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.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough has a tough Week 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town. While the Bucs pass defense sits last in the league, their run defense sits near the top, and with rookie quarterback David Blough unable to consistently get scoring opportunities, Scarbrough's value gets seriously capped. Scarbrough has taken full control of the Lions backfield over the last three weeks, but he will be hard to trust this week, especially in PPR leagues. Fantasy owners can slot Scarbrough in as an RB3 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough came crashing back down to earth in Week 14 after an impressive debut in Week 13 against a tough Chicago squad. Week 15 will offer up the easiest test for Blough yet in the form of the Tampa Buccaneers swiss-cheese secondary, but it's extremely hard to trust a rookie making only his third career start with fantasy owners heading into the fantasy semi-finals. Those who do need a quarterback this week can do better. Blough will slot in as a mid-range QB2 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Danny Amendola will have a chance to make some noise this week with Marvin Jones (ankle) placed on the injured reserve. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their swiss-cheese secondary are coming to town in Week 15. The Bucs secondary has given up the most points to wide receivers so far this season, meaning Amendola will likely get his chances in this one. Amendola has seen 16 targets over the last two weeks with Jones in the lineup and third-string quarterback David Blough under center, so volume shouldn't be the problem. Relying on a third-string quarterback in the fantasy semi-finals might give fantasy owners nightmares until game day though. Amendola will slot in as a boom-or-bust WR3 for this matchup.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay is in a prime spot heading into the fantasy semi-finals with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town in Week 15. The Bucs defense has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers so far this season, and with Marvin Jones (ankle) no longer around to poach targets, Golladay should be in for a monster day. The third-year wide receiver will slot in as WR1 for this matchup.
The Carolina Panthers designated wide receiver Chris Hogan (knee) to return from Injured Reserve. Hogan practiced on Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 27. The former Patriot injured his knee in Week 4 against the Texans on a special teams play and underwent arthroscopic surgery. Hogan has just three catches for 24 yards this year. If he is able to make it back in the final three games, his role will mostly be on special teams, so he won't have any relevance for fantasy owners playing for a championship.
Seattle Seahawks TE Luke Willson (hamstring) might return for the Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers after missing the past three games. 'He's champing at the bit to play this week,' head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11. 'He's politicking. Like those guys in Washington D.C., he's working it. Give him credit, he wants to play in the worst way. He ran well (Wednesday). He was really pumped up about it. He told me at least four times how well he looked in his workouts.'
Fantasy Spin: Willson would be a big addition to the offense, which can be tight-end friendly. Still, there is just too much risk for fantasy owners to invest a roster spot on Willson at this late and critical juncture.
Seattle Seahawks DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) was listed as 'questionable' in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11 by head coach Pete Carroll, who indicated the defensive end is likely a game-time decision for Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
Seattle Seahawk WR Tyler Lockett (shin) is back to full health after dealing a shin contusion. 'Yeah, I think he's really back,' head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11. 'He felt really good last week and he's going into this week raring to go. He's fine.'
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy owners have gotten just five grabs for 81 yards and no scores in three games since he suffered an injury in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers. He is a risky fantasy play based on his recent production, but a solid option when 100 percent.
Seattle Seahawks LB Jadeveon Clowney (flu) is battling the flu and head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, Dec. 11 that the linebacker is 'hurting. He's going to have to work his way through the week to make it for game day.'
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead led all wide receivers with 13 yards on three receptions and a touchdown in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Snead hasn't had a game in which he's caught over 20 receiving yards since Week 5. Baltimore faces a Jets Defense on Thursday Night that has been generous to opposing wideouts in 2019, but it's hard to trust Snead in the matchup with his lack of volume. Snead shouldn't see your lineups in Week 15, but could be viable as a streamer if you're desperate in deeper leagues.
Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards rushed for 20 yards on four attempts in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore matches up against a Jets Defense on Thursday Night that's been stiff against opposing running backs in 2019. Edwards remains as nothing more than a quality handcuff to Mark Ingram in Week 15.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown caught all three of his targets for a loss of two yards in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Brown's performance was disappointing and it was his second ineffective game in a row, as he caught only one ball for two yards against the 49ers in Week 13. Hollywood has a good opportunity to bounce back on Thursday Night in Baltimore's matchup with the New York Jets. The Jets Defense is allowing an average of 167 receiving yards in 2019, which is more than quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown for in the last two weeks. Even with the good matchup, Brown should be seen as nothing more than a high-end WR3 in an offense that targets its tight ends more than its receivers.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle caught 2-of-3 targets for 10 yards and a three-yard touchdown in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Boyle was able to capitalize on his opportunity to score shortly after Mark Andrews exited the game with a knee injury. If Andrews is unable to go, it's hard to tell whether Boyle or Hayden Hurst will see an expanded role at the tight end position. Boyle and Hurst have put up similar numbers up to this point in the season as they are both close to 300 yards in receiving and have two touchdowns each. Boyle could be a viable streaming option in deeper leagues if Andrews is unable to go, but it's probably best to keep him on the bench Thursday Night against a Jets Defense that has allowed only two touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst caught all three of his targets for a season-high 73 yards and his second touchdown of the season in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Hurst was able to step up for quarterback Lamar Jackson after Mark Andrews exited the game with a knee injury. If Andrews is unable to go on Thursday Night, Hurst is a viable play in an offense that relies heavily on its tight ends. Baltimore hosts a Jets Defense in Week 15 that has only allowed two touchdowns and an average of 40 receiving yards to opposing tight ends in 2019.
Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker (hamstring), C Mason Cole (knee), DT Corey Peters (non-injury), OG Justin Pugh (back), LB Terrell Suggs (back, illness) and OG J.R. Sweezy (illness) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. WR Andy Isabella (shoulder), CB Byron Murphy (calf), CB Kevin Peterson (shoulder) and LB Joseph Walker (ribs) was limited during practice.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram rushed to 50 yards on 15 attempts and caught all three of his targets in Week 14's win over the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore matches up against a Jets Defense that has only allowed multiple touchdowns to opposing running backs twice this season. The Bills Defense has also held opposing running backs to under 100 rushing yards in all games but one in 2019. Ingram has failed to get in the end zone for the last two games and is a touchdown-dependent RB2/RB3 play in Week 15.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzgerald has been targeted at least seven times in three of the last four games but has been held to 40 yards or less in two of the last three games. He could be a possible flex option in some deeper leagues but could be avoided in a majority of leagues.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk is coming off one of his better games of the season and has been targeted at least seven times in five of the last six games. He can be considered a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues if he plays.
Kansas City Chiefs DE Frank Clark (illness, shoulder), CB Rashad Fenton (hamstring), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and LB Darron Lee (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. OG Andrew Wylie (shoulder) was limited during practice. OT Eric Fisher (groin), CB Kendall Fuller (thumb), DT Derrick Nnadi (elbow) and DE Alex Okafor (ankle) fully participated in practice.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams (rib) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Williams has missed the last few games but appears to have a chance to play in the Week 15 game. He can be a No. 2 running back or flex option in fantasy leagues if he is active for the game.