Entering the 2018 season, the Chicago Bears seemed to like a candidate to mirror the turnaround of the 2017 Los Angeles Rams, however the NFC North didn’t realistically seem up for grabs with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers seemingly ready to make serious runs.
Yet here we are.
Entering Week 14, new Head Coach Matt Nagy has the Bears sitting atop the division with an 8-4 record, and even the most cynical Bears fans are actually (and justifiably) buying in. The Bears success has been made possible by a combination of Nagy updating the offensive philosophy, the development of QB Mitchell Trubisky, and General Manager Ryan Pace acquiring weapons including outside linebacker Khalil Mack who has helped round the defense into possibly the league’s top unit.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s progress will be scrutinized. A year ago the Bears moved up in the draft to select Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, so the Bears need to make sure things work out. Similar to what the Rams did for Jared Goff following his rocky rookie season, the Bears used the offseason to make sure that they surrounded Trubisky the infrastructure that he would need to stay afloat as he developed. They moved on from John Fox in favor of a mind who understood modern offense in Matt Nagy. They also brought in some new targets in receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, as well as former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton. Through the first twelve game, things have gone pretty well.
Trubisky has shown plenty of improvement. In ten games, he has thrown twenty touchdowns, and has a rating of 97.7; stats that aren’t so far off from what Deshaun Watson has done in Houston this season. He has had a fairly even distribution of passes to Robinson, Gabriel, rookie receiver Anthony Miller, Burton, and running back Tarik Cohen. Trubisky has good mobility, so the Rams will need edges Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam to provide containment and keep Trubisky in Aaron Donald’s interior line of fire. If they can accomplish that, Trubisky, like most quarterbacks, should be less effective with pressure. If the Bears have a weakness on offense, it’s their interior line, where guards Bryan Witzmann and rookie James Daniels flank possibly-out-of-position center Cody Whitehair. The Bears hope guard Kyle Long, who injured his foot in Week 8, will return by the playoffs, but in the meantime guys like Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh could be a bad for business.
Just as Rams fans have done at times, Bears fans often wonder if Nagy has forgotten about the run. Nagy has the thunder and lightning combo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen at his disposal . Howard is capable of doing most of the heavy lifting, and has had a really strong couple of seasons to start his career. However, he isn’t a threat to catch the ball much out of the backfield, so it’s hard to know if Howard will ultimately be a long term fit in Nagy’s offense. In fact, third-stringer Taquan Mizzell has seen more activity recently at the expense of Howard. Cohen on the other hand is a prolific receiver out of the backfield, and is perhaps the scariest part of the Bears offense. He and tight end Trey Burton will likely pose the biggest matchup issues against the Rams linebackers.
This unit excels in takeaways. They bring strong pressure, which has led to a league leading 21 interceptions, and they have six defensive touchdowns.
Up front, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Bilal Nichols will be tough to run on. After dealing with Snacks Harrison in Detroit last week, Hicks and Goldman will mean more heavy lifting Rodger Saffold, Austin Blythe, and John Sullivan in the trenches. On the edge Khalil Mack does it all, and will also make things tough for Todd Gurley. Jared Goff may or may not be wearing gloves, but he has had some fumble issues lately, so with Hicks and Mack applying pressure, that will be something to watch.
Behind the line, the Bears look to inside backers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan to clean up and finish things off.
The Bears secondary is strong, and well stocked to try to keep up with the Rams fleet of receivers. Kyle Fuller is having a strong season, as is nickel Bryce Callahan, who will likely be rewarded with a new deal after this season. Opposite Fuller will be former-New York Giant Prince Amukamara who has been a solid CB2. The crown jewel of the secondary though, is free safety Eddie Jackson, who the Bears acquired as the 13th safety taken in the 2017 draft. Jackson has been all-planet for Chicago this year, and makes the whole unit better. Interestingly, the Rams also hit in the same safety-rich 2017 draft when they took safety John Johnson III in the 3rd round. Pro Football Focus currently has Jackson with a high quality grade of 92.9. The Bears strong safety is Adrian Amos Jr., who has also played well, but will be due for a new deal after this season. If the Bears lose Amos, Deon Bush will complete to fill the vacancy.
The Bears defense is solid in its entirety.
The Rams will have to play clean and not turn the ball over. That may be easier said than done, especially in sketchy conditions, but if they can accomplish that, they should ultimately outscore the Bears’ offense.
Let’s see what happens.