The Washington Commanders will look to bounce back from their overtime loss against the Philadelphia Eagles with a primetime matchup against the Chicago Bears. Here are three keys to the game, presented by KIA.
1. Stop the run.
The Bears were the best running team in football last season, rushing for 177.3 yards per game with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Their offense hasn't been quite as productive through four games -- they're 13th with 119 yards per game on 102 attempts -- but the unit depends so much on their ground game that containing it will be on Commanders' list of biggest defensive priorities.
Much of their running production comes from Justin Fields, who coach Ron Rivera said "gave us hell" in last season's game against the Bears, during which Fields rushed for 88 yards on 12 carries. Thirty-nine yards of that came on one scramble, but that play was the main reason why the Bears were in position to spoil what was eventually a 12-7 win.
Having solid rush discipline is starting to become a theme for the Commanders, who have played against mobile quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts. There was frustration with Allen and improvement with Hurts, although the Eagles' signal-caller still managed to escape for a 24-yard rush in the second half.
The Commanders know the importance of stopping Fields, who has rushed for more yards than Hurts, Allen and Lamar Jackson since 2021.
"We can't allow that to happen. We've got to be disciplined. We've got to play our game. This is, again, a young team that's growing and developing. They were a couple years back. I like who their quarterback is. I really do. I think Justin's a heck of a young man."
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)
2. Continue to use the running game early.
Two weeks ago against the Bills, the Commanders hardly utilized their ground game, particularly in the first half. The final numbers in the 37-3 loss don't look bad (105 yards with an average of 8.1 yards per attempt), but considering they only ran the ball 13 times, they could have certainly been better against a Bills defense that looked vulnerable on the ground.
Against the Eagles, Brian Robinson Jr. and the running game was used more often, with the Commanders' attempts more than doubling the number from Week 3. With just over three minutes left in the first half, they had one more rushing attempt than they had in the entirety of Week 3.
The Commanders didn't have many explosive plays on the ground, but even the gains of two and three yards were helpful because they slowed the Eagles' pass rush and put the offense in shorter down-and-distance scenarios. They also allowed the Commanders to control the clock; it took seven minutes for the Commanders to move down the field on their opening drive, which featured eight run plays.
Washington passes the ball at the fourth-highest rate in the league (64.06%), which seems to be the way Eric Bieniemy wants the offense to operate. Still, turning to the run game earlier seemed to help the offense find some momentum. There should be opportunities to repeat that feat against the Bears, who give up 115.5 rushing yards per game.
3. Prevent explosive plays.
Although no team wants to give up 34 points in a game, the Commanders' defense had several bright spots against the talented Eagles offense. However, those moments were overshadowed by three explosive plays: the 59- and 28-yard touchdowns by A.J. Brown and the 37-yard reception by DeVonta Smith. For those doing the math, that's 17 points that are the direct result of just three plays.
Emmanuel Forbes Jr. had a rough game, which he admitted to in the locker room, but allowing explosive plays is a problem that the entire unit needs to clean up.
On the surface, the Bears are the worst offense the Commanders will have seen since the opener against the Cardinals. Their running game is solid, but they have struggled to create explosive plays through air, even with their 471 yards against the Broncos.
It should be noted that the Bears appear to be gaining some traction after a heartbreaking 31-28 loss to Denver. After punting the ball away on their opening drive, the Bears scored on four of their next five drives, averaging 7.7 yards per play. Granted, things fell apart in the third quarter, but they were moving the ball well prior to that.
Something else to consider is that the Bears are a team that Rivera described as "hungry to win." They will be looking to create more explosive plays and build some momentum for their unit. DJ Moore, who is 14th in the NFL with 301 receiving yards, already has seven catches of at least 20 yards. Moore only has 24 targets through four games, but as the Bears' best receiver, the number should increase going forward.
It will also be important for Washington's secondary to stick to their assignments as Fields looks to extend plays. If they can do that, then it will give time for the defensive front to swarm him.