The Trilogy – How The Rams Can Take The Rubber Match Against The Bears
The Bears and Rams are facing off for the third time in as many years. The first two were pivotal games in the team’s respective seasons.
In 2018, it was a clash of the great NFC powers. The Rams offense was cooking with gas and rolled into Chicago with an 11-1 record. Chicago was on its way to the franchise’s best record since 2006, but they were doing it on the strength of their defense. The Rams scored an average of 32.9 points per game and the Bears held opponents to a league-leading, 17.7 points per game. The age-old football debate all wrapped up into a single game.
The Chicago defense prevailed in that standoff. The Bears won 15-6. They held the Rams offense to just two field goals and picked off Jared Goff four times and sacked him three times.
In 2019, the matchup struck a different note. These were two middling teams attempting to right the ship. The Rams were struggling to find the same rhythm on offense. They were 5-4 heading into the game. The Bears (4-5) were still dominant on defense, but Mitch Trubisky and the offense couldn’t generate enough points to capitalize on their efforts.
Both defenses shined in another low scoring affair, but the Bears had trouble containing the running game. Todd Gurley rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown. Sean McVay made an adjustment from the previous meeting. In 2018, Goff attempted 44 passes for 180 yards. This time around he attempted 18 passes and still got to 173 yards, but this time he didn’t get sacked and threw three fewer interceptions. It should also be pointed out that both Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were injured for this game. The Rams came out on top 17-7.
As the cinematic world teaches, for a great trilogy there must be new themes to raise the stakes, but there also must be continuity to weave it together with the first two installments. We’ve seen many a-great triplicates ruined by a flop in the third installment. Looking at you, Back to the Future III.
The third act of the Rams-Bears trilogy won’t disappoint. Not only is it the rubber match, but it will again be a decisive game in the season for the victor. This time the game isn’t between an unmovable object and an unstoppable force, but between two teams who need to prove that those units make them legit NFC contenders.
The Bears are 5-1 and the defense has again looked fierce, and the Rams offense has that 2018 glow about it. They are 4-2 and looking to bounce back after an upset to the 49ers. While the records might look impressive. All nine of the Rams and Bears wins have come against teams with a collective winning percentage of .348. The only team with a winning record among those teams is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A team the Bears beat by one point. So, this isn’t a retread of the first game.
The Rams have a lot to prove after their loss to the 49ers. Their pass rush was nullified, and the offense couldn’t score points to seal the deal. A bounce-back game against a defensive juggernaut will speak volumes about the viability of this team. The following is how the Rams can prove their stature and how they can take the rubber match against the Bears.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense
The biggest edge the Rams have on the Bears is that they have been good on both sides of the ball. The Bears rank at the bottom in most offensive categories, especially those in passing categories, and with Tarik Cohen sidelined they aren’t any better rushing the ball. In fact, the Bears rely heavily on the passing game. They are 28th in the league, rushing the ball only 36% of the time.
Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams line has a chance to completely shut down Nick Foles in this game. Donald had a rare bad game against the 49ers and that won’t happen again. Generally, Donald is the most feared man on any given Sunday, but add some motivation and some anger to the mix and we will see what that generates in the hearts of man and also on the sack tally.
The secondary should also have a good game. Nick Foles only throws for 3.5 air yards per attempt (28th worst) and his receivers only gain an additional 3.6 yards after the catch, which is last in the league.
This could actually challenge the Rams linebackers. There will be a lot of tackles to be made in their jurisdiction and the linebackers aren’t as strong as the other defensive groups. The Rams aren’t among the worst tacklers in the league, but they aren’t super disciplined at it either. They are tied for 15th, missing 43 tackles this season.
Among the worst offenders are the Rams linebackers. Leonard Floyd has missed 19% of his tackles, Micah Kiser and Samson Ebukam have missed 16.7%, and Troy Reeder has missed 10.5%. That’s 40% of the teams missed tackles in four linebackers. Since Foles isn’t a threat to throw deep very often the Rams do have the option to bring a strong safety up to assist the linebackers. Like Taylor Rapp, he’s 4th on the team in tackles only missing 2.9%.
If the Rams are able to shore up this part of the field, the line and secondary will effectively shut down Foles.
The Rams should hold the Bears to under 10 points.
The Best Offense Is A Good Offense
The Rams won’t have to put a lot of points on the board against the Bears, but they will have to take advantage of the opportunities when they get the chance and they won’t get many chances. The Bears line may be the best from top to bottom. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are some of the best at what they do. What they have been doing is creating pressure without blitzing. This allows the rest of the defense to pursue the ball.
Their secondary has improved from last season. They added Jaylon Johnson in the draft and he has already had a positive effect. Over six games he has nine passes defended. Kyle Fuller has continued to be effective in multiple coverages, which give the Bears versatility. This has all added up to containing opposing offenses to a league-leading, four passing touchdowns. The next best is seven.
The Rams best bet is to do what they have been doing, which is running the ball. The Rams have run the ball 4th most in the league and they are doing it efficiently, they are the top rushing offense by DVOA. They are leading by a long shot too. The next highest-rated team is the Cardinals which trail the Rams by 4.4% points, followed by the Patriots who trail them by 5% points and only three other teams have a positive rushing DVOA. The two games that the Rams have struggled to score are also their lowest rushing production. 23 for 58 yards against the Giants and 19 for 113 against the 49ers.
The good news for the Rams is that the Bears are “less” good against the run. While the passing defense is ranked second in DVOA, the run defense is ranked eleventh. 11th isn’t bad, but it does give the Rams the ability to match their unique strength against the weakest part of the Bears defense. Sean McVay should feed Darrell Henderson the ball a lot in this game. Henderson’s ability to get yards after contact should put the Bears on their heels. The Bears have been 32nd in the league against explosive rushing attacks, per Sharp Football Stats. If Henderson can burst through for a few big gains, the Rams can put some points on the board and control the clock.
A few things have to happen in order for the Rams to execute that game plan. First, the offensive line has to continue playing at a high level. With the exception of Joe Noteboom (David Edwards has played better in relief), the line is intact and healthy for this week and they were a bright spot in the loss to the 49ers. They only gave up four pressures and two hurries.
The Bears defensive line will put them in a stress test. Mack and Hicks are on pace to combine for over 21 sacks and 80 pressures this season.
The Rams will also have to score when they get into the red zone. The Bears are the best in the red zone, stonewalling teams at a 63.6% clip. Meanwhile, the Rams only convert 60.9% of their trips into the red zone, 22nd in the league. But if the Rams are able to move the ball effectively on the ground, settling for field goals may be what puts the score in the Rams favor, given that the Bears aren’t going to be able to score much beyond the mid-teens.
They will also have to create short-yardage situations and to do that they will have to throw the ball on first down. If they can set up 2nd and 3rd and short situations the Rams can protect Jared Goff from the monsters of the midway and they can continue to run the ball. The Bears defense is more susceptible to passes on first down. Per Sharp Football Stats, first down passes are successful 59% of the time against the Bears versus running on first down is only successful 44% of the time.
All this said, the Bears are no stranger to ugly wins. The defense will keep the Rams in check. Like its predecessors, this will likely be a low scoring game and the winner of the trilogy’s rubber match will walk away with proof that they are contenders for the NFC crown.