By Bryan Dietzler
The 3-5 Chicago Bears, fresh off of a victory on Monday night over the San Diego Chargers, will travel to St. Louis to take on the 4-4 St. Louis Rams. The Rams are coming off of an overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings in a game played on Sunday. The Bears have been playing a lot of close games as of late and haven’t been blowing anyone out. With a strong defense, the Rams promise to make this yet another close game that could end up being a defensive struggle.
The following is a look at some of the key factors that could contribute to a Bears victory or loss in this game. There is a look at individual players and how they should perform as well as what group efforts need to be made to bring home a win for the Bears. There is also a “stab” at a final prediction for the score of this game.
The Bears offense has been notoriously slow to start games this season. They don’t really start scoring or moving the ball effectively until the second half of games and haven’t scored a single point in the third quarter so far this season so something has to give. The offense needs to start out better and faster in games so they don’t wind up having to go down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter to win or lose a game. It’s time for the Bears to get moving on offense and score as much as possible as quickly as possible. That will help eliminate the close games and get them more wins.
This is the week we might see Matt Forte back in the lineup. He has been doing some practicing, albeit light practice and there is a chance he could be back in time for this game. If he can’t go rookie running back Jeremy Langford is more than capable of being the starter and rushing for some yards. So far this season, the Rams are allowing just 104 yards on the ground per game so finding running room may be a little difficult for the Bears this Sunday. Chicago itself is rushing for an average of 109 yards per game so they might get their average but probably not much more than that.
For the Bears, being able to run the ball and control the clock is a must. They have to keep the Rams from marching up and down the field and scoring. If they can feed either Forte or Langford the ball and at least control the ball for a while then they should have some success. They can also use Cutler on some running plays as needed to help move the ball on the ground but it’s essential that they control the ball and the clock for as long as possible. This may be very difficult though with the stellar defensive line that the Rams have but perhaps the Bears can find a way to beat them this week.
The Bears passing game may be hurting a little bit this Sunday. Star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery came up injured in practice with a groin injury and head coach John Fox has said he is day to day but he has not practiced. He is the Bears number one weapon at the wide receiver position and has posted three 100 yard receiving games in a row so far this season. Without him in the lineup the Bears will be hurting on offense. Another solid wide receiver, Eddie Royal, will be out with a knee injury so if Jeffery is out of this game the Bears will be without two of their top receivers. This will make things very difficult for the passing game if this was to happen.
The Bears are averaging 237.4 yards per game passing the ball. The Rams defense is giving up 219 yards per game on average so the Bears should be able to get about their average in this game but they need to do better. If the Bears can’t run the ball they are going to need to pass it much more often since running against the Rams defense is difficult. Look for the Bears to get tight end Martellus Bennett involved more often in the passing game as well as new star tight end Zach Miller who proved that he can be a big asset in the passing with his spectacular catch against the Chargers on Monday Night Football.
So there are a lot of “ifs” with the Bears offense this Sunday against the Rams. “If” they can run the ball. “If” they have Jeffery in the lineup. “If”, in Jeffery’s absence anyone else can step up and catch the ball. So there are a lot of factors that will go into the Bears having offensive success in this game. Lucky for Chicago, the Rams may be missing some of their key defenders for this game (Chris Long being one of them). Can the Bears maximize their offense with key players out on both sides of the ball or will they stall out like they have until the fourth quarter and finally get hot? Let’s just hope the Bears play a consistent game on offense or else it’s going to be another long and perhaps close game that they may not win in the end.
The defense for the Bears only allowed 13 points the other night to the Chargers and have actually been keeping opponents from scoring a lot of points against them in their last two games. The defense will have their hands full, though, this week as they face one of the best running backs in the league in Todd Gurley. Gurley has been a consistent force running the football for the Rams since he recovered from a previous injury and has gained a lot of yards in a short amount of time.
As a team, the Rams are gaining an average of 135.5 yards per game on the ground which is very good. The Bears defense is allowing teams to gain an average of 121.6 yards per game against them on the ground so the Rams could get their usual average of yardage in this game. The Bears do allow some yards on the ground but they have been good about keeping opposing runners out of the end zone. They may not be able to contain Gurley but as long as they keep him out of the end zone and keep him from breaking long runs for huge gains they may be ok but keeping Gurley contained is a must.
The Rams passing attack isn’t a strong one. Quarterback Nick Foles hasn’t been that effective in the passing game but St. Louis does have a dangerous weapon at wide receiver in Tavon Austin and when he gets his hands on the ball anything can happen. The Rams also brought in short yardage and third down specialist Wes Welker and he will be playing his first game as a Ram. It’s possible he may have an impact so the Bears need to keep an eye on him.
All told, the Rams are averaging just 177.1 yards of passing per game on average. The Bears defense is allowing teams to throw for an average of 220 yards per game so the Rams may get a few more yards in the game depending on how well the Bear’s defense does. Chicago’s defense managed to keep the top passing quarterback (in yards per game) under 300 yards on Monday night so they should be able to stop Foles from getting too much going down the field. They just have to contain the wide receivers from gaining too many yards after the catch or catching those long balls.
One thing that will help the Bears is something that we touch on ever time we do a game preview and that is getting pressure on the quarterback. The Bears were able to get some pressure on Phillip Rivers in their game on Monday and then, when it mattered with the game on the line, they got to him for two sacks. The Bears need to put some pressure on Foles because that will help him hurry passes and throw incompletions or even better, force him into throwing interceptions that the Bears can use for opportunities to score. Getting pressure on Foles will be a big part of the Bears winning this game.
The secondary played pretty well against the Chargers on Monday night albeit they were going against number two, three and four wide receivers. Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller both had a nice game and the safeties played pretty well. The Bears secondary is going to have to try to shut down Austin and Welker in this game and make it so they don’t catch the ball or gain a lot of yards after the catch. The Rams passing game is definitely not the strongest that the Bears have seen so keeping them contained could be something the Bears are able to do.
The Rams do have a solid special teams unit so the Bears are going to have to be on top of their game in this one to ensure that the opposing teams special teams units don’t take advantage. This means that there needs to be special attention paid on coverage units so that the Rams players don’t get any long returns or returns for touchdowns. On the Bears side, kicker Robbie Gould has been in a little bit of slump as of late and he spent the week with an illness so it will be interesting to see what happens to him if he is called upon to kick a field goal. Hopefully he can get things back on track. Punter Pat O’Donnell has been pretty solid this season but punt coverage units have been less than stellar.
The biggest factor in this game will be whether or not Jeffery plays. If he plays the Bears have an excellent chance of winning this game but if he doesn’t then the offense is going to struggle. Players like Marques Wilson and Cameron Meredith, among others, are going to have to step it up and play. Cutler is going to have to get the ball out to these number three and four receivers and use the running game, if they can get it going, to add to the offense’s potency. But in the end hopefully Jeffery will play.
The defense will have to contain Gurley and make sure that he doesn’t run all over them. They need to get pressure on Foles so that he makes mistakes which the Bears can take advantage of. And on special teams they need to contain the Rams returners and keep them from having long runs or scoring.
If the Bears can put together a better game on offense and play consistently and score in the first three quarters of the game they should be able to pull this one out. The Rams stellar defense is hurting so the Bears need to take advantage of that and play well in this game. If they can be consistent on both sides of the ball and do the things that we have discussed in depth, they should win this game.
Prediction: Chicago 24 St. Louis 17