The Chicago Bears (8-4) will square off with the Los Angeles Rams (11-1) this Sunday night at Soldier Field. The Bears will be looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants while the Rams look to continue their domination of the league. The Bears will get their starting quarterback back this week as Mitch Trubisky is likely to start after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury.
Everyone knows what makes this Rams team is special is their offense and head coach Sean McVay’s label as an offensive guru. However, their defense is still a very solid unit and has one of the most dominant players in the league in MVP candidate Aaron Donald. Here is a deeper look into the Los Angeles Rams defense.
The bread and butter of this defense is their front no questions asked. They have one of the best inside duos in the league with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. We’ll get to Donald a little later. Suh, on the other hand, may not be the force he once was, but he is still a guy that can create major problems inside. Coming into this game he has 3.5 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, and 14 quarterback hits. The two outside guys on most occasions are Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam.
Fowler came over this season in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A former top-five pick, Fowler adds speed to the edge to compliment the power they possess inside. Ebukam has become a solid player after being a fourth-round pick a year ago. He currently has 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and a pick he returned to the house.
If there is a weak area on this defense it is definitely in the linebacking corps. Mark Barron and Cory Littleton are both solid players, but neither of them make you say “wow” watching film. Barron converted from safety to linebacker so he has the speed to stay with most tight ends, but can be a liability in the running game.
He is not having that great of a year as he only has 43 tackles in 8 games. He started the season battling an Achilles injury and missed the first four games, but has not really made a major impact since returning. Littleton, on the other hand, is having a very solid year. He has 95 tackles, 4 sacks, and an interception through 12 games. He has excelled in both stopping the run and defending the pass, but again not a game changer by no means.
During the offseason, the backfield of this defense looked very scary on paper after they acquired Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib via trades, two of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately for them, Peters has not been as productive as he was in Kansas City and Talib has been battling injuries all season. In fact, Talib returned last week after being on the IR since week 3 with an ankle injury. He was on a snap count and only saw the field for 26 snaps. This week, however, he will not be on a snap count and will be a full go. When healthy, Talib is a stud corner and can hold his own with the best in the league.
Peters is having somewhat of a down year when you compare it to his three first seasons in the league. Through 12 games, he only has two interceptions, one of them being returned for a touchdown. His lowest total in his career was 5 a season ago in only 14 games. The nickel corner is Nickell Robey-Coleman on most plays. The nickel spot is where the real damage can be done on this defense whether it being Coleman in that spot or Sam Shields.
The strong safety and free safety are John Johnson III and Lamarcus Joyner. Johnson is having a solid year thus far with 3 interceptions and 86 tackles. Johnson is the safety of the back end that often slides down into the box and helps with run support while Joyner plays more of a ball-hawking role due to him being undersized at just 5’8 190 pounds. He plays much bigger than his size, however, as he flies around and does not shy away from contact. He only has one interception this season but also has 62 tackles and a sack to his credit. Similar to the linebackers, the safeties are not going to drop anyone’s jaws, but they get the job done.
The Rams’ defense cannot be discussed without spending a considerable amount of time on Aaron Donald. He leads the league in sacks (16.5), tackles for a loss (20), and quarterback hits (32). which is absolutely unreal coming from an interior lineman.
This is even more impressive considering that he faces double or triple teams on a consistent basis. It gets better. He is also as clutch as they come on that side of the ball. He leads the league in fourth quarter sacks (7.5). The Rams have also scored touchdowns following all four of his forced fumbles this season. The numbers just begin to tell the story when describing Donald. He is a complete game wrecker and can win games for the Rams by himself.
Defensive Coordinator: Wade Phillips
The defense is primarily a 3-4, but they have the personnel to give offenses a number of looks. There times where Donald will line up inside or outside along with Suh moving around too. They are able to keep their linebackers on the field more than other teams due to Barron being a hybrid linebacker/safety.
Despite boasting a handful of superstar names on defense, they have been slightly below average this year. They come in ranked 18th in yardage, and 19th in points giving up 24.8 a game. Again, their high powered offense has been what has won them most games as the defense has not been able to shut down opposing offenses at all.
The Rams do not blitz as much as other teams because why Blitz when you have Aaron Donald? They come in ranked 16th in blitz percentage at 22%. The problem is that when they do blitz, they often get burnt. They allow the highest passer rating on blitzes in the league at 127.1. This makes it clear why they tend not to blitz that often as it clearly does not produce good numbers for them.
The Rams have been weak against the run as they come in ranked 18th in rush yardage per game with 118.4. Another week, and another suspect rush defense the Bears will face. The run game has to get going sooner or later in these cold games approaching on the schedule. On top of that, it will be big to get a run game against the Rams to keep that offense off the field.
They will stay in man coverage more times than not due to their corners being able to cover guys and the rush of Donald inside. This is where that nickel corner spot becomes their Achilles heel. It is not that Peters and Talib have shut down anyone by any means, but they are much better in coverage than the slot guy is. The man looks will also have a single high safety majority of the time occupied by Joyner.
Matchup the Rams can exploit: Aaron Donald vs. the entire Bears offensive line
No surprise here. The Bears have a solid offensive and they have done a good job of protecting the quarterback this season for the most part. However, they have not faced someone as dominant as Donald. Rookie James Daniels will be in for his biggest challenge yet. I am sure Matt Nagy has a plan in mind to slow him down, but that is much easier said than done.
Trubisky will be returning after missing two weeks so he will surely have a little rust to get off. That will be a lot easier without Donald breathing down his neck all game. If the Bears cannot slow him down early, it can quickly become a nightmare for Mitch.
Matchup the Bears can exploit: Taylor Gabriel vs. Rams nickel corners
The entire nation tuned in a couple Mondays ago to see the shootout between the Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. Granted the Rams did not have Aquib Talib in that game, but it seemed like every other play Tyree Hill was flying down the field uncovered for touchdowns. Sam Shields had no business covering him, and it was a matchup that the Chiefs exploited the entire game.
Now Taylor Gabriel is not Tyreek Hill, but he is still a speedster that can take the top of any defense. He can be in for a big game if he finds himself with a corner covering him not named Talib or Peters.
This game will tell us just how serious these Bears are in 2018 as it will be their biggest test yet. I am sure most fans are confident in the defense’s ability to at least slow down the Rams offense, but the truth is that the Bear offense is going to have to put up a good chunk of points to come out of this with a win. If Donald can be kept at bay and the Bears skill players can take advantage of some easier matchups, then it would not be surprising to see a Bears victory. The Bears can make a statement to the entire league with a win here, but it is not going to come easy by no means.
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