Tandler: Clearly, Portis' 2004 performance was one of the most disappointing 1,300-yard seasons any back has ever had. It was the lack of the home run ball, the long gainer, that is at issue. His first carry for the Redskins went for 67 yards and a touchdown and he never came close to breaking one like that the rest of the year. Joe Gibbs has been working to design plays using more zone blocking to let Portis find some running room. For his part, Portis wants to be a little tougher inside as illustrated by the fact that he added about 20 pounds over the off-season, all of it in his upper body.
Tandler: What is the general feeling among Bears fans about starting the season with Kyle Orton? Is there a general feeling of despair and resignation or is there some real hope that Orton can get the job done? How much rope does he have before they think of benching him and going with Jeff Blake?
Klabacha: The feeling coming out of Chicago is one of cautious optimism. The Bears would have preferred to let Kyle Orton sit and watch during his rookie campaign, but Rex Grossman suffered a broken ankle in the second preseason game and Chad Hutchinson just flat out couldn't do the job. The defense is good enough to keep the Bears in game, it will be up to Orton to limit the rookie mistakes he's bound to make and rely on a strong running game. The plan is to give Orton a chance to establish himself without the fear of a quick hook in favor of veteran Jeff Blake.
Klabacha:With a strong defense and a good running game, do the Redskins feel average play will get the job done at quarterback for the time being? That's been the talk in Chicago, so is the same is being said in Washington?
Tandler: The Redskins likely would have made the playoffs last year with average quarterback play (keeping in mind that eight wins was good enough to make the playoffs last year in the NFC) so there's no reason to think that the same won't be the case this year. The general feeling is that as long as Patrick Ramsey can make a few plays here and there and not turn the ball over at inopportune times the team can win. The rub is that during the preseason Ramsey has shown a propensity for both the good play and for throwing the killer interception. It remains to be seen if one can cancel out the other.
Tandler:Given that Ramsey looked quite uncomfortable when facing blitzed during the preseason, would you anticipate the Bears doing a lot of blitzes or will they stay with their cover two scheme and rely on the front four to get the pass pressure?
Klabacha: Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera believes three of the four starters on the defensive line have a legit shot at reach double-digit sack totals. Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris produced consistent pressure during the preseason. However, that will not stop Rivera from sending an extra man or two after Ramsey. A group of fast linebackers are expected to increase their role as pass rushers. Brian Urlacher finished second on the team a year ago with 5.5 sacks in just nine games.
Klabacha: Like the Bears, the Redskins drafted a quarterback. While Jason Campbell went in the first round, it's the Bears that will start a rookie at quarterback. Ramsey will open the season under center, but if something goes wrong, is Mark Brunell going to be the next option or will Gibbs turn to Campbell?
Tandler: It would be Brunell, who has looked very good during the preseason, both in practice and in games. It's apparent that something was physically wrong with Brunell last year as he is showing mobility and zip in his arm that we didn't see in 2004. If you see Campbell in the lineup this year and it's not due to multiple injuries take it as a sign that the Redskins are throwing in the towel on the season.
Tandler:Like Joe Gibbs (prior experience aside), Lovie Smith is in his second year as the Bears coach. In their first years, both inherited a lot of players and culture from the old regime. How far along is Smith in molding that team into his own image? What are some examples of "Lovie Smith" players that he has acquired since coming aboard and why they are his kind of guys.
Klabacha: The Bears quickly shifted to Lovie Smith's philosophy of speed on defense. Last year the team added DE Adewale Ogunleye in a trade and DT Tommie Harris in the first round of the draft. Ogunleye struggled in his first season with the Bears, producing just five sacks on a bad ankle. He nearly matched that total in the preseason with four sacks. Harris had a good rookie campaign and looks to be ready to make a run at the Pro Bowl with more consistency to his game. The Bears return all 11 starters on defense, which gives the hope for a giant leap forward the second time around in the scheme.
Klabacha: Give me one player on offense and one on defense that most Bears fans haven't heard about that has the potential to make a big play on Sunday.
Tandler: I'll go with Matt Bowen, who may be familiar to some Bears fans as he started his career with the Packers. He'll be blitzing frequently and when he's not blitzing he hits hard, so there's a good chance that he'll force a fumble or get a sack. Offensively, it's tight end Chris Cooley. The Redskins lack size among their wide receiver corps so Cooley will be Ramsey's favorite red zone target.
Tandler: Give me one player on offense and one on defense that most Redskins fans haven't heard about that has the potential to make a big play on Sunday.
Klabacha: Mike Green moved from strong to free safety during the off-season in hopes off using his cornerback skills as a centerfielder going after the ball. He could come up with an errant Ramsey pass. Rookie WR Mark Bradley led the NFL in receptions and yardage during the preseason and is looking for more. Aside from Muhsin Muhammad, the six-foot-1, 200-pound Bradley has the best combination of size and speed of the wideouts. He believes he's ready to make a push for a starting role and there's no better ground for proving it than the season opener.