The Bears (1-3) return to action after a bye week to face the Washington Redskins (1-4). The Redskins have a stingy defense and although their record is poor, have come up on the short end of many close ballgames. They're coming off a 107-yard offensive disaster, and will be looking to reestablish Clinton Portis and the running game. The Bears are starting to heal up some injuries, and are10-5 following the bye week. Let's take a closer look at the injuries, and their impact on the matchups.
Jonathan Quinn makes his second start at quarterback for Rex Grossman (knee), who was lost for the season. Quinn will hope to work out the kinks that showed in his poor accuracy in his start prior to the bye week. The bye week allowed left guard Ruben Brown to have minor knee surgery and center Olin Kreutz to have some work done on his elbow. Both players are optimistic about their chances to be available this Sunday. Terrence Metcalf would take over at center and Steve Edwards would take over at left guard if they aren't ready. Edwards has proven to be a capable backup and spot starter at guard over the last two seasons. Metcalf is still unproven as a pro lineman. It's especially critical at center, where he has the least experience. He'll have the responsibility of not only calling out assignments but also in getting the ball back to Quinn, whether it's the standard snap exchange or the shotgun. Rex Tucker (elbow) returned to practice during the bye week. The Bears are hoping the oft-injured former starter at left guard can round back into form and remain stay healthy enough to finish the season. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin has been a key to the interior defense of the Redskins. He'll be lining up over whoever is playing left guard for the Bears.
The Redskins lost strong safety Matt Bowen for the season last week to a knee injury. Andre Lott will probably take his place, but he's coming off a hamstring injury. Veteran Pat Dennis was added to the roster this week as well. Former Bear defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin) and linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee) are making progress for a return after missing good portions of the year. Daniels won't be back for this game, but Arrington has a chance. Middle linebacker Mike Barrow (knee) hasn't been available this season, but Antonio Pierce has filled the spot surprisingly well for his first season as a regular starter. The Redskins are hopeful that defensive tackle Joe Salave'a (calf) makes progress this week against a beat up interior line of the Bears. He'll likely share reps inside with Brandon Noble.
The Bears will see a familiar face calling the defense for Washington in Greg Blache. Unfortunately for Blache, there won't be many familiar faces he sees on the Bear offense. Roughly half of the Bears' starters on offense weren't even on the team last year. Any defense the Bears play from this point forward is going to stack the box against the run and blitz heavily. Jonathan Quinn will need to make accurate throws to the open receivers, and be smart with the football when the line is faced with a mismatch. In the running game, Terry Shea must stick with the run longer than he did in the last game. A defense stacked against the run can get beaten for big yardage if Thomas Jones can get to the second level by either breaking a tackle or making someone miss.
Brian Urlacher is expected to return to his starting position at middle linebacker. Hunter Hillenmeyer filled in well for him, and has been rewarded with the starting job on the strong side. Cornerback Jerry Azumah returns from neck surgery, and is expected to be eased back into his starting role. He'll likely be the nickel back on Sunday. Rookie Nathan Vasher will start at cornerback opposite R.W. McQuarters. Coaches have been impressed with Vasher's progress and like his knack for making interceptions. He didn't disappoint in his first start, registering an interception on a deflected pass. Vasher and McQuarters are starting because of Azumah's injury and the knee injury sidelining Charles Tillman. Ian Scott is expected to make his second consecutive start at defensive tackle for the injured Alfonso Boone. Scott has physically remade himself to fit Lovie Smith's sleeker defense, and his hard work is being rewarded with playing time. Boone is not likely to play but is making progress, and his ability to stop the run is needed after consecutive games where opposing runners have ripped off long gains.
The Redskins lost starting right tackle Jon Jansen in the first game of the year, the key pass blocker for left-handed Mark Brunell's blind side. Kenyatta Jones started at right tackle last week, after Ray Brown had started there previously before getting nicked up. Brown is healthy enough to start, and may get the call again. Whoever gets the nod will face a salivating Adewale Ogunleye, who has 1 sack in 4 games after having a 15-sack campaign a year ago.
Bears' Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera coached against the Redskins twice last year as a part of the Eagles' staff, but he'll need to get a feel for their new coaches and new players, especially Clinton Portis and Mark Brunell. Head Coach Joe Gibbs brought a good deal of his old offense, which Portis has struggled with. The Bears' new scheme of faster, disruptive defensive linemen would appear to be a matchup favorable to Chicago. Rivera will also look to put the pressure on Brunell, who is no longer as mobile as he once was, and to cause problems for a line looking to compensate for a deficiency at right tackle. It would be surprising if Gibbs didn't start adapting some of his running schemes to better fit the strengths of Clinton Portis, who excelled in the zone blocking of the Broncos, and to set up play action to get the ball out to receivers Ron Gardner and Lavernues Coles against a battered Bears' secondary.