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Week 1 Game Preview: Bears at Rams

The regular season is here, let’s meet the first opponent!

Rams training camp in Irvine, CA.

A new NFL season is here, but the excitement for Chicago Bears football is perhaps tempered a bit by our continued wait to see Justin Fields finally get under center for Chicago.

In the meantime though, it’s the Andy Dalton show and how he plays will go a long way in determining how patient Bears fans will be... or not.

The Bears have one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult schedule — depending on the metric — and there is no bigger example of that than their week one opponent.

The Los Angeles Rams are expected to be Super Bowl contenders and with the moves they’ve made this offseason, it appears Super Bowl or Bust just might be their 2021 season moniker.

The biggest move they made was trading for Matthew Stafford, the long time Detroit Lions quarterback. While Bears fans might like to dump on the Lions, I think most fans would recognize that Stafford is a pretty good quarterback that’s been let down by his supporting cast and, truth be told, Chicago would embrace a QB of Stafford’s talents in a heartbeat most years prior to the arrival of one Fields, Justin.

This Rams squad is a familiar one to the Bears, they’ve faced each other each of the last three seasons and since that fateful Sunday Night Game in 2018, that ratcheted the Bears into true playoff contenders, the Rams have bested the Bears.

Sunday night’s game is likely the lowest expectations of any of the recent meetings, save for last October’s game.

Let’s re-acquaint ourselves with Los Angeles and see if there is an angle for the Bears to pull off an upset.

Los Angeles Rams

SB Nation site:

2020 Record: 10-6, second in NFC West

Game day, time, TV: Sunday, 7:20 p.m. CT, NBC

Bears all-time record against: 53-38-3, including 1-1 postseason

Historical meetings: The Bears last played the Rams to open a season in 1950.

Quarterbacks Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack threw just 19 passes, but Luckman hit John Hoffman for a 44-yard touchdown.

George Halas wanted to keep the ball on the ground, as George Gulyanics carried the ball 26 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.

The Rams’ star-studded roster, including Hall of Fame backfield Bob Waterfield and Norman Van Brocklin wasn’t enough on this day. Elroy Hirsch caught a Waterfield touchdown, but both Rams QBs were picked off once.

Bones Weatherley intercepted one of those and returned it for a touchdown.

The Bears won 24-20.

Last meeting: The 5-1 Bears traveled to the 4-2 Rams in week 7 last year on Monday Night Football and despite the records, it sure seemed like the Bears were playing with fool’s gold.

Sure enough, the Bears’ offense mustered just three points with Nick Foles throwing two interceptions, while Jared Goff threw two touchdowns.

The defense kept Chicago in it in the first half but in the third quarter the Rams took their 10-3 lead to 24-3. The Bears’ only touchdown came on a late Eddie Jackson fumble recovery touchdown.

The Bears lost 24-10 and began their six game losing streak.

Injury report: The Rams listed four players on their Wednesday injury report:

Did not participate: DL A’Shawn Robinson (knee), OLB Terrell Lewis (rest), OL Andrew Whitworth (rest)

Limited participation: WR Ben Skowronek (forearm)

Offense: Last season the Rams offense lagged for the first time in the McVay era, finishing 22nd in points and 11th in yards, both their lowest rankings since 2017.

They ranked 13th in passing yards and 10th in rushing yards.

As already mentioned, leading passer from last year Jared Goff is now in Detroit, so in steps Matthew Stafford, who should allow McVay to have a QB with more ability than the coach has had. Last season, in Detroit, Stafford had 4,084 yards, 26 TDs and 10 INTs.

Stafford’s top targets are WRs Cooper Kupp (92 rec./974 yds./3 TD a year ago), Robert Woods (90/936/6) and TE Tyler Higbee (44/521/5).

He’ll also have DeSean Jackson (14/236/1 for Philadelphia a year ago), who, yes, is still in the league and is still good for roughly one deep ball a game. Listed as the co-starter for third WR spot along with Jackson is 2020 second round pick Van Jefferson (19/220/1).

They may also look to work in their top pick from this year’s draft, second round WR Tutu Atwell from Louisville.

In the backfield the Rams took a huge blow with the loss of Cam Akers early in training camp and now list Darrell Henderson (138 att./624 yds./5 TDs a year ago) as the starter but they recently acquired Sony Michel for two draft picks. Michel had 449 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Patriots in nine games last season.

Defense: The Rams had the number one defense in the NFL last year, both in points and yards allowed.

They had the number one pass defense and number three rushing defense.

Any discussion of the Rams’ defense starts with Aaron Donald, the three-time and defending Defensive Player of the Year. Donald, coming off his sixth-straight All-Pro honors, had 13.5 sacks, 14 TFL, 28 QB hits and four forced fumbles last season.

There’s also former Bears first round pick Leonard Floyd (10.5 sks/11 TFL/19 QB hits), who is coming off his best season as a pro.

In the defensive backfield they have All-Pro Jalen Ramsey (1 INT/9 PD/44 tkls) and their leading interceptor last season, Darious Williams (4 INT/14 PD/44 tkls).

Key match ups:

  • It all starts in the trenches, doesn’t it? The Bears’ offensive line has to protect Andy Dalton if the Bears are going to be able to score points. They also need to open up running lanes for David Montgomery and company because the Bears aren’t in a position to hang with the Rams and need to control the clock as well.
  • As mentioned before, let’s see how Darnell Mooney stacks up against Ramsey and see if he can put his moves on the veteran again.
  • For the defense, getting after and rattling Matt Stafford is paramount for Chicago. Stafford is good, but no quarterback likes pressure and this is the strength of the Bears’ defense.
  • It’s pretty established that Jaylon Johnson should have his man well-covered, but obviously the rest of the cornerbacks are suspect and unproven. That’s where the Rams are going to target, so how Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley match up against Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and DeSean Jackson.

Key stats:

  • The Rams averaged 29.7 points in September a season ago
  • Sean McVay is 4-0 in week one as Rams head coach, while Matt Nagy is 1-2
  • Matthew Stafford is 6-14 in prime time games in his career
  • However, Stafford is 11-9 against the Bears as a starter, his best against an NFC North opponent
  • Andy Dalton is a nearly equal 6-17 in prime time games
  • Aaron Donald has four sacks in four career games against the Bears

Do you have a reason to be optimistic about the Bears Sunday?