The Los Angeles Rams are trying to keep pace in the absolutely wild NFC West. The 49ers blew out the Patriots on Sunday, while the Seahawks and Cardinals played a Sunday Night Football classic, with Arizona winning in overtime. The Rams host the Chicago Bears on Monday night, in a battle of two more teams that have designs on making the playoffs.
Chicago is off to a surprising 5-1 start, led almost entirely by a stifling defense that seemingly rivals the one that carried the team to the playoffs just a couple years ago. L.A. is just behind at 4-2 and coming off a dreadful performance in a primetime game just last week.
Let's break down the matchup.
How to watch
When the Bears have the ball
It may seem like the Chicago offense has been much improved with Nick Foles under center rather than Mitchell Trubisky, but that's not exactly true. In the first two of Trubisky's starts, the Bears averaged 333.5 yards and 22 points per game. Trubisky started the third game of the season but was eventually benched for Foles, who led a comeback agains the Falcons. But in Foles' three starts, the team has averaged just 257.7 yards and 18 points per game. They have faced a tougher slate of defenses, to be sure, including those of the Colts and Buccaneers, but it's not like this is an offense suddenly humming at peak efficiency now that there's been a change under center.
Instead, the Bears are largely still struggling to move the ball. On the year, they are averaging just 4.8 yards per play -- the third-worst figure in the league behind only the Jets and the Washington Football Team. They've scored on only 35.3 percent of their possessions, 26th in the NFL. They've scored a touchdown on only 10 of 19 red zone trips, a conversion rate that also ranks 26th in football. They've converted only 39.3 percent of third-down opportunities, 29th in the league. Their average drive has traveled only 27.6 yards, which ranks 29th as well. Their 1.88 points per drive average ranks 24th, but considering that they have been afforded the league's fifth-best average starting field position, it feels much worse than that.
The Chicago run game has completely deteriorated without Tarik Cohen, as David Montgomery has struggled to gain any kind of traction over the past three weeks. The Bears have run for a total of 126 yards over their past three contests. It is incredibly difficult to see them establishing much in the way of a ground game against the Rams, despite the fact that L.A. has allowed at least 100 yards on the ground to five of six opponents and ranks near the bottom of the league (28th) in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards per carry, which assigns credit for rushing yards to the offensive and defensive lines as a percentage of yards gained. The Rams have stuffed only 10 percent of opponent runs at or behind the line of scrimmage, but the Bears have seen 19 percent of their carries get similarly bottled up.
The one saving grace for the offense so far is that Foles has been under pressure only a slightly above-average percentage of the time, seeing defenders in his face on 32.5 percent of drop-backs, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media. The Rams have generated pressure only slightly more often than that (33.2 percent) but have generally done so without resorting to many blitzes. Being able to get to or near Foles while still playing coverage gives L.A. an advantage on this side of the ball -- especially if the Rams decide to use Jalen Ramsey to shadow star Bears wideout Allen Robinson.
Ramsey has been moving around the formation a bit more this season than in years past, working in the slot to be in position to make more plays. Robinson moves around the formation quite a bit as well, but where that type of tactical alignment used to allow a receiver to avoid Ramsey's coverage, that's no longer the case. If the Rams decide they want Ramsey on Robinson, he'll be on Robinson; and then Foles will be left trying to work secondary matchups with Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, and/or tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet.
And being able to do any of that presupposes the offensive line holding up against the likes of Aaron Donald, who should have a tremendous quickness advantage against the Bears' interior offensive line. In other words, it's likely to be incredibly tough sledding for Chicago in this one.
When the Rams have the ball
The Rams are coming off a dispiriting performance against the 49ers last week. They ended up with 390 total yards and an eight-point margin of defeat, but both of those figures oversell the job they did moving the ball. Jared Goff had easily his worst game of the season, completing just 19 of 38 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. (The second score was a 40-yard chuck jump-ball to Josh Reynolds in what was essentially garbage time.) Despite not being sacked, Goff seemed somewhat rattled in the pocket, throwing high, low, and wide of his intended targets several times.
It took the Rams quite a while to get their run game going against San Francisco, so it would not be a surprise if they came out and try to run the ball right at the Bears early in the game. Chicago hasn't been quite as stingy against the run (11th in DVOA) as the pass (11th), so it makes sense for the Rams to try to get that part of their offense going, knowing that it plays such a large role in their play-action attack as well.
Los Angles likes to rotate its three backs -- Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, and Cam Akers -- but because the Rams couldn't sustain drives for much of last week's loss, they didn't get the chance to do that. Henderson has looked like by far the team's most effective runner this season, but Sean McVay has been pretty insistent that this will remain a committee.
The bad news for the Rams is that the Bears have allowed just 3.85 yards per carry against zone runs so far this season, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media, and they've stopped 14 of 86 such carries at or behind the line of scrimmage. The better news is that the Bears have been somewhat vulnerable to play action throws, allowing a 98.1 passer rating on throws after a run fake, compared with a 67.2 rating on straight dropbacks. The latter tendency plays into the Rams' preference for play action plays featuring layered crossing routes, and could provide an opportunity for the likes of Robert Woods and/or Cooper Kupp to find openings over the middle of the field.
In order for Goff to find them, however, he'll surely need to be well protected. Again, there is good news and bad news here. Goff has been under pressure less often than almost any quarterback in the league, getting sacked, hit, or hurried on only 24.5 percent of his dropbacks. The Bears have pressured opponents quite a bit more than that (29.5 percent), and that figure is even higher (30.7 percent) since Robert Quinn's return to a full-time role in Week 4. Quinn and Khalil Mack will surely put pressure on tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, but the Bears' biggest pass-rush advantage might be up the middle, where Akiem Hicks will get to work against L.A.'s interior offensive linemen, who are not as strong in protection as the tackles. (Hicks reportedly had an illness during the week, but is expected to play.)
If the Rams are able to hold up in protection, they may still have some trouble finding openings down the field. The Chicago pass defense has allowed four touchdowns this season and has five interceptions. Opponents are completing only 57 percent of their passes at an average of 6.1 yards per attempt. The Bears typically play sides with the cornerbacks instead of having Kyle Fuller shadow, so the Rams will be able to get Woods and/or Kupp matched up against slot man Buster Skrine or rookie Jaylon Johnson if they want, but those guys have been solid enough in coverage that the Bears shouldn't feel too terribly about the matchups.
Prediction: Rams 21, Bears 16