Washington Post (paywall)
The Chicago Bears are in disarray. They have lost 14 straight games and — other than Sunday, when it fumbled away a late lead against disastrous Denver — it hasn’t even flashed many signs of improvement.
Two weeks ago, on the same day quarterback Justin Fields criticized his coaches, defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned. This past week, wide receiver Chase Claypool criticized how he had been used.
In four games, Chicago has the league’s second-worst point differential, minus-62, which is actually somewhat impressive, considering early returns suggest this could be another banner year for parity in the NFL.
The Bears’ defense only has two sacks, tied with the New York Giants for the fewest in the league. Not much has changed since Williams resigned and Eberflus took over as defensive play caller.
The Bears don’t blitz much, and the front — headlined by 28-year-old end Yannick Ngakoue — does not generate much pressure. When the Bears do create pressure, it comes in an average of 2.61 seconds, according to TruMedia, which is the eighth-slowest rate in the league.
The Athletic (paywall)
No rule states an NFL team will win when its offense scores at least 30 points. A fair assumption? The results say yes.
Teams scoring at least 30 points are 27-4 this season.
Opponents have scored at least 30 points in three consecutive games against a defense that allowed that many points twice in 17 games last season. Along with the defensive-weighted roster construction, these are among the reasons the unit is considered the Commanders’ strength. It still is and, in early wins over the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, with imposing justification. For a sincere shot at the playoffs, Washington needs more. More production, more domination, more consistency, just more. It’s not an unfair request. The team was constructed this way.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Eagles completed nine of 13 targets on [rookie CB Emmanuel] Forbes for 197 yards, including Brown’s 59- and 28-yard touchdown grabs.
According to PFF’s database, the targets and yards allowed were the highest assigned to any cornerback since the start of 2022. Go back to 2016 to find a CB, Bene Benwikere, who allowed more yards than Forbes. Ironically, Benwikere’s nightmare game in 2016 was for Rivera’s Carolina Panthers.
Carolina released Benwikere before its next game. Washington is banking on Forbes, a college playmaker with one NFL interception and some positive moments against Philadelphia as well, to find his footing.
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Breaking down the struggles of rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes in the loss to the Eagles
These past few weeks the Commanders have been testing Forbes against some of the best receivers in the league. In the Commanders loss to the Bills last week, Forbes spent a lot of time following star receiver Stefon Diggs. In my opinion, Forbes had his best performance of the season, responding to the challenge after having some ups and downs in the first few games. So it made sense the Commanders would test out their rookie corner again this week when facing another tough opposition like the Eagles. The question was which receiver would they put him on, A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith.
In terms of body type, Forbes matches up much more equally to Smith as both entered the league as long, athletic but skinny players for their position while Brown is the opposite. So on first look, you might think it makes more sense for Forbes to match up on Smith. However, Smith is an excellent route runner and is incredibly quick in and out of his breaks. Forbes has struggled to defend double moves all season due to his aggressive nature, so someone like Smith could be seen as a huge threat in that regard. While Brown is a much more physical receiver that could be harder for Forbes to tackle, Washington probably felt that Forbes has the quickness and length to stay with Brown even if he bites on a double move.
Here in the second half, the Eagles decided to test Forbes’ discipline. Brown is aligned in a tight split to the left of the formation close to tight end Dallas Goedert. Goedert goes in motion just before the snap, motioning outside of Brown. That changes the leverage the Forbes has to play with. He was aligned with outside leverage just before the snap, but with Kam Curl following Goedert outside, Forbes then has to shuffle more inside and play with inside leverage.
Very quickly after the motion, the ball is snapped and we see Goedert take a few steps up the field before coming back towards the line of scrimmage, faking a potential screen. Brown sells his fake too, releasing outside and initially selling fake block on Curl. Both Curl and Forbes bite on this fake, but only Curl is responsible for Goedert. Forbes is responsible for Brown and as soon as those two defenders bite up, Brown takes off down the sideline. Forbes does his best to recover but he can’t get back and Hurts delivers a nice throw down the sideline to Brown.
Now in fairness to Forbes, this play shouldn’t have ended up as a touchdown. Yes he got beat trying to jump the screen and couldn’t recover, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s at fault for the play then becoming a touchdown. Safety Darrick Forrest makes up a lot of ground to get back over the top of Brown, but then misses the tackle that lets Brown get back into the middle of the field.
Unfortunately for Forbes and the Commanders, this wasn’t the last time the Eagles got the better of Forbes. In fact, when the game was on the line and the score was tied at 24, the Eagles consistently went after Forbes.
Washington Post (paywall)
It would be shortsighted to dispute Forbes’s potential after only four games. But so far, he has played less like a plug-and-play prospect and more like a young, developing player whose game needs refinement before he can compete in the pros.
Forbes has been targeted 25 times and allowed 18 catches for a league-high 356 yards (an average of 19.8 yards per reception), according to Pro Football Focus. Opposing quarterbacks have a 124.2 passer rating when targeting him, and receivers have collected 79 yards after the catch against him.
On Sunday in Philadelphia, Forbes’s mistakes came to a head when he allowed four receptions of 28 yards or more in coverage. Two of those were touchdowns to wide receiver A.J. Brown, who totaled 175 receiving yards (not all against Forbes) in the Eagles’ 34-31 overtime win.
Just as the Commanders opted to leave quarterback Sam Howell in for the entirety of his nine-sack, four-interception game against the Buffalo Bills in a Week 3 blowout, they left Forbes in for almost all of Sunday’s game. He played 65 of the defense’s 71 snaps and stayed glued to Brown or DeVonta Smith for many of his snaps in coverage. Although Forbes had a few positive plays, notably a pass breakup in the fourth quarter, his mistakes were costly — and could have been costlier.
“I told him last year I had a similar game against Philly the first time we played and came back and had a better game the second time we played them and had a better season after that,” Fuller said. “That’s life as a DB. You can work as hard as you want; you can be as good as you want. You can’t avoid those types of days.”
Over the past few weeks, Rivera has mentioned the need for improvement in Forbes’s play, particularly with his technique and footwork, but he has also noted Forbes’s ability to create trouble in the passing game. Forbes has forced four incompletions (tied for the sixth most in the NFL, according to PFF), including an interception in the Commanders’ win in Denver. He almost had a second Sunday when he deflected a pass intended for Brown in the fourth quarter.
Fans should keep their focus on what really matters...
The goal of this year is simple. It’s Howell’s development, and seeing what he can give you.
It is simply way too early to make a declarative statement regarding Howell and his future with the team, or the NFL for that matter. But through four weeks, there is growing optimism that he could very well be what the Commanders have been seeking for more than two decades.
Howell’s performance in Philadelphia was truly unlike anything we’ve seen for a very long time. Sure, a divisional loss is something we’ve seen more than enough over the years. But a week removed from the Buffalo Bills coming to FedexField and dismantling the offense, his response was very telling about the kind of player Washington might have found in the fifth round from North Carolina.
One of the hardest things to do as a professional athlete is to bounce back and get up after getting knocked down. For context, coming into this game, Howell came off of his worst performance as a pro, and it almost felt like the Bills showed the rest of the league how to beat him.
But for a young signal-caller to respond by standing toe-to-toe with one of the most prolific teams in the sport, it shows that through a few weeks, what we hoped for is beginning to show signs of overcoming what we feared. Howell is beginning to make the case that he could be the franchise guy.
Howell’s performance against the Eagles was masterful, marked by crucial third and fourth-down conversions, excellent pocket movement, and the ability to escape pressure from one of the league’s best defensive lines. He stood tall in the pocket, used his legs when he needed to, and led the offense to a touchdown drive as time expired.
All this, mind you, against a Super Bowl contender in front of a sold-out Eagles crowd.
This kind of stuff is quite uncommon to see from a quarterback in Washington. Wins and losses are everything in this sport. But if you’re not in the running for a title, progression and growth is the next thing we have to see.
So far? Not too shabby.
While it could be easy to blame the inconsistent and overall lack of scoring efforts on Fields, the Bears’ offense as a unit has had its problems through four games.
A major theme for the Bears so far has been a lack of coordination between running backs and wide receivers with Fields. A clear pattern of missed passes through faulty routes was seen between wideout DJ Moore and Fields during Chicago’s 41-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Washington will need to capitalize on the Bears’ lack of communication throughout the offense and only allow their mistakes to be beneficial for Washington. Being ready for missed routes, something Chicago has been dealing with all season, can equip them for significantly more turnovers than they’ve seen compared to their previous two games against the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.
Commanders QB Sam Howell not looking past winless Bears on Thursday night: ‘Definitely not a team you can take lightly’
Facing a winless Chicago Bears squad might well be the best remedy for the Commanders’ ills, but Howell isn’t about to look past his Thursday night opponent, 0-4 or not.
“Obviously, the record is what it is, but it’s definitely not a team you can take lightly,” Howell said, via team transcript, Tuesday when asked to assess the Bears’ defense. “There’s no easy games in the NFL and they have a lot of really good players on their defense and they fly around. They play hard and you can tell they want to win and it’s definitely a challenge for us and we definitely have our hands full.”
Following a 2-0 start, the Commanders have lost their last two in starkly different ways. Still, those losses came against a pair of first-place teams among the NFL’s elite.
Will the bad news Bears be good news for the Commanders? Howell, in just his second season, is savvy enough not to look past Chicago or at least provide any bulletin board material despite facing off with the 31st-ranked defense in points allowed.
- Washington will play their first of two primetime regular season games this week when they host the Chicago Bears. It is the first time Washington will host a TNF game since defeating the Giants in Week 2 of the 2021 season.
- Washington is 2-0 against the Bears all-time on Thursday Night Football, defeating them at FedExField in Week 14 of the 2007 season and at Soldier Field in Week 6 last season.
- Washington has a 23-21-1 overall record against Chicago and a 13-11-1 record at home. This is the first time Washington will host Chicago since 2019 and the second time they will play the Bears on Thursday Night Football at FedExField.
- Washington is looking to win their third-straight Thursday Night game and fourth-straight Thursday game overall. Washington has never won three consecutive Thursday Night games.
Washington Post (paywall)
At his regular news conference Monday, Bears Coach Matt Eberflus answered a number of questions about Claypool’s situation by repeating that the fourth-year player was “not going to be in the building this week.”
Claypool, who was acquired midseason last year from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has yet to carve out a major role in Chicago, and he expressed frustration last week. After being included on the Bears’ inactive list before Sunday’s home game against the Denver Broncos, Claypool was not seen on the sideline. Following the game, a 31-28 loss in which Chicago blew a 21-point lead and fell to 0-4, Eberflus indicated to reporters that it was Claypool’s choice to stay away, but on Monday the coach clarified that the team made that decision.
“I was not clear on what transpired there. We did ask Chase to stay home during that time,” said Eberflus, who added that Claypool was given that news over the phone. “We felt it was in the best interest of the team. We always base our inactives based on meetings, based on practice, based on walk-throughs during the course of the week. And we made him inactive for that point.”
Asked if Claypool would ever play for the Bears again, Eberflus replied, “Yeah, right now, we’re just having him not be in the building this week, and then, again, [General Manager] Ryan [Poles] does all the trades and transactions, and we’ll decide that as we go forward.”
The Bears had agreed in November to send their second-round pick to Pittsburgh for the 6-foot-4 wide receiver, whom the Steelers had selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. Because the Miami Dolphins were docked their top pick this year, the Bears’ second-round pick came in at No. 32 overall, which normally would place it at the end of the first round.
Despite that heavy investment, aimed at bolstering the development of Bears quarterback Justin Fields, Claypool has not made a significant mark with the team.
On Friday, Claypool said he was working on “the things that I can control, like the effort on plays and finishing blocks.” Asked then if he felt he was being used in a way that could maximize his skill set, Claypool reportedly paused for several seconds before replying, “No.”
NFL Reporters Are Speculating That The Bears Could Fire Matt Eberflus If Chicago Loses On Thursday To Washington
I don’t think Peter King would just throw an opinion like that out there mid-week without hearing from good sources that Eberflus could be fired if things go south again against the Commanders. Mid-season firings are so rare in the NFL, but it’s been one disaster after another on and off the field. Starting 0-5 and losing 15 straight overall would be good enough reason to fire the coach even without the added drama around the staff.
If the Bears do decide to make a mid-season move to fire Eberflus, who do you even get to coach the team the rest of the season? Your defensive coordinator already left and is missing (how the full story hasn’t been released yet is crazy) and your offensive coordinator has been just as bad as everyone else on staff. Not even kidding with this idea...do they call Lovie? Have George apologize for firing him after a 10 win season and give him 12 more game checks to stabilize the locker room while you reach out to agents for football guys for next year and beyond.
If you fire Eberflus for being a disaster do you let the guy who hired him hire the next guy? My gut says you can’t.
Washington Post (paywall)
After the game, fans can use the Downtown Largo and Morgan Boulevard stations to enter the rail system. The last trains will be held at transfer stations to allow for connections to all other Metro stations.
The team suggests that fans arrive at the Downtown Largo station by 12:25 a.m. and 12:32 a.m. to catch the last trains on the Blue and Silver lines, respectively. At the Morgan Boulevard station, fans should arrive by 12:27 a.m. and 12:34 a.m. to catch the final trains on the Blue and Silver lines. Those stations are the only ones in which fans will be allowed to enter during the extended service period.
With the help of Prince George’s County police, the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation, the right lane of the inner loop of the Capital Beltway at the Arena Drive interchange is temporarily closed after games so fans can exit the stadium more easily.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 669 - What's going on w/ the #Commanders' defense? I discuss Ron Rivera's comments on Monday on the defense, the d-line, Emmanuel Forbes, Sam Howell, not going for 2 & more.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) October 3, 2023
Guest: @editti22. Great stuff on the #Orioles as the #MLBPlayoffs begin.https://t.co/3ZhJQxn2Fj
Washington Commanders Eric Bieniemy Improved in Week 4 | Sam Howell Sustainability | Ron Rivera
New ️#HTTC— Trap or Dive Podcast (@TraporDive) October 2, 2023
Mual, AJ, Dre, & Montel give their instant analysis of the Commanders 34-31 OT loss to the Eagles. Offense bounced back after a week 3 dud, but the defense struggled big time.
Michael Phillips recaps the Commanders loss to the Eagles with Craig Hoffman
Check out the top photos from the Washington Commanders’ walkthrough as they prepare for Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bears. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
NFC East links
The Athletic (paywall)
After Witherspoon returned the interception 97 yards for a score late in the third quarter, the ESPN broadcast showed Jones walking off the field while an animated Daboll addressed him. Jones turned his head away from the coach and walked past him.
A little later, Daboll was shown speaking with Jones and Giants quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney on the bench. As Jones started to look at the tablet Daboll was showing him, the coach tossed it in frustration, shaking his head as he walked away.
“(I was) trying to see what he thought and tell him what I saw,” Daboll said of the interaction with his quarterback. “Not going to get into particulars of it, but just didn’t get the job done.”
What did Daboll want Jones to do on the play?
“Obviously not throw an interception,” Daboll said tersely.
Jones didn’t get into specifics of the exchange either, only adding, “I think we’re all frustrated. I know I gotta play better, and I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can to do that.”
“I feel like we had a lot of momentum coming into the season with what we were trying to do, and it has not translated in the least,” tight end Darren Waller said. “It’s just not acceptable.”
Big Blue View
The Giants appear broken
Coaching — I have used a lot of words in recent days to defend the Giants’ coaching staff, while acknowledging that there have been things that deserve to be questioned. I can’t defend them after Monday night.
Brian Daboll can flip all the tablets in frustration that he wants, but this Giants team has not looked remotely ready to play at any time this season. That’s on Daboll and his coaching staff.
With zero seconds on the clock, Green Bay finds themselves at their own 39-yard line down two points against the Detroit Lions. This game is all but wrapped up. For the first time in over a decade, Detroit is on the verge of completing a season sweep against their divisional rival. If a decade sounds like a ridiculously long time, the Lions beat the Packers on the road for the first time in 24 years a few weeks prior. Yes, TWENTY FOUR YEARS. With this being a home game for Detroit, completing a sweep over a team that’s owned them for years will surely make this loyal Lions fan base ecstatic. A rare feeling for them. Historically the Lions are ass. Despite being one of the oldest franchises in the league, Detroit is one of four teams to have never reached the Super Bowl. But tonight, this team presents hope for the future. What changed? Well, to fully appreciate what comes next we gotta rewind.
The Giants have been outscored 77-9 in the first halves of their four games. That’s ridiculous. They looked undisciplined with eight accepted penalties, and perhaps a couple others they were fortunate were not called. The special teams were abominable.
The offense looks lost. The offensive line is awful, but beyond that the Giants’ offense seems broken. For the second time in four games on Monday, the Giants ran the ball well on their first possession and thereafter chose to ignore even trying to run. In the other two games, they ignored the run from the beginning.
After a summer filled with promise, players like Darren Waller and Jalin Hyatt look like afterthoughts in whatever the offensive plan might be. Yes, Saquon Barkley is injured but the ineptitude has been stunning.
“The offense is just not good enough in all facets. I don’t even have anything to really say. It’s just not good enough,” said a bewildered Waller. “I don’t know, man. I really don’t. I see the talent; I see the guys that we’ve got and I see the type of vision that we were able to have coming from the spring and the excitement that we had on offense and I just don’t know. I don’t have a lot of words right now. I’m sorry.”
Daboll won Coach of the Year honors after last season and his coaching staff was looked at as outstanding one. Right now, Daboll and Co. don’t appear to have any answers, either.
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
Note: Washington plays the Falcons in Atlanta in Week 6
Among the few people who appear genuinely puzzled by Desmond Ridder’s inability to at least impersonate a starting NFL quarterback are, alas, decision-makers for the Atlanta Falcons, the team that drafted him.
As October begins, the NFC South is every bit as wide open and flawed as many expected the division to be, with first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees no longer making it their province. The Falcons were a somewhat fashionable pick to cash in on this opening, with media chatter about an improved offensive line and an array of athletically freakish targets for Ridder in the passing game. The running back position has been systematically devalued around the NFL, but Atlanta selected one with the draft’s eighth pick because Bijan Robinson was going to change the entire offense from Day 1, silly. The Falcons were going back to the future, and the Dirty Birds were going to party like it’s 1999 by playing football like it’s 1999.
Except none of that is actually happening, and it’s already looking to some coaches and executives around the league as though the 2-2 Falcons, with their utter stubbornness about the most important position in professional sports, wasted a prime opportunity to host at least one playoff game. With the equivalent of a half-season’s worth of starts to his name, Ridder seems limited by modern quarterbacking standards, with nothing in his physical tools (ball-placement accuracy, arm strength, deep passing acumen, twitch or acceleration) portending an ascent.
“They f---ed it up at quarterback” is how one NFL GM put it during training camp when asked about Atlanta’s potential to win the suspect NFC South. “They don’t have one.” (The GM spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to discuss the rosters of rival teams.)
Another GM, under the same restrictions, was recently asked about Ridder’s abilities. “You can’t win in this league with him as your starting quarterback,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what division you are in. … They should have gone after Lamar Jackson when they had the chance.”
Let’s talk about the offensive side of the ball, where Jalen Hurts is off to a terrible start. His success rate of 39 percent is eighth worst among all starting quarterbacks, below such players as Howell, Justin Fields, and Desmond Ridder. On plays outside of the pocket, where Hurts should be good, no quarterback has a worse success rate—that includes both throws and runs. Hurts is seventh in scramble rate but 26th in EPA per scramble this season; last year, he was sixth and ninth, respectively.
Using the eye test, it’s not hard to see why Hurts is struggling as a runner. Hurts seems far more cautious around contact now than he did last season. Perhaps it’s a coaching point, a reaction to Hurts’s shoulder injury from last season—the Eagles did invest in Hurts by giving him a massive second contract, and protecting him from injury is protecting the future of the franchise. But Hurts’s willingness to play through contact—his strength in the pocket, his tackle-breaking as a runner—was a huge part of his success last season. And this year, it feels like it’s just … gone.
As a passer, Hurts is a little more muddled. The Eagles relied on the running game heavily in September, taking advantage of light boxes and dominant offensive line play. Accordingly, Hurts has become more of a downfield shot-play passer, which lends itself to low success rates—it’s a feast-or-famine play style. And in that play style, star wide receiver A.J. Brown has awoken, because hey, turns out he’s really good! And so is DeVonta Smith! The Eagles passing offense is not suffering from the same issue the passing defense is—it has dominant personnel and can get away with more mistakes accordingly.
That’s why, even as Hurts struggles, the Eagles offense hangs on. It does more than hang on: It scores 34 points and wins. In fact, the Eagles just keep winning, no matter the game script. Comeback, slow-paced, sloppy, physical, explosive, whatever. In Hurts’s past 22 regular-season starts, the Eagles are 21-1. Say whatever you want about the advanced metrics: Hurts always remains calm, and the Eagles never spiral. No matter which way you slice it, 4-0 is 4-0.
But the way I’m slicing it, it feels like a very tenuous 4-0. I haven’t seen the 2023 Eagles play like the 2022 Eagles did, and with the gauntlet of a schedule they’re about to run through, I don’t think that zero will hang at the end of their record for much longer.
NFL contenders or pretenders? Upstart Texans and frisky Rams legit; Jordan Love-led Packers ain’t it
I can’t believe Ron Rivera didn’t go for two — and the upset win — at the end of regulation! The mighty Eagles were on the ropes! In their own building! But Rivera chose to kick the extra point and take the contest into overtime.
Predictably, that decision proved ill-fated, as Philadelphia escaped with a 34-31 win. Sadly for Washington, I think that game will prove to be a microcosm of the season: Close, but no cigar.
Young QB Sam Howell has been solid. The weapons are solid. The defense is solid. But nothing’s spectacular. And if the coach is no longer “Riverboat Ron,” Washington just doesn’t have the juice to get over the top.
Pro Football Talk
Federal investigators have determined that the plane flown by Russ Francis and another man crashed because of an apparent engine failure, the Associated Press reports.
The former NFL tight end, who was 70, and co-pilot Richard McSpadden, 63, died in the crash at Lake Placid Airport on Sunday afternoon.
The single-engine Cessna 177 turned around in an attempt to land after declaring an emergency shortly after takeoff.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Gunther told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that the plane hit a berm at the end of the runway and fell about 30 feet into a ravine.