Welcome back to another week of Thursday Night Football, where this evening we will be treated to a matchup between the Chicago Bears and the Washington Commanders. Chicago got off to a surprising 2-1 start but has lost back-to-back games, while Washington has dropped four in a row after a season-opening victory over the Jaguars.
Let's quickly break down the matchup. But first, here's how you can watch:
How to watch
When the Commanders have the ball
Carson Wentz enters this contest in serious danger of an in-game benching if he continues to play the way he has of late. He began the season with back-to-back solid performances against the Jaguars and Lions (57 of 87 for 650 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions, six sacks, one fumble), but has backslid immensely against the Eagles, Cowboys, and Titans (75 of 123 for 740 yards, three touchdowns, three picks, 14 sacks, five fumbles).
Ron Rivera threw Wentz under the bus earlier this week, and if he doesn't put it together against the Bears, Washington could turn to Taylor Heinicke or rookie Sam Howell. The team even has incentive to shut Wentz down if it doesn't look like he's the answer, because if he plays 70% of the snaps, the third-round pick Washington owes to the Colts becomes a second-rounder. The bet here is on a change being made eventually, if not necessarily tonight.
Not helping matters are Washington's injury issues among the pass-catching corps and offensive line. Sam Cosmi, Jahan Dotson, and Logan Thomas will miss this game with injuries, and Dyami Brown is questionable. The Bears will get Jaylon Johnson back from an injury of his own, giving them a big, physical corner to match up with Terry McLaurin on the perimeter. If Washington can get him or Curtis Samuel matchup up with rookie slot man Kyler Gordon, that would present a much more favorable matchup. The last time the Bears were on TV in primetime, Gordon was lit aflame by the Packers. It hasn't gotten much better for him since. According to Pro Football Focus, when in slot coverage Gordon has allowed opponents to catch 23 of 24 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. That's a 142.4 passer rating.
Wentz is liable to take a sack or three, and Washington's offensive line is no great shakes. Trevis Gipson (14 pressures) and Robert Quinn (10) have been the top pass rush threats for Chicago this season, and rookie Dominique Robinson has flashed at times as well.
The Commies have begun phasing Antonio Gibson out of the game plan in the backfield after the return of Brian Robinson last week. It might still be a three-way committee between those two and J.D. McKissic for a couple weeks as Robinson gets back to full strength, but time seems to be nearly up for Gibson, who has been comically mis-used during his stint in Washington. (He was a hybrid receiver/running back at Memphis and has been utilized as an early-down grinder who almost never plays in passing situations.) Perhaps Robinson can jump-start the run game and help Wentz get back on track with more play-action passing.
When the Bears have the ball
The Bears have actually resembled an NFL passing offense these past couple weeks after going to absurd lengths to not throw the football early in. Justin Fields attempted just 28 passes in Weeks 1 and 2, and while one of those games was played in monsoon-esque conditions, that is still ridiculous. In Week 3, he was 8 of 17 for 106 yards and two interceptions against the Texans.
Chicago finally started throwing the ball down the field a bit more often in its most recent two games, and Fields has gotten closer to rediscovering his chemistry with Darnell Mooney. This is still not a high-volume passing offense (he's thrown 43 passes the last two games combines; Patrick Mahomes threw that many passes against the Raiders on Monday night), but it's showing signs of life -- or at least a pulse.
Fields remains a high-level threat with his legs, and he has at least eight rush attempts in every game this season. If Washington's pass rush wins the battle up front, he'll have to do some work to create outside of structure. Chicago's offensive line has held up better than expected so far this season, but it's still not a great unit, particularly up the middle, where Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne can cause some issues for them.
Washington is much more vulnerable through the air (29th in Football Outsiders' DVOA) than on the ground (sixth), so it'll be interesting to see how much the Bears are willing to tip the balance of their offense to the passing game. They've preferred to lean on Fields, David Montgomery, and Khalil Herbert to move the ball, but the likelihood of success in that department seems lower here than in some previous games.
Prediction: Bears 17, Commanders 16