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.
San Francisco 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel has lived up to his second-round billing in recent weeks and remains a steady WR3 in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Over his last five contests, Samuel has either surpassed 100 scrimmage yards or scored a touchdown, becoming an instrumental piece of the offense. Even with veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders reassuming No. 1 receiver status, Samuel has continued finding ways to make an impact. Against an Atlanta Falcons Defense ranked 26th in DVOA, there should be ample opportunities for all Niners playmakers.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders played his best game in over a month last Sunday and is a WR3 in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. After being limited with a rib injury, Sanders looked healthy en route to 157 receiving yards and two touchdowns (one passing) in Week 14. Against a Falcons Defense ranked 26th in pass DVOA, Sanders is well-positioned to capitalize as the Niners top receiver. Even with rookie wideout Deebo Samuel ascending as a big-play talent, Sanders veteran savviness and ability to move the chains make his floor palatable in any fantasy format.
New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook (concussion) was limited in practice on Thursday. Cook caught both of his targets in Week 14 against the 49ers for 64 yards and two touchdowns, but he also suffered a head injury that makes him questionable for Monday night against the Colts. The fact that he's already practicing is a good sign, but we'll have to wait and see if he clears the league's concussion protocol this weekend. Until them, consider him a low-end TE1 for Week 15 in the second week of the fantasy playoffs. If he's not given the green light, Josh Hill could be on the TE2 streaming radar against Indianapolis.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman appears to be the odd man out in the Niners backfield. With Raheem Mostert assuming control and Matt Breida running well in relief, Coleman is a tough sell as a flex play in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Since his four-touchdown explosion in Week 8, Coleman has been pedestrian, registering under 75 yards in each contest and finding the end zone just once. After playing just 11 snaps in Week 14, Coleman will be a high-risk fantasy option in a critical playoff week, even in a favorable matchup.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (elbow) and rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry (hip) are both practicing in full on Thursday ahead of Week 15 against the Bengals. Both players should be fine to play in an excellent bounce-back spot against the one-win Bengals this Sunday. Brady has been a disappointment in the second half of the season, but he's on the QB1 radar this weekend in the second round of the fantasy playoffs. While Harry has a great matchup, he's caught only five passes on 10 targets for 40 yards and a touchdown in his four games in his rookie season. It's really hard to trust anyone outside of Julian Edelman in this passing offense.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been scorching lately and could flirt with QB1 status in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. After game managing to start the year, Jimmy G has three four-touchdown games in his past six contests and has registered a QB rating over 110 in six of seven. While hes endured turnover issues this season, Garoppolo has grown increasingly comfortable taking an assertive role in the offense. Against a Falcons pass defense ranked 26th in DVOA, Garoppolo will look to parlay a dangerous complement of weapons into another top-10 fantasy performance.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida ran well in his return from injury in Week 14 (9.0 YPC) but played just 12 snaps. With Raheem Mostert taking charge of the backfield, Breida and Tevin Coleman will battle for touches, rendering both risky flex options. Averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per tote this year, Breida has outplayed Coleman, giving him the slight edge in change-of-pace duties against a beatable Falcons rush defense. However, Breida has been a nonfactor in the red zone and his uncertain opportunity share makes him a relatively low-ceiling play.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (knee) was a full participant in practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Njoku returned in Week 14 from Injured Reserve and posted just one catch for four yards in the win over the Bengals. The 23-year-old has plenty of upside, but fantasy owners will be worried that he'll have his snaps limited for the second straight game. The Cardinals Defense is the worst team at defending the position, though, so Njoku will have boom-or-bust appeal as a TE2 this Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle cemented his status as a gridiron beast in Week 14 by securing the Niners victory with a highlight-reel catch-and rumble. Hell return to his premium TE1 status in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Despite missing two games with a broken ankle, Kittle has heated up in the second half, amassing 292 yards and three touchdowns since Week 10. The Niners draw a cushy matchup against a Falcons Defense ranked 26th in pass DVOA, setting up Kittle favorably for an encore performance. In a critical fantasy weekend, Kittle managers should feel confident having the All-Pro on their roster.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Nelson Agholor (knee), DE Derek Barnett (ankle) and OT Lane Johnson (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. RB Jordan Howard (shoulder) and CB Jalen Mills (elbow) were limited. LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (concussion) practiced in full.
Tennessee Titans WR Adam Humphries (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: It appears like Humphries will miss another game because of the injury, so he should be avoided in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has emerged lately as a red zone threat. The third-year pro has collected five spikes in his last six games, operating as the teams primary third receiver. With Marquise Goodwin (foot, knee) on injured reserve, Bournes 50 percent snap share should remain steady in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons, even with sophomore disappointment Dante Pettis (knee) back in the mix. While his touchdown prowess is tough to ignore, Bourne hasnt eclipsed four catches or 45 yards during his scoring run, rendering him a volatile WR5.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), who was limited in practice on Thursday, is still expected to play in Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, barring any future setbacks. Smith-Schuster practiced in full on Wednesday, so the limited practice was initially seen as a troubling setback. He's been out since Nov. 14, though, and is more of a weak WR4 choice for fantasy owners with Devlin Hodges throwing him passes in an extremely tough matchup. Avoiding all Pittsburgh pass-catchers is probably the best strategy in the fantasy playoffs. James Washington's upside takes the biggest hit with Smith-Schuster expected back.
Tennessee Titans LB Daren Bates (shoulder), RB Derrick Henry (hamstring), WR Adam Humphries (ankle) and CB Adoree' Jackson (foot) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. DT Jurrell Casey (knee) was limited. C Ben Jones (thumb), CB LeShaun Sims (ankle) and S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion) practiced in full.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (hamstring) and OT Donovan Smith (ankle, knee) did not practice Thursday, Dec. 12. LB Anthony Nelson (hamstring), LB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) and QB Jameis Winston (thumb, knee) were limited. OG Alex Cappa (elbow), OT Demar Dotson (non-injury), WR Scott Miller (hamstring) and DL Beau Allen (ankle) practiced in full.
Updating a previous report, Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) was officially limited during practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Hilton appears to have a chance to play in Week 15 but will be a risky option since the Colts play on Monday Night Football. Fantasy players should monitor the situation over the next few days to have a better idea of Hilton's status.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Henry is optimistic about his availability for Week 15, but fantasy players will need to keep an eye on the situation. He is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues if he is active for the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller (hamstring) got in a full practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. He looks to be on track to return for Week 15 in a mouthwatering matchup against the Lions. There is increased opportunity to produce as well with Mike Evans shut down for the rest of the year. Miller has only 10 catches on the year for 151 yards and no touchdowns, so he'd still be a lottery ticket for desperate fantasy owners in redraft leagues. Behind Chris Godwin, it will be Miller, Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson fighting for targets from quarterback Jameis Winston.
Detroit Lions OG Joe Dahl (back, knee), LB Jarrad Davis (ankle, knee), DT Damon Harrison (calf, knee, shoulder, rest), DT A'Shawn Robinson (shoulder), RB Bo Scarbrough (ribs), QB Matthew Stafford (hip, back) and OT Ricky Wagner (knee) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. DE Austin Bryant (hip), LB Christian Jones (shoulder) and P Sam Martin (abdomen) were limited. CBs Jamal Agnew (ankle) and CB Rashaan Melvin (ribs) practiced in full.
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (shoulder) fully participated in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzpatrick was held without a touchdown pass last week but did post five touchdowns in the previous two games. He should have a favorable matchup this week but may only be a starting option in two-quarterback leagues.