Last week’s Colts-Broncos Thursday night game didn’t exactly capture America’s imagination, and this week’s Thursday matchup between the Commanders and Bears might not be the easiest pre-game sell.
But there actually might be quite a bit on the line in this one.
The Commanders limp into Soldier Field having lost four straight after the comeback victory against Jacksonville in Week 1. The futures of Ron Rivera and Carson Wentz could be put under the microscope with a fifth straight loss.
Meanwhile, the Bears don’t exactly come in scalding hot either. They’ve dropped three of four games, even if all three came on the road. The Bears are 2-0 at home this season, however, with two stronger defensive efforts in those wins over the 49ers and Texans.
The spotlight is on Justin Fields to capitalize after a terrific second-half showing in the loss to the Vikings last week. Bears fans would love nothing more than to see their QB stay hot, even if injuries at virtually every other offensive position have held everything back.
And if the action is sub-par, we can always fall back on some good old uniform chatter. For the first time in franchise history, the Bears will be brandishing orange helmets -- you read that right -- along with orange jerseys.
Perhaps allow extra time to adjust your screens for the monochromatic brightness.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said. “It’s a helmet. It’s orange. It’s different. But I think it (will be) pretty cool just to go out looking like a highlighter, or something.”
Here are four things to watch for when the Commanders visit the Bears on Thursday night on Prime Video:
- Is Justin Fields ready to break out? The Week 5 loss at Minnesota was actually the most encouraging sign we’ve seen from Fields yet this season. In the first four games, Fields completed 50.7% of his passes, averaged 117.8 pass yards and was taking four sacks per game. Against the Vikings, he hit on 71.4% of his passes for 208 yards, taking only two sacks and turning in his first zero-turnover game of the year. Even with a slow start in Week 5, it was the first time this season Field has looked poised, controlled and -- dare we say -- dangerous. This is the kind of game where he must be efficient at the very least. The Commanders have been a mixed bag defensively, limiting yards and third-down conversions but allowing 25.6 points per game and forcing a single turnover -- back in the waning moments of Week 1. Perhaps Chicago can attack Washington’s vulnerable secondary downfield. They may get wideout N’Keal Harry back after he was activated this week from injured reserve, and rookie Velus Jones Jr. could see more action after scoring his first TD last week.
- Ron Rivera feeling some heat during his Chicago reunion. With Matt Rhule the first head coach to be fired during the 2022 season, who moves up a hot-seat slot? Rivera is at least in the discussion, whether he deserves to be or not. This is a Commanders franchise that has been cloaked in controversy and a losing culture in recent seasons, and the 1-4 start -- with four straight losses -- hasn’t helped ease the tension any. Rivera is 15-23 with one playoff appearance but no winning seasons. He’s typically been a better second-half-of-the-season coach, and Washington dug itself out of early holes the past two years. But it’s getting late earlier this year in an NFC East division that has just two losses among the remaining three teams. This game almost feels like a must-win game for the Commanders … but couldn’t you say that about the Bears, too? Rivera is well-liked in Chicago, where he was a linebacker on the 80s juggernaut and later the team’s defensive coordinator during the Lovie Smith heydays. But with so much tension around Rivera’s current team, this might not feel like a class trip.
- How long a leash does Carson Wentz have? The Commanders have scored 35 points combined the past three games. Rivera might have thrown his QB under the bus inadvertently this week, saying “quarterback” was the difference between his struggling team and the other three thriving NFC East clubs. Even if the comment was misconstrued, there’s an elephant in the locker room: Wentz has made plenty of mistakes. He’s had one or more interceptions in four of five games; the one game he didn’t, he was sacked nine times. Wentz also has fumbled six times, lucky only to lose one of them. Adding injury to insult, Wentz has a banged-up shoulder. He’ll play Thursday but will be without impressive rookie WR Jahan Dotson (hamstring) and TE Logan Thomas (calf). They’ve already cycled through three centers this season. So getting back on track against Chicago in a short week won’t come easy. If that doesn’t happen, the talk of how long Wentz should be the starter will crank up during the mini-bye that follows.
- Bears defense needs to check when kickoff time is. There has been a strange dichotomy with Chicago’s defense. First halves have been a problem. Second halves have been mostly lights out. In first halves, the Bears have allowed 6.0 yards per rush, seven rushing touchdowns, a 4-1 TD-INT ratio and 8.2 yards per pass play. After halftime, they’ve given up 3.9 yards per rush, one rush TD, a 0-4 TD-INT ratio and 6.4 yards per pass. What gives? It’s hard to find consistent explanations, but coordinator Alan Williams has done a good job adjusting as games go on. The Bears will get back their top corner, Jaylon Johnson (quad), back after he missed three straight games due to injury. That would help out a secondary that has had some rough patches recently. The third-down defense has been a problem all season -- and not just relegated to first halves. Last week, the Vikings converted 12 of 15 third downs in a one-score game that came down to the wire.