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.
The Tennessee Titans are reportedly discussing a contract extension for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Since taking over for Marcus Mariota as the team's starting passer in Week 7, Tannehill has been putting up solid numbers, with 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions while completing 71.9 percent of his passes. He's also rushed for three scores. Tannehill appears to be a solid starting quarterback going forward, and with the Titans not bad enough to draft a top quarterback in the upcoming draft, it makes sense to extend him. He's a solid fantasy QB2 with QB1 upside depending on the matchup.
The Los Angeles Rams plan to unleash running back Todd Gurley over the last four weeks of the season, giving him a full workload as the team tries to bolster their chances of making the postseason. Gurley's played two games this year with a snap rate of 90 percent or better, though his yardage and yards per carry in those games weren't great. There's still risk with Gurley, but he should be a solid RB1 if the Rams do give him the majority of their running back touches.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is playing through a painful sports hernia injury, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. The star receiver will need to have offseason surgery to repair the injury. While it hasn't caused Beckham to miss any games, the injury has cut into his practice time and can be one of the reasons why he and Baker Mayfield have struggled with their on-field rapport this season. For now, it appears that Beckham will finish out the season but there is a risk of him getting shut down early if the Browns fall out of playoff contention.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is expected to be out against the Lions in Week 14. Thielen suffered the injury at the end of October and will likely miss his fourth straight after failing to log a practice this week. In his absence, expect more looks for Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and Alexander Mattison on Sunday.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (shoulder) is expected to be available for the critical matchup with Kansas City on Sunday. Edelman has been dealing with the ailment for quite some time but has been able to play. He has logged at least 11 targets in each of his last seven games and should continue to get plenty of looks from Tom Brady in Week 14 despite Mohamed Sanu (ankle) also expected to see the field. Keep him starting in all fantasy formats.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) is not expected to play against Denver on Sunday. After playing against the Pats in Week 13, Fuller will probably miss his fourth game of the year after suffering another setback. While this isn't a massive blow to fantasy owners, especially considering the matchup against a relatively tough Broncos Defense, it isn't good news for those in deeper fantasy formats. Expect Kenny Stills to serve as the primary beneficiary in Week 14.
Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) may not play against Tennessee on Sunday, with his status for Week 14 still up in the air. Jacobs has carried this designation over the last five weeks, and while he has been able to suit up during that span, this may be the first time that Oakland is without him this year. He was able to practice on Friday in a limited capacity after missing the previous two sessions, but if he is out, expect Deandre Washington to carry the load as the No. 1 option out of the backfield against an average Titans Defense. Keep an eye on his availability up until kickoff.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) is expected to play on Sunday in Buffalo. Hollywood has been dealing with this issue for the majority of the year, so his designation throughout the week wasn't a huge surprise. The rookie fizzled in Week 13 against the 49ers after accounting for two touchdowns against the Rams in Week 12, and while the upside is there, he draws a tough matchup against a Bills Defense that is ranked in the top-six against opposing wideouts this season. Proceed with caution.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram rushed for 59 yards on 15 attempts in Week 13's win over the 49ers. Ingram could produce a healthy amount of production against a Bills Defense with a weakness against the run. Ingram will continue to share the ball with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, but he is still the No. 1 option in the backfield and will get the majority of touches. If the Ravens can get the run game going early, Ingram has a good chance to get in the end zone. He is an RB2 going into Sunday's Week 13 matchup.
Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross (shoulder) should see a 'healthy amount of targets' when he returns in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns, in the opinion of Ben Baby of ESPN.com.
Fantasy Spin: Although Ross may have his snaps limited in a bit in his return, his game is built around big plays, not volume. He could still be worth a flier as a boom-or-bust flex play.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown caught 1-of-2 targets for one yard in Week 13 against the 49ers. Prior to last week, Brown hadn't been targeted less than four times in a game this season. Part of Brown's lack of involvement was due to Baltimore attacking San Francisco with its run game, but his output was disappointing, to say the least. The Ravens matchup against a Buffalo Bills Defense in Week 14 that has been stingy to opposing wide receivers. Hollywood is a touchdown-dependent play against Buffalo and stands in low-end WR3 territory.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford (back, hip) said his injured back is healing 'as it should' and won't cause any long-term issues.
Fantasy Spin: Stafford will remained sidelined in Week 14, and there is a good chance he won't play again this season. If you own Stafford in a dynasty league, he should be ready to roll for 2020.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews caught 3-of-6 targets for 50 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers in Week 13. Andrews was able to produce a solid performance despite playing a stout 49ers Defense. Baltimore matches up against a Bills Defense in Week 14 that has allowed only two touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2019, including one to Jason Witten in Week 13. As the most heavily targeted option in Baltimore, Andrews is still a TE1 as reliable tight ends are scarce.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers has turned his season around since his hiccoughs against Tampa Bay, and he'll need to be on point against a dangerous Rams team this weekend. Last time, Seattle squeaked out a victory thanks to a last-second shanked field goal by the Rams kicker, so Myers was bailed out for missing one of his own earlier in the game. Now he comes into the game having made six straight field goals and nine straight extra points. Expect Pete Carroll to continue to depend mightily on Myers, and he could be just what a desperate fantasy owner needs to finish out the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks is doubtful to go against the Rams on Sunday night due to a hamstring injury that has lingered all week. That means the Seahawks Defense will likely be starting rookie linebacker Cody Barton when they take the field in the Coliseum. The third-round pick out of Utah has gotten nothing but effusive praise from head coach Pete Carroll, but the notoriously upbeat coach is usually overflowing with praise about every player in the league. The good news is that Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah are both expected to be able to go, so hopefully the pass rush can stay mean and buy some more time for the newbie when he's in coverage.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett has had a rough couple of weeks, but hopes are high for Sunday's primetime game against the Rams. Lockett was downed with a serious shin contusion at the end of the 49ers game four weeks ago, and then just as he fully recovered from that, he was one of a handful of Seahawks to come down with the flu before the Vikings game. He made it through, but he didn't catch any balls along the way. Now removed from both issues, Lockett is expected to be back to full speed against the Rams, a team he's traditionally had a lot of success against. Fantasy owners should find solace in that.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf snuck behind the defense and hauled in a bomb from Russell Wilson for a touchdown in his first career game against the Rams, and LA is definitely preparing to try to prevent that from happening again. Metcalf has excelled in that arena, hauling in a pass for 20 or more yards in nine of his 12 games this season, and fantasy owners should bank on Seattle looking for Metcalf downfield once again on Sunday night. The workout wonder has grown throughout the season and turned into more of a possession receiver while Tyler Lockett was hampered with a leg injury, but Lockett is expected to be back to full speed on Sunday, which should give Metcalf the freedom to roam a little more. Expect to see at least one long bomb with his name on it.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson was one of the team's strongest weapons when they beat the Rams at home earlier this year, and he'll need to bring that same fire to LA if Seattle is going to come out on top again. Carson has been a beastly back this year, even if the recent surge of carries for Rashaad Penny has hurt fantasy owners. Carson has shown that he welcomes the addition of Penny to the mix, so expect him to share the load once again, but Carson remains the No. 1 option for the team. Any owner isn't going to turn away from him at this point, and Carson should easily clear the 1,000-yard hurdle in 2019 by putting up another strong game against his division rival.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny was bombarded with insults earlier in the season when he continued to struggle to find his footing in the NFL, but his last two games have silenced a whole lot of those critics. Now, he'll get another go at one of the team's bitter division rivals in primetime on Sunday night. Penny tallied just 18 yards on six carries last time he saw LA, but now he's coming off back-to-back thrashings of the Philadelphia and Minnesota defenses. Penny's impressive performances will likely keep his name in the mix throughout the game, and he should continue to show considerable improvement over his previous version.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson put up a huge game against the Rams last time out, and he'll need another top-tier performance if Seattle's going to hang on to first place in the NFC West. Unfortunately, the LA defense has had a renaissance since the last time Wilson saw them. They have allowed 20 or fewer points in six of their last seven games with the only outlier being the drubbing that Baltimore gave them. Now on Sunday night, Wilson will need to summon all his magic to ensure Seattle can bring home a victory. Fortunately, Wilson specializes at excelling in primetime. He should put up some big numbers on Sunday night.