Talk about déjà vu.
It wasn’t pretty.
To be fair, last year’s tilt between Washington and Chicago wasn’t as ugly as Amazon’s field goal exhibition between Denver and Indianapolis the previous week, but that’s not really saying a lot.
The first half of last year’s game went like this: Punt, punt, interception, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, end of half.
The second half was better, but not exponentially so: Punt, touchdown, field goal, punt, punt, touchdown (courtesy of a muffed punt that was recovered at Chicago’s 6-yard line), turnover on downs, missed field goal, turnover on downs, end of game.
Final score: Washington 12, Chicago 7.
In theory, tonight’s game should be better, if only because it can’t really be worse. Right? RIGHT? (Man, I sure hope I didn’t just jinx this.)
Alright, let’s put an optimistic spin on this . . .
Washington and Chicago both got blown out in Week 3 (by 34 and 31 points, respectively), but turned things around and played much closer games last week.
Both teams lost, but only by three.
Interestingly, both of their losses were slightly controversial because of questionable coaching decisions, and the events leading up to them:
In Chicago, the winless Bears had a 21-point lead over the winless Broncos in the third quarter, squandered said lead, and then, in a tie game, facing 4th-and-one from Denver’s 18-yard line, Head Coach Matt Eberflus chose to go for it rather than asking his kicker to hit a field goal that wasn’t much longer than an extra point.
Interestingly, that’s the right call - or, rather, it’s not the wrong call . . .
. . . analytically speaking.
---> DEN (28) @ CHI (28) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) October 1, 2023
CHI has 4th & 1 at the DEN 18, Q4 00:52
Recommendation : Toss-up (+0.8 WP)
Actual play: (Shotgun) K.Herbert left tackle to DEN 18 for no gain (A.Singleton). pic.twitter.com/JL6WVOLdYF
The play call is the questionable coaching decision.
A shotgun RPO . . . really?
Yeah . . . Denver stopped them, kicked a field goal a minute later, then held on for the comeback win.
Meanwhile, in the City of Brotherly Love, the 2-1 Commanders found themselves hanging tight with the undefeated Eagles. Trailing by seven, 24-31, with just under two minutes to play and only one timeout, Washington marched down the field and finished the 10-play, 64-yard drive with a Sam Howell to Jahan Dotson’s touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. Down one, in a hostile environment, ‘Riverboat’ Ron Rivera opted to send in his kicker and let the game be decided in overtime.
That wasn’t necessarily the wrong call with a young quarterback and a tired offense, but it didn’t go over well with Washington’s fans (or the media) given that Washington won the coin toss (yay!), went 3-and-out (boo!), and watched Philly kick a field goal to win it.
Here’s the relevant takeaway from those two game recaps: Chicago choked and gave up a 21-point lead to a winless team whereas Washington never trailed by more than 7 points against the defending NFC Champions.
Focusing on tonight’s game . . .
When Chicago has the ball, viewers will get to watch the league’s No. 21 offense face off against the league’s No. 22 defense. Scoring-wise, it will be No. 22 vs. No. 29.
I would say, “Advantage Chicago” but it feels more like a coin flip.
On the flip side (see what I did there?), Washington’s No. 20 offense (No. 17 scoring) will face Chicago’s No. 28 defense (No. 31 scoring).
Rankings only tell us so much though; let’s look at yards and points.
- When Chicago has the ball: The Bears’ offense averages 305.3 yards per game (186.3 passing; 119.0 rushing) while Washington’s defense allows 352.5 yards per game (230.0 passing; 122.5 rushing).
- When Washington has the ball: The Commanders’ offense averages 307.8 yards per game (201.3 passing; 106.5 rushing) whereas Chicago’s defense allows 383.3 yards per game (267.8 passing; 115.5 rushing).
- Chicago is scoring 18.8 points per game; Washington’s defense is allowing 30.0
- Washington has put up 22.3 points per game; the Bears’ defense is allowing 34.3.
Both teams should look better on offense than they normally do, and points should be easier to come by.
Here’s something else to consider before we get to the picks . . .
The 11th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (aka Justin Fields) has been sacked 17 times in Chicago’s first four games.
Yes, that’s a lot (he’s on pace to be sacked 72 times), and it’s been extremely consistent: 4 sacks Week 1 (Green Bay); 6 sacks Week 2 (Tampa Bay); 3 sacks Week 3 (Kansas City); 4 sacks Week 4 (Denver).
However, there are two quarterbacks who have been taken down more often than Justin Fields this season.
One of them is Daniel Jones, with the Seahawks gloriously accounting for 10 of the 22 sacks that New York’s $160M quarterback has taken this year.
The other is Washington QB Sam Howell, who has been sacked an average of 6 times per game (24 times total).
The good news for Mr. Howell is that the Bears defense has only bagged a quarterback twice this year, which is the league’s worst total.
Washington, on the other hand, is tied for 7th with thirteen quarterback takedowns.
Mr. Fields better watch his back.
Want a couple more advantages for Washington?
- The game is at FedExField (all one word) in Landover, Maryland.
- Washington has won 8 of the last 9 games these two teams have played.
The Pick: Washington to win, Washington to cover, Over 44-1/2 points.
Let’s see if my fellow Field Gulls writers and editors agree . . .