It’s Week 5 of the 2023 NFL season and the 2-2 Washington Commanders will be facing a 0-4 Bears team in Raljon.
After winning its first two games, Washington has lost its last two against two of the best teams in the league. They’re looking to get right against Chicago as they enter a softer stretch in their schedule. The Bears have yet to win a game this year, and will be looking to break that streak against the Commanders. Can Justin Fields excel like he did against the Broncos? Can Washington put together a complete game from start to finish?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Bill Zimmerman of Windy City Gridiron five questions about the state of the Bears and what to look for in this game.
1) At 0-4, and with some considerable internal turmoil, many Washington fans are looking at the Bears and saying “that used to be us; glad someone else is getting that attention now.” It’s not that Washington fans wish any ill will on the Bears - the teams have had some classic match-ups over the years - but that we had grown weary of being a league punchline. What the heck is going on with the Bears’ organization?
Oh where to begin. I think I should start where Washington fans can appreciate: all the way at the top with George McCaskey. I will say that George is a very nice man and while the same probably can’t be said about your previous owner, George doesn’t know how to run an NFL franchise, much like Snyder. George is the grandson of George Halas, and he took over as Chairman in 2011. It was at that point where things started getting messy. The Phil Emery/Marc Trestman era was a total mess. George brought in Ernie Accorsi as a consultant to help with the hire of Ryan Pace and John Fox (Pace wasn’t allowed to pick his coach), that arranged marriage didn’t go well and Pace was allowed to pick Matt Nagy and that was sadly the most success any coach has had in Chicago since Lovie Smith was fired. Once George decided to fire Pace and Nagy, he brought in Bill Polian as another consultant and it seems that Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus is largely another arranged marriage.
What does all that background mean? It means the Bears’ ownership doesn’t understand enough football to make their own hires and having consultants set up arranged marriages are certainly not good recipes for success. With Kevin Warren in place as a new team President, the hope Bears fans have is that Warren will be competent and when he starts making decisions this offseason that they are the proper ones for the franchise. But for now, we are stuck with a GM that may or may not be good and a head coach that is arguably one of the worst in the NFL.
2) Justin Fields’ play seems to be very up and down this year. Against the Broncos, he put up great statistics, but against the Chiefs and Buccaneers he struggled mightily. What did the Bears’ offense do against the Broncos to be more successful and how long is Fields’ leash in Chicago? Is there any chance he gets replaced in next year’s draft?
Last season, Justin Fields was dynamic with his legs and was strong with the deep ball. It was the short and intermediate passes where Fields struggled and created an offense that was number one in the NFL in the running game, but last in the passing game. Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy spent the entire offseason working on him throwing with anticipation and trying to improve his passing in the quick game. That really turned Fields robotic the first three games and Getsy’s play calling was unimaginative and predictable.
Against Denver, Fields was decisive. He knew where he wanted to go with the ball and he fired it in there. His receivers were wide open against the weak Broncos’ defense but regardless, he still put up the best passing statistics of his career. Unfortunately, the offense struggled in the fourth quarter and opened the door for the Broncos to win the game. I think Fields leash is as long as this season, but if they don’t see significant growth (right now he’s on pace for 21 interceptions and 72 sacks taken) throughout the rest of the season, there’s a strong chance that Fields is replaced in the 2024 NFL Draft, especially if the Bears have a shot at Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.
3) The Bears have some real defensive talent, investing a massive amount in free agents this off-season to try to improve that group. What are its weaknesses? How have other teams been most successful in exploiting this group? What would you say is its greatest strength?
The defense’s biggest weakness is Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme. He runs an antiquated Cover 2 defense and loves sitting in soft zones and only bringing four most of the time when he rushes the passer. The problem with that is the Bears defensive line is the weakest position group on the team and they just don’t have the ability to create pressure while just rushing four. In the secondary, Jaylon Johnson (currently injured) and rookie Tyrique Stevenson are aggressive corners that should be up at the line and challenging wide receivers, but Eberflus constantly has them off the ball and every quarterback they’ve faced have consistently found open space in the Bears secondary.
Its greatest strength should probably be the linebackers. They spent a hearty amount of Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards, and Jack Sanborn is an excellent SAM linebacker. Unfortunately, with the defensive line as weak as it is, it hurts the linebackers trying to stop the run and Eberflus’ defensive scheme isn’t helping them in coverage either. The Bears defense is weak overall. Statistically, they are only better than the Denver Broncos. They have now allowed 25 or more points in 14 consecutive games, which is an NFL record. Washington should be able to score on this defense without too much resistance.
4) I recognize it’s still early in his tenure, but what do fans think of Ryan Poles in Chicago? His first two drafts look like they’ve been ok, and the Bears currently own the top two picks in the 2024 draft. If things continue on their current trajectory, Poles will have the chance to shape the Bears for a decade. Is that a welcome or terrifying prospect?
The confidence in Ryan Poles from the date he was hired until September 9th, 2023, was sky-high. September 10th was the date of the week one game against the Packers and Bears fans had high expectations in that one and certainly everyone’s alarms started sounding after that result. The statements on Bears Twitter were always a confident “King Poles does it again” during the early part of his tenure and now that’s become a sarcastic response to the failures of some of the defensive personnel and of course the debacle that is Chase Claypool.
Poles has shown a great process in setting up the Bears for success. He understands the value of draft capital and he’s put their cap in outstanding shape. They had huge amounts of cap space this past offseason and the Bears have plenty more coming up in 2024 as well. Where Poles has to be questioned is the evaluation process. Yes, there have been some good moves, but there’s been plenty to be questioned as well. I mentioned Kevin Warren earlier, assuming he’s making the decisions after this season, Matt Eberflus is almost certainly going to be fired, which means Warren is going to have to decide if he trusts Poles to hire a coach and build a roster around the next quarterback, which could be Caleb Williams.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 44.5. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
This is going to be a good week to measure the growth of Justin Fields. Was his success due to the weak Broncos defense or has he started turning the corner? The Washington defense should be a good measuring stick for him, especially being he tends to hold onto the ball too long and we know Washington’s front four can bring pressure. Because the Washington offense seems to be scoring points pretty consistently and the Bears defense is so weak, there’s really no reason to see Washington score less than 25 points. So if Washington scores 27 to 31, to hit the over, you just need Chicago to score 14 to 18 points, something they’ve done in 3 of their 4 games this year.
I would expect Washington to cover and the game to go over.
Thanks again to Bill for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Bears. Be sure to check out Bill’s companion piece over at Windy City Gridiron.
As of right now, Vegas has Washington as 4 point favorites over Chicago. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Washington wins by 5 or more points.
Washington wins by 4 points or less or ties.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 44.5. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
45 or more points are scored.
44 or fewer points are scored.