The Chicago Bears are a tough team in a couple of different ways. Sure their defense is stout, but would you believe guys named Urlacher, Peppers and Briggs don't lead the team in tackles? Yup, Major Wright, their strong safety, leads the team with 13 tackles. With a monster defensive line, and great line-backing core, guess who from this group leads the team in sacks? Defensive tackle Henry Melton leads the team in sacks with three. While you'd think (or I would anyway) of the Bears as a rushing team, their first downs come via the pass over rush by a 2 to 1 margin. They convert on third down at a rate of 33%, while only allowing opponents a 25% conversion rate. The Bears star quarterback, Jay Cutler, has been sacked nine times this year, and he's thrown five interceptions. His quarterback rating is 58.5... Hmm?
So when you look at the 2012 Bears, after this little two game statistics primer, most have to wonder how they were ranked so high by NFL pundits prior to the season's start. I don't wonder about the Bears - I worry. The thing is, none of the stats you just read reflect the team I know will take the field against the Rams today. They are two and three deep on the defensive line, and their linebacker corps is top notch. Some think the Bears corner backs and safeties are a weak point, but don't bet the ranch on it. They'll come into this game after an embarrassing loss against division foe Green Bay. That means the Rams will be playing their first away game against a team with something to prove.
The Bears players I'll be watching will be key to winning this game. While Cutler and Brandon Marshall will be marque names for the offense, they won't be the ones Rams fans need to worry about.
First up on my list of Bears players to watch is slot receiver Earl Bennett. Think about it: You have a quarterback that has no time in the pocket, so what do you do? I'd take a page out of the Rams playbook against the Washington Redskins. On passes, Cutler will make short drops and get the ball out in two or three seconds. While Marshall is a big target, do you really want him catching short slant passes around James Laurinitis? Bennett will be their guy, and I wouldn't be surprise if he gets between 12 to 15 looks in the 4 to 12 yard range. He'll be their first down machine on third down. I also think Bennett will get more looks in the red zone outside of the five yard line.
Next up is Michael Bush, and yes I know everyone realizes he's going to get the lion's share of the carries. What the Rams will have to deal with is Bush's bruising style of running. They'll also have to find a way to keep Robert Quinn from being swept outside, opening gaping holes in the guard tackle gap. The right side of the Rams defensive line was pounded by the Redskins last week for some big gains. Bush is going to pound this area. He doesn't have the best pass catching hands, and he's not very fluid transitioning from catch, to squaring up to run. The biggest problem will be if Rams corner backs are left to tackle this bruising running back in space.
Henry Melton is another Bear player the Rams need to find a way to block. Sam Bradford has shown he's not afraid to stand in the pocket. This has more to do with the short duration he's been holding onto the ball, with an outside rush taking time to reach him. Melton is a bull, pure and simple. He has the ability to crush the pocket by slamming guards backwards. The Redskins never got the inside rush they needed after Adam Carricker left the game due to injury. Defensive tackle depth is a strong point for the Bears, so look for the Rams interior line to be worked like they've never been before now.
Anyone thinking that the Rams winning this game wouldn't be a monumental upset better think again. This Bears team has some key injuries, but any team coming into Soldier Field had better be prepared for a physical game. They also need to be aware of the no-name player that could light the Bears' spark....