By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Nine games into the 2019 season and the Chicago Bears are at a compelling fork in the road.
Ultimately their playoff chances are likely slim to none but that can change with a perfect finish to the rest of November. December looks to be an absolute gauntlet and the Bears have to have a great November and December to qualify for the playoffs. The Bears opportunity presents itself right now as they have a chance to go to .500 with a win against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday night.
After the Rams are two winnable games in the Giants and Lions. Harsh reality could easily spoil the party because a loss this Sunday essentially eliminates any playoff hopes. This Rams squad is not the same vaunted team it was a year ago. Last week the highly touted Rams offense was shut out from the end zone by the Steelers. Quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay are either hungover from the Super Bowl or just having a bad year this season. Part of the issue has been the dramatic drop off of running back Todd Gurley.
Without a dominant run game from Gurley has equaled the landslide in offensive production. As sad as this year has been for the Bears, they have an opportunity to win a big game on the national stage. Here are the goals to getting an important victory in this turbulent season.
Where’s the D? — The fall from grace continues for the Bears defense. Where is edge rusher Khalil Mack by the way? Mack’s presence really hasn’t been felt the last few games and overall the Bears need him as well as the other defensive stars to make some plays. It has been tough sledding without defensive tackle Akiem Hicks but this lack of defensive dominance has been surprising.
Quarterbacks like Lions backup Jeff Driskel have been able to put up numbers on this Bears defense. Last year the Bears were the best in football in holding quarterbacks to the lowest rating. Signal callers did not find any success against the Bears in 2018 but now backups can come in and win the day. This Rams offense was amazing a season ago but the Bears held Goff to a 19.1 rating with four interceptions.
Can the Bears repeat that performance, the answer is highly highly doubtful, but they have to play solid and have a couple wow moments none the less. This game is truly a defensive battle as both the Rams and Bears defenses are the strengths of their team. Goal here is for the defense to be the better defensive unit on Sunday.
Breakthrough or Breakdown — Last Sunday’s win against the Lions showed a potential break through for the Bears offense. Still the offense has to iron out their discombobulation but the ball actually went downfield and touchdowns were scored.
Most likely the Bears offense is champing at the bit to go back on the field and continue to build upon some success. Its obvious that the Bears defense won’t be able to carry the Bears like they did against the Rams last year. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and head coach Matt Nagy have to find a way to score at least 20 and give their defense a chance to win the game. Of course a great way to control the game and the clock is to get the running backs going.
Maybe then Trubisky can use some play action and rollouts to create some big time downfield throws. Nagy just seemingly doesn’t have the patience to stick with the run. Big goal for this offense is to show a step forward on offense from last week.
Battle of Attrition — As soon as the week started it was positive because the Bears were getting a huge break with three Rams starters being downgraded to out Sunday night. The Bears looked like the healthier team and had a chance to really take advantage of the Rams woes. But as this week has gone on, some tough injury news has sprung up for the Bears.
The big names are running back David Montgomery as well as tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. Losing Montgomery would be huge because he has definitely flashed and shown up for the beleaguered Bears run game. Without him the team will likely turn to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, running back Tarik Cohen and preseason all star Ryan Nall.
When it comes to the tight ends, neither has played well at all this season but without both leaves a huge hole at the position. The Bears have very little talent and depth at tight end and they may be down to their third or fourth string guys. Bad bad news for Nagy and his offense as well as Trubisky because now they lose those big bodies in the pass game.
If these guys can’t go Sunday, it means the rest of the team will have to step up and mainly the stars. May be a tough goal but some unnamed or named heroes need to show up for the Bears without potentially their best running back and top two tight ends.
A Full 60 Minutes — Both of these teams come into this game desperate for a win but maybe the Rams even more so. Not only do the Rams need this game but they have lost three of their last five games since the beginning of October.
This Rams team also came into the year with more expectations and they made the huge financial commitment to Goff. But man has that extension looked bad because Goff has really struggled. Then on top of it this game is being played in Los Angeles. Plain and simple the Rams need this game and will be very desperate.
Playoff caliber football is a full 60 minute game that has to be played well from kickoff to the final tick. Goal for the Bears here is to play a full game and not have the lapses of poor play they seem to routinely make. Last week against the Lions, the Bears played one great quarter but had a couple bad quarters also. This can’t happen in this game if the Bears are going to be victorious.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR