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.
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb had a big game in a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. Chubb carried the ball 17 times for 127 yards and a touchdown while adding three receptions for 21 yards in the loss. The second-year running back also broke a two-game scoreless streak when he found the end zone for the eighth time this season. Chubb has been excellent this season but he will have his work cut out for him in Week 16 when he takes on a tough Baltimore Ravens Defense. He finished with 165 rushing yards and three touchdowns the last time these two teams met in Week 4, but Baltimore's defense is much improved since then. Treat him as more of a high-end RB2 for that matchup.
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake lit it up in Week 15 with 137 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was the first player in franchise history to score four times on the ground since 1993. He also had a nine-yard reception. Drake hadn't done much the last month, but he really put one on Sunday. He'll be a low-end RB2 in point-per-reception formats next week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was an efficient 19-for- 25 for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday. He also rushed eight times for 56 yards. Murray spread the ball around to nine different targets, and no one had more than six looks. Murray isn't setting the world ablaze, but he is producing enough to be worthy of a low-end QB1 play against the Seattle Seahawks next week.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk caught four balls for 33 yards in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns. He also had a 28-yard rush. The entire passing attack was pretty quiet while running back Kenyan Drake scored four times on the ground. Kirk has the most upside of all the receivers, and he'll be a flex option against the Seattle Seahawks next week.
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson rushed just three times for six yards and was not targeted in the passing game in Week 15. With Kenyan Drake putting four runs into the end zone this week, Johnson's roster viability has become grim. It's unlikely he'll have a big enough role the final two weeks to be more than a handcuff to Drake.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt carried the ball four times for 14 yards and added eight catches for 62 yards in a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. Hunt didn't get much going on the ground but he made an impression in the passing attack, finishing second in receiving behind only Odell Beckham Jr. Hunt has been busy in the passing game this season, having caught at least five passes in four of his six games played. Hunt will be a high-end RB3 in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had three catches for 42 yards in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns. Fitz is routinely the second-most targeted receiver, but he isn't doing a lot with the looks. He'll be a flex option against the Seattle Seahawks in point-per-reception leagues next week, but his upside is minimal.
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson was sparingly involved in his team's passing attack on Sunday, seeing just three targets and catching two of them. This was disappointing on a number of fronts, starting with the fact that Thompson had led the Redskins in targets and receptions a week ago. Sunday's game was precisely the type of back-and-forth scoring festival in which a pass-catching RB like Thompson would figure to have a healthy share of chances, but instead Thompson saw the same number of targets as Adrian Peterson. If he didn't have a role in this game, it's hard to trust that he'll see any dependable level of work over the season's final two weeks.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Damiere Byrd led the team with six grabs for 86 yards in Week 15. It was his best game of the season, but he doesn't possess enough upside to be worth a waiver claim at this time. Keep him on the watch list.
San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould hit all three of his field goal attempts in Week 15 against the Falcons. Two of his attempts in the game were from over 40 yards. Unfortunately, he only converted one of his two extra-point attempts. Gould is now 19-for-27 on field goal attempts this year. He's a solid low-end starting kicker option as the 49ers provide him a decent amount of kicking opportunities.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 30-of-43 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. Mayfield also added 11 rushing yards on two carries in the lopsided loss. Mayfield didn't play particularly poorly in the outing, although he did underwhelm against a Cardinals pass defense that is one of the worst in the league. Mayfield will not be a recommended fantasy option for Week 16 as he will face a tough Baltimore Ravens Defense.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson overcame a difficult matchup en route to a respectable fantasy outing on Sunday against the Eagles. Peterson racked up 66 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, adding another 25 yards on three receptions. The veteran running back has reached the level of dependability at which he can usually be trusted to return solid value as long as he sees enough opportunities. He has seen 13 or more carries in seven games this year, and has produced at least 66 yards rushing in all seven. Peterson has also scored in three straight games after not having done so since Week 2. He has to receive genuine consideration for fantasy lineups in the championship round.
The 49ers Defense wasn't able to contain the Falcons offense or force many miscues in Week 15. The Falcons put 29 points on the board and only turned the ball over once via a lost fumble. The 49ers were able to sack quarterback Matt Ryan twice in the game, but Ryan managed to have a solid game otherwise. The 49ers defense is a very matchup-dependent starting option and the Falcons were a bit of a borderline call as they've been up-and-down all year. Next week, the 49ers face the Rams, another team that's been up-and-down. The safest call is to probably find an alternative to the 49ers defense next week.
Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed 19 of 28 throws for 261 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's loss to the Eagles. For the first time in more than a month, Haskins completed over 60% of his passes. Sunday also marked a career-high for passing yards and was the second time the rookie threw multiple touchdowns. An otherwise mistake-free outing was upended on the last play of the game, when Haskins fumbled to give the Eagles a defensive touchdown. By and large, Haskins took a major step in the right direction with his Week 15 effort in a divisional game. We're looking for building blocks that may translate into a prominent fantasy status in 2020, and games like these help set the table for that possibility.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel earned three targets against the Falcons in Week 15 and managed just one catch for 29 yards. He also had an eight-yard rush in the game. Samuel had been on a hot streak coming into this game with either five-or-more catches or a touchdown in five straight games. Despite a favorable matchup against the Falcons, the 49ers offense struggled as a whole in this game. Samuel and the 49ers will look to get back on track against the Rams in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was held to just two catches for nine yards on four targets in Week 15 against the Falcons. Sanders was coming off of a remarkable 157-yard performance against the Saints in Week 14, so it was surprising to see him struggle to make his mark against a very generous Falcons pass defense. Fellow wide receiver Deebo Samuel only had one catch in this game and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only threw for 200 yards, so it was a rough day for the 49ers offense as a whole. Sanders will look to bounce back against the Rams in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida had a rough game against the Falcons in Week 15. He fumbled twice, though only one was recovered by the Falcons. He had four carries in the game and managed just 11 yards and he caught both of his targets in the passing game for six yards. Raheem Mostert was the focal point of the 49ers' run game again this week. Mostert had 14 carries in the game. Breida was equalled in carries by Tevin Coleman, though Coleman outperformed him, gaining 40 yards on his four carries thanks to a 37-yard rush.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman rushed the ball four times for 40 yards in Week 15 against the Falcons. He had a 37-yard rush that was the team's biggest play from scrimmage on the day. This was the third straight game in which Coleman was held to five-or-fewer carries. Raheem Mostert has taken over as the No. 1 running back in San Francisco and he had 14 carries in this game. Coleman, meanwhile, is sharing No. 2 back duties with Matt Breida, though Coleman outperformed Breida in this game. Coleman is a drop candidate in any season-long league that ends in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle had a monstrous game in Week 15 against the Falcons. He caught 13 of his 17 targets for a season-high 134 yards, his third 100-yard game of the year. This was the first time all year that Kittle had earned over 10 targets and also the first time that he'd had double-digit receptions. Kittle is a stud and an absolute must-start tight end. He'll look to stay hot as the team takes on the Rams in Week 16.
Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky completed 29-of-53 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers. He also ran for 29 yards.
Fantasy Spin: The Bears managed to do a little better offensively than Week 1 against the Packers, but they were still lacking. Trubisky remains more of a QB2 in most fantasy leagues heading into Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs.