NFL football is back, and the Bears get to start by facing a formidable opponent and a familiar friend. I got a chance to chat with Kenneth Arthur of Turf Show Times about the changes on the Rams this offseason, the cool new quarterback they are actually going to start, and our upcoming matchup.
WCG: Let’s start at QB. The Rams acquired perennial loser-to-Bears Matthew Stafford this offseason. If he struggled to beat the Bears with Matt Patricia and a supporting cast of lions, do you think he has a chance to beat them with Sean McVay and a supporting cast of sheep?
TST: In researching an answer to your question, I was surprised to see that Stafford had such a dominant run against the Bears from 2013-2017, winning 9 of 10 contests. Of course, I imagine that these memories are either burned into the brains of Bears’ fans OR understandably just burned, to be lost forever in a pile of ashes, but never before have I imagined the possibility that the Detroit Lions could win 9 of ANY 10 games under ANY circumstances. Good on you, Matt Stafford.
Now, as to the rest of Detroit Lions history ...
It seems that Stafford has thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games against the Bears dating back to 2018, missing both contests during the 2019 season, both of which were wins for Chicago against David Blough and Jeff Driskel. Fear not, Rams fans, as those are not the players who LA traded two first round picks and a Jared Goff for! (You’re welcome for getting two Jared Goff games per season instead of two Matthew Stafford games.) Interceptions are not out of the norm for Stafford, but I do expect his game to get better across the board from here on out given the upgrades that I believe he has received as a result of changing franchises.
The Rams had their unfair share of unfair times in the last 20 years, but they’ve also been one of the best teams in the NFL since hiring Sean McVay and I do not expect that to change in 2021 because a) the offensive line looks healthy and ready to go and b) there’s remarkable continuity around the QB position: LT Andrew Whitworth, RT Rob Havenstein, TE Tyler Higbee, WR Robert Woods, and WR Cooper Kupp have all played for McVay in each of the last four seasons. That’s half of Stafford’s supporting cast among the starters who come with vast experience and knowledge of playing in a McVay offense. That means that Stafford’s job will be that much easier. He no longer has to carry around a bunch of players who were added as a result of a rebuilding effort. He no longer has to question if he’s smarter about football than the coach. And he might be smarter than McVay, I don’t know, but I have gained confidence that Stafford is smarter than Matt Patricia, so there’s at least that. I believe that Stafford is finally in a position now where he doesn’t have to worry about being the best player on the team or the most important figure in the building, so he’ll be able to concentrate on simply executing McVay’s offense and creating plays on the fly when improvisation is necessary.
Franchise issues begin up top and trickle down and so far we’ve seen zero evidence that the Detroit Lions are a better franchise today than they were when things started going downhill 50 or 60 years ago. (I actually like what they’ve done this year, but every move is still one that focuses on being a good team in 2023 and beyond...)
Additionally, this will be DeSean Jackson’s fourth year of working with McVay, as the pair spent three years together with the Washington Football Team, where McVay was once offensive coordinator. I think LA is one of the most experienced and veteran teams in the NFL and I think that the Lions typically tend to bring offenses that lack experience and talent so to answer your question about whether or not Stafford can beat the Bears in one word or less: Yes.
WCG: Speaking of Stafford, do you expect to see a much different offensive scheme with a new signal caller? How much of the previous offense was tailored to Goff’s...let’s say skillset?
TST: Yes, McVay was limited in what plays he could design or call with Goff on the field. He’s not a good deep ball passer. He doesn’t make good decisions with the football. He isn’t very nimble or athletic. He’s probably quite predictable for all of those reasons. Meanwhile, I think that Stafford is a good deep ball passer. Often makes good decisions. Has made “Patrick Mahomes-level” throws before there was a Patrick Mahomes in the NFL. And he’s pretty nimble too.
I’ve been cautious with predicting what the 2021 Rams offense will look like because that’s part of the excitement; nobody really knows for sure how much McVay was held back by Goff or how much Stafford was held back by Patricia and Lions management, but my suspicion in both cases is: a lot.
I think the field will be stretched significantly with Stafford under center and Jackson, rookie wideout Tutu Atwell helping to stretch the field. I’d also keep an eye on second year receiver Van Jefferson, as he could be one of the best sleepers at the position in the entire league.
WCG: The biggest defensive change for the Rams was the loss of Brandon Staley, who’s best known for being the only Bears outside linebackers coach to share a name with their mascot. Do you think Raheem Morris sticks with the Fangio-esque blueprint that Staley employed (to great effect) last year? Does he make changes that actually improve things, or does he make changes for the sake of making changes that inevitably make things worse like a Google app update?
TST: Good fun fact about Brandon Staley. It reminds me that the Rams have a player who could have easily been the same name as the team mascot... Ramsey. “Hey! Get over here, Ramsey! Make me cheer for the Rams!” Good ole’ Ramsey.
Oddly, there’s little known about Raheem Morris as a defensive coordinator. Despite having experience as a head coach and many, many seasons as an assistant, this is really only his second opportunity as a defensive coordinator. Dan Quinn ran the defense for most of his tenure with the Falcons and that’s where Morris served as a coach to wide receivers and as an assistant to Quinn for most of their time together. Similar to my expectations of the offense, I don’t try and predict too much what will happen because it’s truly a mystery.
Will the Rams be better than being the best defense? No.
Will the Rams be worse than being the best defense? Almost definitely.
Will the Rams still have a really good defense? I’d say probably.
You have Aaron Donald, you have a player named “Ramsey” who isn’t a mascot, then you already have the makings for a pretty good defense. With Leonard Floyd, Darious Williams, and Jordan Fuller added to the mix, the talent isn’t quite lacking. There are questions at cornerback depth/”nickel”, and new starters at linebacker, maybe a concern about Taylor Rapp as a starting safety, but overall, Donald and Jalen Ramsey will mitigate a lot of those problem areas. Overall, I have zero concerns about the defense, so long as Donald and Ramsey aren’t in street clothes.
WCG: Who’s a lesser-known Rams player you think is in store for a good season or possibly a big game against the Bears?
DT Sebastian Joseph-Day has become Donald’s right-hand man and his high-energy work ethic and determination to be great could pay off this year.
CB Darious Williams might just be the most underrated corner of the last 18 months or so.
RB Jake Funk was a seventh round pick out of Maryland, but injuries could open the door for him to play a pivotal role on offense.
TE Jacob Harris was a fourth round pick who is only just beginning to learn the tight end position, but fan expectations are ridiculously high because he’s an athletic freak who is capable of key red zone catches.
LB Troy Reeder doesn’t get mentioned by anyone — Rams fans or otherwise — but he’s earned his starting middle linebacker job and I think he could be the guy we are forgetting.
WCG: The Rams are favored to win this matchup (by a frankly offensive margin). If the Bears are going pull off the upset, what do you think will be the key to their success?
In seeking out potential problem areas for LA, here’s what I see:
Rams iOL vs Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Bilal Nichols — definitely a strength for Chicago, Stafford could be bothered all night
RB Darrell Henderson vs Bears defense — I have low expectations for LA’s running backs now that Cam Akers is on IR for the whole season. If the Bears know that Henderson can’t run up the middle — which is likely — then they can mitigate any potential success he has on the edges or outside zone runs. So I don’t know if the Rams will be able to rush the ball effectively.
David Montgomery vs Rams run defense — Preseason is a funky place that doesn’t tell us nearly as much as it should, but LA might not have the best run defense. If Chicago can eat on the ground, then the Bears have found at least one key advantage.
And that’s five! I certainly feel more knowledgeable about the Rams, and I will definitely be referring to their sheep mascot as Ramsey the Ram for the foreseeable future.
Thanks again to Kenneth for his thorough answers. He did seem to be a little high
on Matthew Stafford, but let’s wish him the best with that.