The Los Angeles Rams host the Chicago Bears on Sunday, about 11 months since the last time the Rams hosted the Bears. Though both teams underwent changes at starting quarterback and defensive coordinator, most of the names and faces that met last October are going to have a reunion in a few days.
Which components of the game did the Rams struggle in against Chicago in last year’s 24-10 win for LA? And as tends to happen in an easy victory, in what areas did the Rams win handidly?
Thrived - Rams short passing vs Bears short pass defense
Though this was not one of Jared Goff’s best performances of 2020, it was one of his better performances. Goff completed 23-of-33 passes for 220 yards with two touchdowns, and LA was consistently picking up first downs throughout the first three quarters.
That included a 52-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, a 58-yard field goal drive in the second quarter, and two touchdown drives (one going for 80 yards) in the third quarter.
Goff carved up 21 completions in the short and intermediate areas of the Bears defense, only seeing six of those attempts fall incomplete. One thing to be wary of will be Chicago’s potential upgrades in the front-seven: the Bears will now have Alec Ogletree, they’re getting back nose tackle Eddie Goldman after he opted out in 2020, and breakthroughs are expected for defensive end Bilal Nichols and former Rams pass rusher Robert Quinn.
Would the change at quarterback for LA have been necessary if the Rams played Chicago every week? How much better will Matthew Stafford do than Jared Goff’s 23-of-33 for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks performance of a year ago? (Goff also fumbled.)
Actually, Stafford might be able to do considerably better, if the upgrades he’s received this year among his supporting cast is any indication.
Struggled - Rams deep passing vs Bears pass defense
Goff was 2-of-7 passing on deep throws — an area that we know Sean McVay wants to see improved — plus he had a 22-yard pass interference penalty. Once LA took a 14-point lead early in the second half, Goff didn’t throw another deep pass all game. But what if the Rams find themselves needing a quarterback to complete deep throws in the fourth quarter?
Overall, Goff averaged 8.1 air yards per target in that 24-10 win against Chicago.
When Stafford faced the Bears in Week 1 of last season, he averaged 8.9 intended air yards per target on 42 passes, and when he met them again in Week 13, he averaged 13.6 iay/t in a 34-30 win over the Bears. Also on 42 pass attempts.
In Week 1, Stafford went 5-of-9 on those deep throws, gaining 116 yards.
In Week 13, Stafford went 8-of-13 on deep throws, gaining 182 yards with two touchdowns.
His receivers in Week 13 were Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Danny Amendola, and Quintez Cephus. He’ll now be throwing to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, and Tutu Atwell at receiver.
Thrived - Rams rushing offense vs Bears run defense
Even without Cam Akers a year ago in this game, LA managed 160 rushing yards on 34 carries: 15 carries for 63 yards for Darrell Henderson, 10 carries for 57 yards for Malcolm Brown, four carries for 23 yards to Woods, and one 16-yard carry for Kupp.
This Sunday, the Rams should have Henderson again, but he’ll be spelled by Sony Michel and Jake Funk.
Chicago’s front-seven, as noted, is hoping to have improved a run defense that was below their standards last year: the Bears ranked 15th in rushing yards allowed, ninth in yards per carry, and 14th in points allowed. One potential reason for Chicagoptimism is new defensive coordinator Sean Desai, a highly-regarded longtime Bears assistant who has brought energy to practices so far this year.
I would expect this game to fall more on the shoulders of Stafford and the passing game than on Henderson and the ground game, but every NFL team wants to be successful when they run the football. LA was protecting a lead throughout last year’s game and will hope to do the same this weekend.
Thrived - Rams rushing defense vs Bears run offense
Thrived - Rams pass defense vs Bears passing offense
It was a dominant performance for the number one defense: the Bears didn’t score a single offensive touchdown and were held to one field goal when they had the ball. Their only touchdown came on a fumble recovery late in the game.
LA held Chicago to only 49 yards on the ground, their fourth-lowest total of the regular season. It was also the fourth-best total of the Rams season for rushing yards allowed, and Brandon Staley’s defense forced two turnovers.
One interception for Taylor Rapp, who will be starting on Sunday.
One interception for Jalen Ramsey, whose matchup “against Allen Robinson” will be featured throughout the broadcast.
The Rams ranked third in rushing yards allowed and third in yards per carry allowed in 2020. Will Raheem Morris have LA back in the top-five of run defense with Michael Brockers in Detroit, Morgan Fox in Carolina, and a rebuilt linebacker corps?
Don’t count out Chicago running back David Montgomery, as he forced the third-most missed tackles in 2020 after Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. If the Bears offensive line is at all improved with new center Sam Mustipher, new left tackle Jason Peters, and Cody Whitehair moving to left guard, then perhaps Montgomery can be more effective than 48 yards on 14 carries.
The Bears punted on five of their first six drives last year, and turned the ball over on all five of their final drives of the game, if you count turnover-on-downs.
It was a dominant performance.
The change that Chicago made that we all know about comes at quarterback. Nick Foles started against his old team last year and went 28-of-40 for 261 yards with two interceptions, getting sacked four times. New starter Andy Dalton is what he is, but he’s certainly proven many times over in his career that he’s better than Foles.
Dalton was moderately better than most remember with the Dallas Cowboys last season and he has a pair of dangerous weapons in Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. If Justin Fields gets into the game, then all bets are off because nobody knows for sure what the rookie out of Ohio Sate will do at the pro level, but he too seems an upgrade to Foles and would give Chicago greater odds of not getting shut out of the end zone once again.
Struggled - Rams not-fumbling vs Rams fumbling
Los Angeles would have had an even lower points-per-game average last season if not for this fumble by Woods.
Goff was sacked once and also fumbled, so the idea here is to not fumble.
Struggled - Rams receivers vs Bears defense
While I would never blame LA’s talented wideouts for the Rams’ offensive issues over the last two years, this is an area where hopefully improvement is coming because of Stafford.
Woods was held to three catches on five targets for 22 yards in the last meeting.
Kupp was held to six catches on six targets for 43 yards.
I expect a comeback performance from Rams star pass catcher Cooper Kupp against the Bears on Monday Night! Last year Goff and Kupp connected for a big play against Chicago... pic.twitter.com/jfNqQP0pdH— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) October 21, 2020
Josh Reynolds was targeted eight times, catching four passes for 52 yards with a touchdown.
Van Jefferson caught his only target, gaining 14 yards.
Goff threw towards Chicago cornerback Buster Skrine eight times, completing seven passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. He threw at Kyle Fuller seven times, completing five passes for 51 yards. He threw at linebacker Danny Trevathan four times, completing three passes for 63 yards.
None of those players will be on the Bears defense on Sunday.
Instead, second-year players Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor will start at cornerback, as well as former Steelers corner Artie Burns. Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson return at safety.
With more and better deep passing from the quarterback position, Woods and Kupp should get more and do better.
Overall, LA didn’t struggle often during their 24-10 win over the Bears last season. With no huge changes on either side other than improvements at quarterback for both teams, the Rams can hope to get their third win over Chicago in the last three years.