Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff calls signals during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) takes a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throws against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) avoids a tackle byf Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Even Sean McVay realizes there’s a strong argument to be made that the Chicago Bears ended the Los Angeles Rams’ two seasons of offensive brilliance with their 15-6 victory at Soldier Field last season.
McVay, Jared Goff and the Rams (5-4) get a chance to reply when the Bears (4-5) visit the Coliseum on Sunday night in a game that could wreck the loser’s realistic playoff hopes.
That loss on a chilly, biting night last December still stings for McVay and Goff, who threw a career-high four interceptions while the Rams were held without a touchdown for the first time in McVay’s tenure.
“They were a great defense, period,” McVay said. “They still are a great defense, but they did do some different things schematically that - I don’t run away from the fact that I didn’t handle that night well at all.”
Los Angeles was 11-1 and cruising through a season that would bend with a Super Bowl trip, but Vic Fangio’s defense reduced McVay’s offense to a wan shadow of its usual self. Todd Gurley produced only 28 yards rushing, Goff went 20 of 44 for 180 yards, and the Rams managed only 214 yards - less than half of their season average.
Fangio largely did it with a deceptively simple 6-1 alignment: Six defenders right at the line of scrimmage, with one linebacker just behind them looking to snuff out the run game. When Gurley couldn’t move the ball on the ground against that setup, the Rams’ play-action strategies were largely useless - and then Goff made mistakes.
“All of these teams, at some point, you hit some patches where you have to figure some things out and re-adjust and all that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of the Rams’ struggles in Chicago last season. “We’re going through that right now offensively.”
Other teams copied the Bears’ strategy, and New England played its version to perfection while holding the Rams to three points in the Super Bowl. But with Gurley still largely ineffective this season, opponents haven’t even needed the strategy to beat the Rams lately.
“I wouldn’t say what they did has shown up a lot,” Goff said, recalling the Bears’ setup. “It’s something that teams have tried, and we’ve beat it at times, and we haven’t at times. It’s definitely part of a scheme that people have played not only to us, but across the league. Nothing too crazy. Pretty simple. We’ll be ready if they do it again.”
Chuck Pagano runs the Bears’ defense now, and it has scarcely lost a step statistically despite Chicago’s overall struggles.
The Rams’ offense is a shadow of its former self, sitting in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories and coming off an inept performance at Pittsburgh in which it scored only three of Los Angeles’ 12 points.
The Bears’ biggest concern this time around likely should be Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense, which has been on a roll since the week before it acquired shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville.
“Really good defense,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. “I think it starts up front for them. They’ve got obviously really talented players in Donald, and they do a lot of stuff up front with twists and getting pressure. Last year, they kind of zoned us out and tried to keep everything in front and take away our big plays.”
Here are more things to know about the prime-time showdown between 2018 division winners:
Allen Robinson figures he’s in for a physical confrontation and plenty of trash talk from Ramsey.
The Bears’ leading receiver and Rams’ brash star cornerback figure to be matched against each other just like old times, when they would go at it in practice as teammates in Jacksonville for two seasons. Robinson was three years into his career when the Jaguars drafted Ramsey with the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, and the rookie went at him right away.
“It’s gonna be physical, it’s gonna be competitive, it’s gonna be fun,” Robinson said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Robinson signed with Chicago last year, while Ramsey forced a trade to Los Angeles last month. But during their time together, Robinson heard plenty from him.
“I talk, he talks, so it’ll be fun,” Robinson said.
Khalil Mack will be lining up against a Rams offensive line with four of the five starters in unfamiliar positions. Los Angeles lost center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein to injuries last week, so guard Austin Blythe moves to center and untested youngsters David Edwards, Austin Corbett and Bobby Evans likely join the starting lineup. The Rams’ line struggled against Pittsburgh even before the injuries, so McVay is scheming to help his profoundly inexperienced unit - but Mack still could be in for a feast.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The Bears got the win they needed last week against Detroit, ending a four-game skid with Trubisky throwing three TD passes to match his season high. But the defending NFC North champions still have plenty of room to improve. Though they scored on three consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters, the offense went long stretches without moving the ball.
The defense held Detroit to 98 yards rushing on 27 attempts, but the Bears lost linebacker Danny Trevathan to a left elbow injury, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is on injured reserve with an elbow injury, leaving Chicago without two disruptive players inside against Los Angeles.
McVay is still disappointed after leading receiver Cooper Kupp was held without a catch last week. The Steelers felt free to double-team Kupp more frequently with Brandin Cooks sidelined by a concussion, and Cooks is out again this week. Goff and McVay both believe their offense needs the ball in Kupp’s hands to reach its potential.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was probably the most trustworthy fantasy option for KC going into the Week 14 matchup with the Patriots. He's been reliable just about every week this season and that continued on Sunday. Kelce hauled in seven of his nine targets for 66 yards in the victory over New England. He also scored a touchdown on a four yard rushing attempt during the first half. He's battling George Kittle for best tight end in the NFL. Kelce should be a must start option next week against the shaky Broncos Defense.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware was signed by the organization earlier this week after multiple injuries in the backfield. Damien Williams (ribs) is week to week, while Darrel Williams (hamstring) is done for the season. Ware was with the Chiefs in 2015-2018, but will battle with LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson for playing time. Ware surprisingly made his season debut on Sunday, despite being signed just a few days before the game. He rushed five times for 11 yards in the Week 14 victory over the Patriots. He's going to be stuck in a running back committee, so fantasy owners shouldn't bother with Ware. He could be worth a look in the deepest of leagues, but he likely won't see more than a handful of carries per game.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas hauled in 11 of 15 targets for 134 yards and a touchdown in a 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Thomas had a decent stat line through three quarters- then the fourth quarter happened. The All-Pro wideout had five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone. His crunch-time production included a beautiful, over-the-shoulder 49-yard grab, which ultimately led to a Thomas touchdown a couple plays later. It was a great rebound effort for the 26-year-old, who will look to keep it up in Week 15 against a beatable Indianapolis Colts secondary.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darwin Thompson was solid on the ground during the second half of the Week 13 victory over the Raiders. Sadly, Thompson was unable to carry that momentum into his Week 14 matchup with the Patriots. He rushed four times for seven yards, but caught four passes for 36 yards through the air. Veteran LeSean McCoy saw most of the touches in the backfield on Sunday. The good news is, Thompson was able to show promise in the passing game. He should stay involved in the passing game if Damien Williams (ribs) is out for the Week 15 matchup with the Broncos. Thompson would have some PPR value in fantasy leagues if the Chiefs continue to target him in the passing game next week.
The New England Patriots Defense was able to contain, for the most part, an explosive Chiefs offense but came up short in the team's 23-17 loss in Week 14. The Patriots had their 21-game winning streak at home snapped as the defense totaled one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. The Patriots defense has failed to replicate their borderline historic numbers from the first half of the season and the slump the offense is currently in isn't helping matters. The vaunted unit, however, will be back at the top of the rankings in Week 15 against an awful Bengals team.
New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead carried the ball seven times for 15 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The offense endured one of its worst performances of the season but Burkhead's snaps went up. He even out-snapped second-year running back Sony Michel and it is fair to question if the Patriots may opt to use more of Burkhead moving forward. Even if his playing time increases, Burkhead will struggle to rise above RB4 status heading into Week 15.
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy was given the start against the New England Patriots in Week 14. Lead back Damien Williams (ribs) did not suit up for this one, so the veteran McCoy was given the start. However, McCoy was unable to capitalize on the extra opportunities. He rushed 11 times for 39 yards and caught one pass for four yards through the air. Spencer Ware and Darwin Thompson took snaps in the backfield as well, but McCoy didn't do anything to deserve extra snaps. At this point in the season, McCoy has turned into a desperation flex option for deep leagues. He might get another start in Week 15, but he hasn't done enough to warrant starting him in most formats.
New England Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught only one pass for 13 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 14. The veteran receiver was targeted only once and was a complete non-factor in the game. Sanu has been dealing with an ankle injury and it is fair to question whether he can truly contribute the rest of the fantasy season. He simply is struggling to get on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady and is learning a new offense on the fly. Sanu should ride the fantasy bench in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry caught one pass for 12 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. Harry caught the pass and made an excellent, athletic move towards the end zone but was called out of bounds. Upon further replay, Harry in fact scored on his lone reception but the Patriots were out of challenges to reverse the ruling. The rookie receiver has size and speed but is way behind in terms of his knowledge of the nuances in the Patriots offense. Harry is not fantasy viable right now outside of keeper or dynasty leagues.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray posted 64 rushing yards on seven carries and caught two of three targets for 25 yards in a 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Murray was out-touched by Alvin Kamara 17-nine, though Murray looked like the better player in this game. It was a great rebound effort for the 29-year-old, who had seen his snaps decrease steadily over the last three games. Perhaps the coaching staff will look to Murray more moving forward, especially considering they promised him more touches earlier in the year. He and the Saints will take on a strong Indianapolis Colts run defense in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers caught one pass for 35 yards in the team's 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The rookie was able to make a splash-play but did little else with his three targets in the game. The Patriots offense is in crisis mode right now and expecting a rookie like Meyers to pull them out of it is not realistic. Meyers should, however, continue to see a consistent amount of game snaps as the Patriots offense is very thin at wide receiver right now.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was held in check by the Patriots during their Week 14 contest. The reigning MVP was held under 300 passing yards for the third straight game. Mahomes completed 26 of 40 passing attempts for 283 yards and one touchdown with one interception in the victory over New England. The Pats defense has been tough to pass against this season, so it's not surprising that Mahomes was slowed down. Fantasy owners can hope for a rebound contest against the average Denver Broncos pass defense in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught eight passes for 95 yards and one touchdown in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 14. New England's offense is in full-blown crisis mode but Edelman continues to put up career numbers. Edelman surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in his career and now has 90 receptions on the season with six touchdowns. The Patriots offense is in a deep slump but Edelman can be safely dropped into fantasy starting lineups heading into Week 15.
New England Patriots running back James White carried the ball six times for 33 yards and added five receptions for 35 yards in the Patriots Week 14 loss to the Chiefs. On a night when the Patriots offense struggled for most of the game there weren't many bright spots to be found. From a fantasy perspective, however, White is slowly taking hold of the lead running back duties in the backfield. The Patriots appear to have lost all faith in second-year back Sony Michel and White brings versatility in the passing game. Look for White's touches to continue to rise in the final three games of the season.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense came through in a big way in Week 14's victory over the Detroit Lions. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo both had interceptions and the Vikings sacked David Blough five times in what was a dominating effort from start to finish. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was an absolute force as he picked up three sacks and three tackles for loss in the win. Hunter became the youngest player to reach 50 sacks in the history of the NFL; it's past time for him to be a household name in the league. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and Mike Hughes (oblique) left the contest late, but Mike Zimmer wasn't concerned about their injuries after the game. The Vikings Defense will be a recommended play in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed only 19 of 36 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. New England had a 21-game winning streak at home snapped as the offense continued its descent into mediocrity. All of the blame should not go to Brady but the future Hall of Famer's completion percentage continues to plummet. Four rushing touchdowns have helped his fantasy production over the last month but Brady has passed for only nine touchdowns over his last eight games played. The Patriots are heading towards the playoffs but will need massive improvement if they hope to defend their title. Brady's fantasy value is in free-fall right now.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel carried the ball only five times for eight yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The second-year running back was completely phased out of the team's offensive game plan as the Patriots search for an offensive identity. His fantasy value, in turn, has reached a new low as James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden all out-rushed Michel. The talented back has lost so much fantasy luster over the last month that fantasy owners may need to consider dropping him in favor of higher upside options moving forward.
Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton caught five of his seven targets for 34 yards in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Although he didn't pile up a bunch of yards, Sutton led the team in receptions and targets. A Week 15 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs should have him back in the WR2 conversation.
Denver Broncos LB Todd Davis finished with 15 tackles, including five solo stops, in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Davis has quietly delivered double-digit tackles in five straight games, making him a streaming option for those in the IDP market.
New Orleans Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith snagged two of his four targets for 29 yards and a touchdown vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Smith missed so much time this year with ankle injury and was set back because of it. He how has scores in two of his last three but has no more than a pair of catches in any of the last five appearances. That kind of involvement is of no use in fantasy playoff lineups.