What makes this game an intriguing matchup comes down to what Head Coach Sean McVay has up his sleeve for the Bears’ highly valued defense.
Chicago’s defense is one of the best in the NFL leading the league in turnovers. It’s therefore imperative that the Rams not make self-incurred mistakes. This is also a game where the Rams defense must once again improve over the previous week’s performance to rise to the occasion.
This is going to be an old-school battle and certainly not the gimme that many Rams fans envisioned when the 2018 schedule first came out.
What the Rams need to do on offense
The trade for EDGE Khalil Mack has changed the fortunes of the Bears. After DT Aaron Donald, he’s by far the next best defensive player in the NFL. He must be neutralized.
The Rams need to come out on fire by upping the tempo with no huddle. They need to force the Bears offense to match the Rams score-for-score. Rather then coming out throwing the ball all over the place, the Rams should establish the run and stay with it. The Rams must keep the Bears’ defense guessing, motioning often out of set formations. They need to utilize the fly sweep and other lateral run plays off the edge. The Rams’ offense has to dictate the tempo of the game and put the Bears’ defense off balance since Chicago is most effective when they can reasonably predict what the opponent’s offense is going to do and attack.
Even if the run game appears ineffective, the benefits will be apparent in time. Once we reach the middle of 3rd quarter, this is when the playaction downfield and screen passes will be most effective.
QB Jared Goff simply must play better than he did last week. He’s going to be called on upon to make the critical third down plays to keep drives alive. He’s got to be fast with his reads, and he’s got to be on target. Even if the Rams fall short of scoring touchdowns, putting up three points and taking time off the clock will put pressure on the Bears’ offense to match the Rams—something the Professor does not think Chicago can do.
This will certainly be a challenge for McVay who aggressively attacks defenses. He should take what the Bears’ defense gives you and stay away from trying to do too much until the time is ripe for the knockout.
Patience is a virtue. That’s exactly what the Rams offense needs this weekend.
What the Rams need to do on defense
The fact that Chicago ranks fifth in points per game is misleading. The Bears score points based on their defense’s ability to cause turnovers. In reality, Chicago’s offense looks like their 20th-ranked yards per game metric. At this point in the season, the Bears’ offense is a meager 19th in pass yards and 16th in running yards per game.
Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky is expected to return to the starting lineup after sitting two weeks with a shoulder injury. He’s bound to be rusty early.
The Rams’ defense must take advantage of this through the first few possessions. Don’t let Trubisky get into a rhythm. From the outset, Trubisky needs to get acquainted with DT Aaron Donald and make this a friendship which lasts the entire game.
I like the Rams’ secondary to make some big plays in this game. McVay confirmed that CB Aqib Talib will be off a snap count which should lead to more three-and-outs.
I also like the Rams to improve against the run as they started to do last week against the Detroit Lions. The Bears’ run game is better than the Lions’ for sure but not that much better with RB Jordan Howard averaging a mere 3.4 yards per carry. The second-best runner is Trubisky, but he can’t afford the risk of getting that shoulder injured again scrambling out of the pocket.
Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy has done a marvelous job bringing Chicago respectability again. He is certainly up there for Coach of the Year and wouldn’t surprise me if he wins although my preferred choice is Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll for what he’s done with a team that was supposed to be retooling.
The Rams’ defense is on the upswing, and this game must be another feather in their cap as they prepare for the playoffs.
What the Rams need to do on special teams
K Greg Zuerlein has to make his field goals. It’s gonna be cold night in Chicago which causes the pigskin to become heavy making it difficult to kick the long ones. In addition Soldier Field is known for its swirling winds in the Windy City. The bottom line is that field goals early and often may make the difference in this game. We can’t afford misses from Legatron.
P Johnny Hekker will probably see more action than Rams fans are used to. He needs to pin the Bears down inside the 20-yard line as often when he’s called upon. The Bears have a good punt returner in Tarik Cohen, so the punts have to be caught for fair catches or muddled into deep territory. The Rams’ coverage cannot break down allowing Tarik to get to the second or third level for big returns to help their offense with field position.
PR JoJo Natson Jr. can make a huge impact with a big return this week, but I’ve been saying this for a while now and it’s not coming to fruition. He almost had a big one last week, however it was called back for a penalty. A big punt return by either team could change the momentum and fate of this game in either direction.
As noted, wind conditions could play big part of this game. So if KR Pharoh Cooper is on kickoff return duties, he’ll have an opportunity to help out. The one thing that continues to plague Cooper is the bad decision to run the ball out of the end zone when taking a knee for the touchback would be the smarter play.
For most Ram fans, weather is the biggest x-factor. However, this week its been rainy and cold in Los Angeles giving the Rams plenty of time to get accumulated to the expected forecast. In addition, the Rams already played in cold weather against the Denver Broncos and won nevertheless. I’m not saying it won’t be a factor since cold is cold, but I never believe that weather should be an excuse when you’re the better team.
The biggest x-factor is the importance of the game for the Bears.
They laid an egg last week losing to the New York Giants and now hold a very slim 1⁄2 game lead over the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC North while the Rams have already clinched the West division. The Bears’ schedule doesn’t get any easier down the stretch. Even though they play the lowly Green Bay Packers next, that’s gonna be tough game given their history. They must also play the Vikings in Minnesota in the last game of the season.
You can call this matchup a “must-win” for Chicago. On the other hand, the Rams have plenty to play for themselves and can ill afford to lose this game since they are battling for a bye in the playoffs and home field advantage throughout.
The bottom line is that if the Rams truly want to remain atop the discussion of being the best team in the NFL toward Super Bowl LIII, then they have to win this game since championship teams win games like this against opponents who also appear to be contenders.
It’s not going to easy. I believe it will be close game up to the end but the Rams should be victorious.
Now is the time to play like Champions.