Football’s back, baby!
Sunday Night Football’s primetime matchup is set to debut an enticing matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears.
For the Rams, the night will take on a special significance as SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA opens its doors to fans for the first time — at full capacity — in the regular season after the venue had to forego in-person attendance throughout 2020.
SoFi won’t be the only shiny toy that the team debuts as former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford braces for his first snaps as a Ram on Sunday.
With the league eagerly waiting to see how Stafford’s production under Sean McVay will elevate the team toward Super Bowl contention, the Chicago Bears defense will be the first ones to test the new-look passing attack. And they’re certainly up for the challenge.
Here are a couple key notes on the opponent Bears team.
Get To Know The Rams Opponent: Chicago Bears
Key Notes For The Bears Offense
The Bears’ most noteworthy addition of the offseason was the drafting of OSU product Justin Fields. Chicago’s front office was adamant to trade up several spots with the New York Giants to fill a void at QB, not remedied since the Jay Cutler days.
Though the offensive coaching staff has been coy with wanting to promote Fields, following an outstanding preseason, to the starter’s role, their best interest for the offense rests on bumping Fields over Andy Dalton as the starter. Fields finished the preseason 30-of-49, with 276 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 92 yards on 11 carries and one rushing touchdown.
If one were to stick with Chicago’s claims that Andy Dalton can be a bona fide starter for the entire season, then the offense may be fairly vanilla under the efficient, but often deficient, passing attack from Dalton. Allen Robinson, who continually waits on a contract extension to meet his WR1-level production, may grow increasingly frustrated as the season plays out with the lack of deep-ball ability from Dalton and Matt Nagy’s offense will stay in second gear against elite offenses in the NFC North.
In 11 starting appearances for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, Dalton totaled 14 touchdowns to eight interceptions, completing 64 percent of his passes.
It’s always too early to start a rookie QB in Week 1 and expect an improvement over veteran options, but Fields has shown the swagger and dual-threat ability to instantly elevate this offense. Until Nagy can implement a QB with the trajectory to become a franchise quarterback, the offensive outlook remains in a state of free fall.
Key Notes For The Bears Defense
The Chicago secondary is slated for a difficult matchup against the touted new-look Sean McVay offense. Having cut former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, and with safeties Eddie Jackson and Deon Bush not one hundred percent healthy, the Bears defense presents itself as a unit capable of surrendering home run plays to a QB and wide receiving corps in LA that can certainly fly down the field.
Facing DeSean Jackson, Robert Woods and the up-and-coming Van Jefferson as deep play threats, Chicago fans will be praying that the stalwart Bears defensive line, led by Khalil Mack, can pressure Stafford enough times to warrant a couple missed throws — maybe even an interception or two.
According to PFF, the Bears ranked 8th in 2020 in pressure rate against opposing quarterbacks. One of the key contributors to this dynamic was linebacker Roquan Smith. As a member of the stacked 2018 first-round class of defensive rookies, Roquan played his 2020 campaign knowing that a potenital contract extension was in the cards going into the 2021 offseason. Landing closely behind marquee inside linebackers like San Francisco’s Fred Warner and Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard, who both signed market-breaking extensions, Smith’s development in his first few seasons has made him one of the best disrupters of the pocket.
The archetypal D-lineman whose sack totals are slim, but manages to chase the quarterback consistently, Roquan’s prospects in becoming the clear No. 2 player on the Bears defense — behind Mack — are high, and the Rams present an early opportunity to start on the right foot with a recovering offensive line and depleted backfield currently ailing the Los Angeles team.
2021 Outlook For the Bears + Matchup Prediction
An NFL franchise whose history is contingent on dominant defenses over offenses will have to stay true to its formula throughout 2021 as Matt Nagy and the coaching staff tacitly wait on the perfect time to pull the trigger with Justin Fields. All the “QB1” talk that the Bears have hyped up Andy Dalton’s role in the offense going forward may have bound the team to stick with the former Bengals for the short-to-mid term.
Until the Bears hand the keys to Fields, the Bears defense will have their work cut out for them to keep the team in competition for most games. Building upon an 8-8 season that ended with a 21-9 Wild Card Round loss to the Saints, the Bears can build legitimate intrigue as an NFC contender should they find their groove on offense under the right quarterback.
Darnell Mooney is the latest Bears project player with the potential for a breakout season, while running back David Montgomery hopes to rack up the all-purpose yardage in the absence of an injured Tarik Cohen. The Chicago roster continues to boast a gamut of sneaky good players, which adds to the evaluation of head coach Matt Nagy and what his longevity on the team looks like, should they lead another season of failed expectations.
Regarding the aforementioned new-look Rams offense under Stafford, this unit will be taking on the bulk of the production considering the LA’s backfield poor luck over the offseason that falls second only to the Baltimore Ravens. After losing Malcolm Brown to free agency and Cam Akers to a season-ending injury, the Rams’ game plan is likely to not be keen on featuring a tandem of Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel heavily in their first week together. Stopping the run game may prove to be the Bears’ best shot at controlling the night’s tempo, or at least their only advantage over Los Angeles going into the game.
Time for bold predictions? The Chicago Bears end their season 7-10, started off by a 27-10 loss to the Rams.