In last season’s 24-10 win over the Bears on Monday Night Football, the Rams used tempo and misdirection to ware down Chicago’s front seven, which allowed the offensive line to pave the way for 160 rushing yards, with 120 of those coming from running backs, and another 40 yards from wide receiver jet sweeps. The front-five also did well in pass protection, allowing only one sack.
Chicago primarily runs a 3-4 defense. However, they do have a new defensive coordinator in Sean Desai, who was promoted from within after spending the last nine seasons in the Bears organization.
Desai will have the luxury of having a stacked front-seven, including Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, and Khalil Mack.
Akiem Hicks DT 6’4 347 pounds
While Hicks may not put up big sack numbers from his defensive tackle position, only producing 4.5 sacks in his last 20 games across two seasons, he does have a nice arsenal of one on one moves when he finds himself singled up against an offensive lineman. He loves to grab the wrists of opposing offensive lineman, completely eradicating their chances of blocking him. Hicks led the Bears with 21 quarterback hits in 2020.
Against zone blocking schemes like the Rams, he loves to use the offensive lineman’s momentum and specific play responsibilities against them. If the run requires the offensive line to zone block to the left, Hicks will simply shove the lineman’s right shoulder in an attempt to get instant penetration and blow the play up in the back field. He’s also a film rat, studying tendencies and body language of each individual offensive lineman, sometimes allowing him a pre-snap advantage.
Hicks will most likely find himself lined up in front of right guard Austin Corbett for most of the game, as he played closest to the B gap 44 out of 58 snaps when Los Angeles hosted Chicago last year. Corbett did a good job against Hicks, despite giving up 40 pounds to the much bigger defensive tackle. He didn’t surrender a single sack, and only allowed one tackle for loss.
Expect Hicks, entering in the final year of his contract, to be highly motivated and very well prepared, especially since his worst game of the 2020 season came against the Rams, according to PFF.
Eddie Goldman NT 6’3 318
Goldman returns to the middle of the Bears defense after opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19. The 2019 Pro Bowl alternate specializes in defending the run.
Both All-Pro Khalil Mack and head coach Matt Nagy are excited to have the six year veteran back for the 2021 campaign.
“Oh man, I love that dude,” Mack said. “I love Eddie G. He does everything you need him to do: rush the passer, play the run, take on double teams. And he does it very, very effectively. Just knowing the type of person Eddie is, he does it and doesn’t even care about all the extra things that come with it and that’s the type of guy that I love playing with.”
Even though Goldman skipped all offseason activities until training camp in August, Nagy stated that conditioning doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“It’s great to get Eddie back,” said Nagy. “Conditioning-wise, no worries, no issues at all. He’s been great. And then I think just for all of these guys, just to go through the pre-game stuff, get out there for a few plays, see where he’s at … but again, you’re always making sure that you’re careful a little bit with the reps, who plays, how long they play, because you want to have him Week one.”
Whatever Eddie Goldman (No. 91) did to stay in shape during his time off, it worked.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) August 29, 2021
He was clearly the #Bears premiere run-stopper last night and should a huge boon to the Bears' defense. Should both he and Hicks stay healthy, the Bears can comfortably field a lot of DBs. pic.twitter.com/xVMdRoUVZ3
Goldman will likely be face to face with center Brian Allen. This is going to be one of the most important match ups in the game. The decision to install Allen as the starting center has been scrutinized by some within the Rams fan base. The last time we saw him in a starting role, there were more negatives than positives. However, reports out of camp were positive, indicating Allen is bigger and stronger than previous seasons. Thankfully, there won’t be a huge size advantage, as Goldman only outweighs Allen by about 15 pounds.
Bilal Nichols DE 6’3 313
Nichols is a young, versatile chess piece on the Bears defensive line. During the 2020 contest against LA, according to pro football focus, Nichols lined up all over the defensive line, registering 16 snaps near the A gap, 16 near the B gap, 10 snaps head up with the tackle and another 2 as an edge rusher.
He has the ability to be stout against the run while also being able to generate heat on opposing quarterbacks, recording a career high five sacks in 2020.
The former Deleware Fightin’ Blue Hen is very instinctive. He has an exceptional feel for screens, as evidenced by his one handed interception on a screen pass by non-other than Matthew Stafford during the 2020 week 13 contest against the Detroit Lions. Nichols almost had another interception on a screen pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 15.
Though the Bears have shown that they like to move him around, Nichols is likely to spend a decent amount of time lined up against the least talked about Rams offensive lineman, left guard David Edwards. Being anonymous is a good thing for offensive linemen. Edwards is mostly anonymous because he does his job well, and should continue that trend in week one.
Though he had a rather quiet game against the Rams last season, expect Nichols to bring everything he has this season, starting with week one in LA. He is in the last year of his rookie contract, and may on the verge of some generational money if his on field performance continues to ascend.
Robert Quinn OLB 6’4 250
One of two former Rams in the Bears’ starting front seven, Quinn finds himself at a bit of a crossroads this season, after a career low two sacks in 2020. He’s well known as a sack master off of the edge, but most of that success has been as a defensive end in a 4 man front, not an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, though he did have 8.5 sacks in his final season with the Rams in then defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
Defensive coordinator Coach Desai is expected to sprinkle in some four down defensive lineman packages in an effort to maximize the Bears’ personnel, much like former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano did last year.
“If you’ve known my career, if you know me, you know where I like to be,” Quinn said, when asked how Desai can bring out the best in him, via Adam Hoge of NBC Sports. “I think (Desai) knows where I’m best dominant at. At the end of the day, you got to do what best fits the team but also what best fits the players to get the best out of the player … I think we’re all on the same page. I get the opportunity to hopefully re-prove myself and hopefully earn the respect — or however you want to say it — from the guys (and) make sure I don’t disappoint them with the season like I did last year.”
Quinn has always had a high motor, along with his signature bend coming around the corner. That high motor and relentless pursuit of a turnover (Quinn has 27 career forced fumbles) was on display last season against the Rams when he forced Robert Woods to fumble on a jet sweep, leading to a scoop and score for Chicago’s only touchdown of the game.
His sack totals are likely to increase in his second year in the system, especially if Desai does increase his opportunities to put his hand in the dirt. Playing opposite of Mack won’t hurt his chances either, as he is likely to see mostly one on one matchups.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will be tasked with making sure Quinn’s sack totals remain minimal, at least for one more week. Quinn may have a speed advantage, but I have the utmost confidence “Big Whit” will hold his own against the former North Carolina Tar Heel. Whitworth has shown no signs of slowing down, and I won’t believe he will until I see it.
Alec Ogletree MLB 6’2 245
Ogletree steps in at inside linebacker in his first season with Chicago to fill the void left by Danny Trevathan being placed on injured reserve. The former Ram wasted no time making his presence felt at Bears practice, reportedly intercepting six passes in his first four days with the team.
While those results are unlikely to replicate themselves in the regular season, Ogletree hopes to at least recapture his 2019 form, where he was tied for second on the New York Giants with 80 total tackles. He also had a sack and an interception that season.
Roquan Smith ILB 6’0 230
Smith is everything you want in an inside linebacker in this era of football, where the NFL is continually becoming a passing league. He’s smart, instinctive, and is legitimately sideline to sideline fast. The former Georgia Bulldog has eclipsed 100 total tackles for the third year in a row, racking up 137 tackles in 2020.
What he may lack in “meet you in the A gap and destroy you,” he more than makes up for in his coverage ability. That is not to say he is a finesse player because he absolutely is not. He is more of a sure tackler than a big hitter.
Forgot how good Roquan Smith could be. That could be a big boost for this defense this year pic.twitter.com/KLWIFIZz2J— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 6, 2019
The speed that allows him to be so good in space while covering running backs and tight ends, also gives the former high school wide receiver an advantage when playing against zone blocking schemes. As if that isn’t enough he basically has GPS coordinates to the ball at all times.
Honestly, the best bet is running right at him and hope that the slightly undersized linebacker gets engulfed by the offensive line. Oh, he’s also pretty good at avoiding blockers. He can also sniff out a screen pass from a mile away. I could keep going, but you get the point. Smith is a certified baller.
Khalil Mack OLB 6’3 260
I don’t want to talk about Khalil Mack. I hate the fact that he very easily could have been a Ram. If the Rams had drafted Mack with the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft instead of Greg Robinson, he would have been paired with the eventual thirteenth pick and reining best player in all of football, Aaron Donald. Let’s think about that for a second.
Mack is an absolute terror. While he has produced under 10 sacks for two years in a row for the first time in his career, he is capable of completely wrecking a game plan in an instant.
Khalil Mack and the Bears defense isn't making it easy on Jared Goff tonight. pic.twitter.com/Qj6yi9Pz15— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) October 27, 2020
Los Angeles did a relatively good job keeping him from stuffing the stat sheet in 2020. Outside of one sack and forced fumble on former quarterback (for some reason I smiled when I typed that) Jared Goff after a nasty fake out on right tackle Rob Havenstein, Mack was mostly quiet. Hopefully Havenstein, who will again have the unenviable task of blocking one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, has a similar performance. Minus one sack fumble, of course.