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2023 NFL season: Four things to watch for in Bears-Commanders on Prime Video

Chicago Bears
2023 · 0-4-0
Washington Commanders
2023 · 2-2-0

Thursday night’s game will pit two teams that saw victories slip through their fingers in Week 4. The difference, of course, was how those games ended and who each team lost to.

The Washington Commanders scored a touchdown as time expired last Sunday, and they were one two-point conversion away from a massive road victory over the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. Instead, Washington opted for a game-tying extra point, eventually falling in overtime.

The Chicago Bears looked poised for their first victory last week at Soldier Field, leading the winless Denver Broncos, 28-7 late in the third quarter. Midway through the fourth, the lead was gone, and the Bears would drop to 0-4 -- losers of 14 straight games back to last season.

At 2-2, the Commanders are fighting for respectability and better positioning in the competitive NFC East. Sam Howell bounced back in a big way following a humbling performance in Week 3, and the team showed it would not be outclassed two weeks in a row against a top-tier performance after being demolished by the Bills, 37-3.

The Bears are just looking for a win, really anything they can hang their hats on in what has become a nightmare of a season. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned after just two games, leaving the defense in the hands of embattled head coach Matt Eberflus. Wide receiver Chase Claypool remains a Bear for now, but he’s been asked to stay away from the team this week after he was a healthy inactive in Week 4. It’s become ugly and awkward in Chicago.

Eberflus might be coaching for his job, with a career mark of 3-18 entering the game. The Bears have prided themselves on having never fired a coach midseason, but that historical restraint could be tested if they keep losing.

Here are four things to watch for when the Bears visit the Commanders on Thursday night on Prime Video:

  1. Justin Fields is coming off a career game, but it still hasn’t been enough. Lost in the shock and disappointment of the Bears blowing a three-TD lead Sunday was the breakout performance of Fields as a passer. He set career bests with 335 yards and four TDs against Denver, and it came in a game in which his running ability (four carries, 25 yards) was not showcased much. Of course, Fields was sacked four times, including the scoop and score that allowed Denver to tie the game late. His other turnover was a final-minute pick as the Bears still had chances to win or tie. It was 3.5 quarters of greatness from Fields, followed by half a quarter of no bueno. Fields got cooking with WR DJ Moore (which hasn’t happened enough outside of last week) and TE Cole Kmet. With Claypool inactive, Darnell Mooney and his eight catches are about as close to a trusted target as the Bears have after the first two options. But Fields’ biggest worry should be about his protection. The Commanders’ front can clean your clock, and the Bears’ offensive line issues have persisted. That’s a daunting task in any week, but less a short one on the road.
  2. Sam Howell has done more good than bad so far. Howell’s 4-5 TD-to-INT ratio is a statistic that has made the rounds, offered up as proof that the young QB is off to a tepid start with Washington. He’s also taken 24 sacks and lost two straight games. But that portrayal puts too much emphasis on the Commanders’ 37-3 loss to the Bills, during which Howell was picked four times and sacked nine times. Howell struggled in that game, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many of his teammates -- on either side of the ball -- who performed well. And both before and since, he’s shown a zestful competitiveness and the ability to spread the ball around well to his trio of playmakers: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson, who had been quiet before his late TD last Sunday. Still, Howell’s ability to make things happen, even using his legs for a first down or two a game, behind a struggling offense and with a middling run game has been notable.
  3. The Bears' defense is badly in need of a quality performance. The last time the Bears and Commanders faced off 51 weeks ago, it was also a Thursday. The Bears collected three sacks and held Washington to 12 points and 214 yards. The next week at the Patriots, they allowed 260 yards and 14 points and created four turnovers. That was the Bears’ last victory -- and also the last time they held an opponent under 25 points. Despite adding Yannick Ngakoue and other reinforcements up front, the Bears own the league’s worst sack percentage by a country mile at a paltry 1.57%. Chicago also ranks in the bottom three in third-down and red-zone defense, plus yards per play allowed. Despite adding LBs Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards in free agency, the Bears also have one of the worst tackling teams in the league. Eberflus has taken over play-calling the past three games, the results have not been great.
  4. Commanders need an uptick on defense, too. The Commanders remain competitive at 2-2, but that record comes with an indelible asterisk -- a minus-31 point differential. Washington has now allowed 30-plus points in three straight games, something it only did twice in 17 games a year ago. And though a big chunk of this year’s point differential came against the Bills (while also losing the turnover battle 4-0), you’d be hard-pressed to say that this Commanders defense has been anything close to dominant since the second half of Week 1. This starting unit features six former first-round picks -- four along the defensive line -- and two Day 2 picks. One of those former firsts is rookie CB Emmanuel Forbes, who has been under fire. According to Next Gen Stats, Forbes allowed six catches for 147 yards and two TDs vs. A.J. Brown last week, bringing Forbes' season total of yards allowed to 329. Can he rebound vs. the Bears? Forbes has had some competitive reps this season, too, breaking up five passes. But there’s room for more consistency, which has been an issue for many members of this defense. If they can’t do some work against a flawed Bears offense, it might be a sign of trouble.

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