By Bryan Dietzler
The 2-5 Chicago Bears will travel to San Diego to take on the 2-6 San Diego Chargers. The Bears are coming off of a 23-20 loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings while the Chargers lost to the Ravens 29-26. The Bears and the Chargers are virtual mirror images of each other as they have nearly identical records and have been losing close games. Both teams have also suffered a lot of injuries that have held them back and after last week, both teams suffered even more injuries that took some of their star players out of the lineup. While this matchup isn’t between two stellar teams it should be a good matchup because the teams are relatively even in terms of talent and both will be tested heavily in this game.
Chicago is probably going into this game without their best offensive player, running back Matt Forte. Forte is most likely going to miss this game due to a knee injury so the Bears will start Jeremy Langford at running back. He may have some success against the Chargers as their defense is allowing an average of 124.6 yards per game on the ground to opposing rushing offenses. On the flip side, the Bears are averaging 109.9 yards per game on the ground. They have gotten decent production out of Forte on the ground in the past and Langford has flashed when he has been in. They also have a running threat at the quarterback position in Jay Cutler and he showed what he can do last week.
So look for the Bears to give the Chargers a heavy dose of Langford in order to control the ball and the clock in this game. The Bears should find success running the ball as long as their offensive line is in order. As of right now it’s not set just who will be starting on the offensive line this coming Monday night and where they will be starting. Center Hroniss Grasu is still nursing a neck injury and did not practice the first day of practice this week so it’s hard to tell what will happen with him. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod did practice but he may not supplant Charles Leno Jr. as the starter at the left tackle position. So it’s possible we could see the same lineup we saw this past Sunday. That lineup didn’t help produce a lot of rushing yards but was pretty decent in pass protection.
Speaking of passing the ball, the Bears passing offense has been better at getting the ball down the field through the air in their last two games thanks to the return of receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has been catching a lot of passes for the Bears and is a big target that seems to come down with everything that is thrown his way. The Charger’s secondary is sure to key in on him and try to take him out of the game so the Bears may have to find other means to get the ball down the field. With Eddie Royal looking like he’s going to be out due to a knee injury, the Bears are going to have to rely on guys like Marques Wilson and Martellus Bennett to catch the ball if the Chargers shut down Jeffery.
The Charger’s defense is allowing teams to throw of an average of 238.2 yards per game while the Bears offense is mustering an average 223.1 yards of passing per game. So the Bears should be able to get about their average or a little better in this game. The Chargers are most likely not going to be able to stop the Bear’s rushing attack so look for them to throw it through the air not as frequently as they may have done in the past (like the Lions game). Still, with the way the Charger’s passing offense works, if this game gets to be a shootout the Bears could end up passing the ball a lot more than perhaps they would want to.
The Chargers passing offense is one of the top ranked passing offenses in the league. Their quarterback, Phillip Rivers, ranks first in many passing categories this season and there is a good reason why the Chargers are passing the ball a lot this season. Their running game has been rather ineffective. They drafted a good running back in Melvin Gordon but he isn’t performing up to expectations and the Chargers, as a team, are averaging around 86.4 yards on the ground per game. This isn’t good. Some of the problem stems from injuries and ineffectiveness on their offensive line but their running backs haven’t been all that good. The Bears should find some opportunities to keep them from controlling the ball and the clock on the ground in this game.
The Bears defense is giving up 128 yards on average on the ground in games but the Chargers ineffective rushing attack shouldn’t be too much for the Bears to handle on Monday night. Look for the Bears to shut down the rushing offense of the Chargers and force them to pass the ball.
As mentioned, what the Chargers do well is pass the ball. They are averaging 336 yards of passing per game which is first in the NFL. The Bears defense is allowing teams to throw for an average of just 214 yards per game so something has got to give. The Chargers use their passing offense to move the ball up and down the field consistently and they have decent weapons to move the ball through the air but they will be without one of their top targets in Keenan Allen who is gone for the year. They still have other weapons that can catch the ball though so the Bear’s defense is going to have to play some of its best football of the season in order to stop the Chargers offense this Monday night.
One thing that the Bears could do better is get pressure on the quarterback. Rivers isn’t as good of a quarterback when he is pressured so the Bears need to get pressure on him in order to keep him from passing the ball all over the field on them. This means that a player like Pernell McPhee needs to get through his blocks and get to the quarterback. Eddie Goldman and Jarvis Jenkins need to be more active rushing the passer as well. If they can get to Rivers and sack him or at least force him to throw the ball before he wants to and have him make mistakes by throwing interceptions or errant passes.
The secondary needs to lock things down against the Charger’s receivers and prevent them from catching a lot of passes and gaining a lot of yards. The secondary did a good job, for the most part, of keeping the Vikings receivers from doing a lot against them until the end of the game. If the secondary can put together sixty minutes of good football they could limit the Chargers in the passing game and, with good play, could help the Bears win this game.
Special teams has been a problem for the Bears for most of the season. The have had three return touchdowns against them and allowed a successful fake punt against themselves in their game against the Lions. The Chargers special teams aren’t that great so you might not see a lot of action special teams in this game and that’s good for the Bears. They can’t afford to give up anything big on special teams. On the other side of that, the Bears do need to get somewhere with their return game to gain good field position and give the offense a shorter field to work with. Marc Mariani has been doing a mediocre job on special teams and could do better.
This is going to be a good game between two teams that have been close to winning some games this year but just haven’t been able to pull it out. The Bears have the offense to move the ball down the field and score but it will be interesting to see how they do without Forte in the lineup. If they can run the ball and control that and the clock, keeping the ball out of Rivers and the Charger’s offense hands then this could be a good game for the Bears. The defense has to step it up and play better than they have at the end of the recent games they have played. That side of the ball needs to play a whole decent sixty minutes of football in order to win this game. If they do that then the Bears will win.
Score Prediction: Chicago 23 San Diego 20