year.
Enter Lemar Marshall, who is the Skins’ replacement for last-year MLB Antonio Pierce. Marshall's play in preseason, and Greg Williams' confidence in the linebacker, show that he could be the man to fill gaps and make tackles on Sunday. Williams loves a smart MLB who can act as a field general, so if Marshall is doing his job, he will be in on many plays. Questions remain about Marshall's size, experience, and mental quickness--in all three categories Pierce left large shoes to fill.
Chicago will lean heavily on Jones, since they have been forced to rely on rookie QB Kyle Orton as their starter. Look for Chicago to come straight at Marshall, and watch to see if Lemar can: (a) plug whatever holes the line creates, and (b) get penetration to Jones to make the tackle.
Santana Moss v. Jerry Azumah
Santana Moss was acquired to add speed to the receiving corps, and to stretch field. This pre-season Moss only had a hand full (5) of catches, but averaged 19.4 yards per catch. Moss should be able to get behind the Bears corners and will require help from the safety, as the game goes on.
Jerry Azumah is listed as "probable" for Sunday’s game. Azumah returned to practice on Monday after missing all of the preseason due to arthroscopic surgery on his right hip on Aug. 2nd. If Jerry can’t go then Moss will line up across from 2nd year corner Nathan Vasher who had as many picks as Azumah last year. Vasher doesn’t have Azumah’s speed though, meaning Mike Brown and Mike Green will have their heads on a swivel.
If Azumah doesn’t play then Vasher will start, but the Bears are planning to start Azumah. If he takes the field then that hip will be tested. Vasher may also be returning kicks Sunday
Winner: Santana Moss
|Chris Clemons, LB, Hamstring, Doubtful|
Ryan Clark, S, Knee, Questionable
Taylor Jacobs, WR, Toe, Questionable
Jon Jansen, T, Thumb, Probable
Brandon Noble, DT, Knee, Probable
|Jerry Azumah, CB, Hip, Probable|
Rex Grossman, QB, Ankle, Out
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