Romilly Evans previews a key MNF clash, where he expects an improving Chicago outfit to have enough defensive might to shut down the power in Washington...
"I say Mr Biscuit won't crumble in the national spotlight of MNF"
Chicago Bears @ Washington Redskins
Start-time: Tuesday, 01:15
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Defense will prove the difference in Week 3 primetime clash
After some last-second heroics at Empower Field, the Chicago Bears return to action in Monday night football for another meeting with the Washington Redskins. It's a chance to bolster their record to 2-1 and keep pace with some white-hot rivals in their division.
Against the odds, the NFC North is already the NFL's hottest division - the 3-and-0 Green Bay Packers lead the way, and even the Detroit Lions (2-0-1) are undefeated. That said, concerns persist that the Pack's Aaron Rodgers is playing injured, while the Lions perennially prove a fragile pride, so the preseason favourites in Minnesota and Chicago must maintain stride to stay within striking distance as and when their opponents' trademark mishaps inevitably arrive.
The Bears' notoriously stingy defense continues in good heart this season, allowing a miserly 24 points in the first fortnight. Led by all-star pass rusher Khalil Mack (the only defensive player in top 10 of the league's jersey sales, don't ya know?) they limited a supposed "elite" quarterback in Joe Flacco to an aggressively average Passer Rating of 83.1, and then restricted the Denver ground assault to under four yards per carry. The thin Mile High air did the rest, freeing up Eddy Pineiro's erratic boot from 53 yards for the game-winning field goal as the clock wound down.
Bears' offense stalling under Trubisky
Yet, while some things stay the same on defense, the Chicago offense is somewhat stalling under the stewardship of young general Mitch Trubisky who is struggling to embody the "no interceptions" mantra with which he announced his career in the Windy City. Ultimately, if you decline to pass so often, it's somewhat less impressive and Trubisky needs to step up from a paltry 16/27 conversion rate for just 120 yards last week. I mean, he wasn't even sacked, and seldom pressured!
Minimising the mistakes, however, may be enough in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Mr Biscuit (as his freshman peers curiously named him) can instead keep handing off the pigskin off to David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen in the backfield. These running men should theoretically pack a powerful one-two gore for the Bears - in turn, loosening Trubisky's throwing arm to gash a Skins' secondary, which appears to be reading from contradictory scripts, for some deeper downfield strikes.
Granted, theory and reality are sometimes awkward bedfellows. But Washington simply couldn't contain the run against Dallas when Ezekiel Elliott constantly moved the chains for 111 yards off 23 carries. Montgomery is no Elliott, for sure, but the Redskins' collective weakness on D is there to be exploited.
All of which means it will be left to Case Keenum to keep pace under center. The much-maligned QB has already garnered 601 yards, five touchdowns and a key 69% completion percentage (part of a wider 111.2 Passer Rating) across those first two games. So, talk of replacing him seems a little harsh, even if Washington have faltered in the second halves of both their opening contests.
Execution on a play-by-play basis remains vital, though - and Chicago's more reliable team cohesion sets them apart here. Many will point to the fact that Trubisky's third-down conversion rate is currently plumbing new league lows, but such stats are only fledgling and, much like turnovers, often tethered to rank bad luck at this stage of the campaign.
It may not be pretty, but I say Mr Biscuit won't crumble in the national spotlight of MNF.
Back Chicago Bears (-5) to win on the Match Handicap @ 19/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back Chicago Bears (-3) to win on the First Half Handicap @ 19/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back Over 22.5 Away Team Points @ 19/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back D.Montgomery to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 7/1; 7/5 on the Betfair Sportsbook