By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The Chicago Bears enter Week 14 with a prime-time time contest against the Los Angeles Rams on the docket. This is another measuring stick game for the Bears, the type they haven’t had since this past October when the Patriots came into town and barely survived.
These measuring stick games give fans an idea of how their team compares to some of the heavy Super Bowl favorites and in this case there’s a chance to pick up a significant amount of confidence regarding who is going to represent the NFC in the Big Game.
Los Angeles is no doubt a heavy Super Bowl favorite with a high octane offense led by an innovative coach in Sean McVay and a young and exciting quarterback in Jared Goff, these two can rival pretty much any other coach quarterback combo in the league currently and they have the confidence of just under two years of unqualified success working together.
Under McVay’s tutelage, the Rams have given Goff a bunch of weapons around him, including a terrific run game headed by superstar Todd Gurley as well as a line that does a great job protecting him weekly. On defense the Rams have the likely 2018 Defensive Player of the Year in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and he leads a fierce, but occasionally inconsistent, front seven.
Fortunately, the Bears will be full strength in their effort to contest this strong Rams team, that became fairly certain after Wednesday’s practice as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was able to participate fully. It looks like Trubisky will be able to go this week after missing the team’s last two games. If there is ever a game where Mitch can prove he’s the missing piece on a potential championship contender this will be it.
A lot of great individual talents will have a chance to show out for both sides, also potentially being showcased will be similar organizational philosophies running through these two winning teams. This should be a great game on Sunday Night Football and here are the four goals for the Bears to measure up and play their part.
Control the Rock — The Bears have featured the better offense in most of the match-ups they have had this season, that won’t be the case here as this Rams team is on another level, a level the Bears are hoping to be on by next season.
In order to stay in this ball game, the Bears will have to do their best to stop the Rams offense but it’s also up to the offense to assist in that goal by staying on the field and controlling time of possession. Doing those two things will allow the Bears to give a huge boost to the defense.
The Bears will have to score in bunches to win this game but just as important as scoring will be keeping Goff and the Rams offense on the sideline. Head coach Matt Nagy will likely throw the ball a good amount as he seems to lose patience in the run game but whatever he decides to do, there has to be a sizable part of the game plan to keep control of the ball. If this game becomes an offensive track meet, then the Bears will not be able to win the game on Sunday.
Chicago will need this game to include a great defensive effort from its team, as well as some big plays downfield from the offense and control of the game clock to avoid said shootout.
And Now the Main Event…Donald vs. Mack — Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in the league and will be the next name on a short list to win back to back defensive player of the year (DPOY) awards.
Khalil Mack is the best edge rusher in the league and won the same award back in 2016. The match-up in this game is the Bears defense — brand name Mack and Co. — against the Rams offense as both are the definitive strengths of their team.
Two questions arise quickly in the face of that insight — Which strength will be more reliable to produce the win? And in an era that favors offense, can the Bears defense stand any chance to make a difference?
Well, the answers to these questions depend heavily on who has a better night between Donald and Mack. The Bears defense will have to get pressure on Goff, especially since he is not a threat to run, because if the Bears don’t get pressure then they will be asking a lot out of their secondary. So in order to get pressure it comes down to what Mack will be able to do on his own.
The whole defensive line will have to contribute but it may take a Lawrence Taylor (the last defensive player to win the League MVP in 1986) – type of effort from either of these men to secure victory for their respective side. Donald and the Rams defense have less pressure on themselves to perform and Donald may be trending as a better, more impactful force overall than Mack at the moment.
If Donald gets things going and starts to take over then Chicago will need a response from its defense, the most obvious candidate to speak up is Mack.
If Mack ends the game with a better stat line than Donald then that would be a large step towards a big regular season victory.
Give Me 10 — The Bears are in line to have the return of their starting quarterback this week, the kind of momentum-inducing development that the Rams don’t have available to them this week.
Trubisky gives the Bears a much better chance to win this game compared to backup quarterback Chase Daniel, assuming Money Making Mitch does play, what an interesting story line it will be for NBC to obsess over throughout its broadcast.
Trubisky’s place stands to be square under the microscope, but that’s really where he has been all year long, then add the fact that this is potentially a team the Bears have to beat in the playoffs and a certain amount of focus should be inbred in the QB and everyone around him.
A certain rust factor may show itself early on in the game for Trubisky, . hopefully it won’t be too much of an issue given what will be called on from #10 to win.
A good day from the Bears defense would be holding the Rams to the high 20s, currently the Bears score 28.7 points per game but that may not be enough so Trubisky is going to have to do three things to ensure a better than average performance — take care of the ball, create big plays after scrambling with his arm or legs and convert on third downs.
This will be the toughest challenge to date for Trubisky in his young career. He has talked about living for these moments, now he has to go lead his team to the kind of upset win that will ensure him eternal life in this town.
Classical Conditioning — An interesting factor in this game should be the conditions in which it will be played in. The current forecast for the Chicago area is for a clear Sunday night with temperatures around 25 degrees with wind between 5-10 mph.
It is talked about all the time how cold weather teams have an advantage against warm weather teams in cold weather. Of course it comes down to players playing and being focused on the game rather than the cold.
Nonetheless, when you go on the road into a foreign environment with extreme temperatures it is hard to adjust. The Bears will likely get a boost from a cold weather advantage over their Southern California counterparts but in order to really freeze a team out one needs to come out playing well from the opening kick. When you are losing in the cold it is difficult to not fade as the game progresses.
Another factor regarding the cold weather could play out in the kicking game. Bears kicker Cody Parkey should have an advantage here, assuming he is practicing at Soldier Field again this week. Yet another potential factor, this one in favor of the Rams, is their running team with Gurley and running the ball goes hand in hand with football in cold weather.
Basically, the advantages in a game such as we should see Sunday can easily be taken away if the players don’t come out strong and get off to a fast start. This is the type of game where you need to use every advantage you have in order to get a much deserved win.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears for WARR