Commanders survive late Bears charge for much-needed win
11: 21 PM ET
ESPN Staff Writer
- Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.
ESPN Staff Writer
- Covered the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and other media outlets since 1994
- Authored or co-authored three books on the Redskins and one on the Cleveland Browns
The Commanders won’t apologize for the aesthetics. They didn’t need to look pretty, they just needed to win. And that’s all they did.
Whether or not this win over the Bears gets their season pointed in the right direction remains to be seen. There’s plenty of work that remains after this victory. They commit too many penalties — 27 in three games. They don’t score many points — 47 in the past four games.
But, for now, it allows the Commanders (2-4) to exhale after losing four consecutive games. For a franchise in which every week seems to bring a new round of issues, winning provides a necessary salve.
Pivotal play: Midway through the fourth quarter, Washington punted after failing to convert on third down yet again. But it turned out to be a beneficial move. Returner Velus Jones Jr., fumbled the punt and rookie Christian Holmes recovered the ball on the 6-yard line. Two runs by rookie Brian Robinson later, Washington took a 12-7 lead. Robinson’s first carry gained five yards, helped in part by a Wentz block after the rookie cut outside.
QB breakdown: Wentz’s lack of mobility limits the offense. It’s not just on blitzes. He struggles to extend plays. Washington also ran him on what looked like a power sweep in the red zone, a curious call given how he’s running these days. Wentz hurt his hand and entered with a bad shoulder, so that might have hurt his passing on a windy night. He did have two passes dropped by Curtis Samuel, including one that would have put them inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. But, bottom line, he needs to play better if this offense is to generate points — and hope.
Promising trend: Defensive end Montez Sweat was held without a sack for the first four games of the season. There were times he’d get close, but needed a little more help from the coverage to finish the play. He’s received that help the past two games and has recorded three sacks and eight quarterback hits. Sweat recorded a sack and harassed Justin Fields on numerous occasions. If Washington is going to make any noise the rest of the season it needs Sweat to continue being a force.
Troubling trend: Third downs. In their last four games Washington has converted just 14-of-54 third downs, a function of an immobile quarterback and an offense seemingly unprepared to handle blitzes. Teams know Washington likes to run crossers so they often take away that option, but they also know Wentz will struggle vs. pressure. Washington needs to build in more help for Wentz in those situations.
Underrated statistic to know: Leading 3-0 at the break, Washington’s 88 yards in the first half were the fewest this season by a team up at halftime.
Next game: vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET, Oct. 23)
The Bears are the second team this season to top 390 yards of offense and score less than 10 points in a game. Chicago left 14 points on the board in the first half and couldn’t finish the job when Fields had the offense in position to win the game on the Bears’ final drive, which ended just short of the goal line.
On that play, Fields connected with wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who caught the ball around a Washington defender, but bobbled it. While running back David Montgomery was open in the flat on the other side of the field, he was Fields’ fifth read on the play, which the quarterback intimated there would have been a “five percent chance” that he got back to him after going through his progressions.
Same issues, different game. And that goes beyond quarterback play.
Fields was pressured 18 times on Thursday, tied for his most in a game in his career. Fields has now been pressured on 46% of his dropbacks this season. That’s the highest rate of pressure a QB has faced in his first six games since ESPN began tracking pressures in 2009.
QB breakdown: Fields’ strong second-half performance in Minnesota didn’t carry over to Thursday night. The Bears had two trips inside the red zone in the first half, the first of which resulted in Fields’ first interception inside the 20-yard line after he threw a ball into the helmet of Commanders’ defensive lineman Efe Obada, which was recovered by his teammate Jonathan Allen. The Bears’ next drive ended with another scoreless trip inside the red zone. Fields had tight end Ryan Griffin wide open in the end zone and sailed a ball past him on second-and-3 at the 3-yard line. Griffin had 4.05 yards of separation on that play, according to Next Gen Stats. Chicago had one more trip inside the red zone, set up by the longest run of Fields’ career — a 39-yard scramble in the fourth quarter — that ended with Darnell Mooney catching and bobbling a pass just shy of the goal line. These three trips inside the red zone without a score ties the most red-zone drives without a point in a game since 2000.
Bold prediction: Dante Pettis will return punts against the Patriots. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. has handled all of Chicago’s return duties since his debut in Week 4. But a fumble on a punt return that allowed Washington to recover the ball at the Chicago 6-yard line and score two plays later — after a muffed punt against the Giants with two minutes to play squashed any realistic chance of a comeback — will force the Bears to reconsider who they have deep on punt return.
Silver lining: The Bears don’t play again until Oct. 24, which gives them 10 full days of recovery before they face the New England Patriots in Foxborough. Guards Lucas Patrick (concussion) and Teven Jenkins (shoulder) both left the game briefly in the third quarter, which led to a shuffle up front that brought Michael Schofield III off the bench before the two returned. Fields will be feeling the effects of getting hit over 11 times and taking four sacks. He was slow to get up after a couple crushing blows to the ribs and appeared to injure his left shoulder in the second half.
Troubling trend: Chicago’s pass rush has been virtually non-existent. Entering Week 6, the Bears had a 28% pressure rate (19th), a 5% sack rate (22nd) and only eight sacks (tied for 25th). They upped that last number against Carson Wentz, sacking the Washington quarterback three times –two of which came on blitzes — but only pressured the Commanders’ QB on four of his 25 dropbacks (16%).
Underrated statistic to know: Fields has taken at least 2 sacks in every game this season and in 14 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Next game: at Patriots (8: 15 p.m. ET, Oct. 24)
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.