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.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that the team would like to have three running backs sharing the load in 2020. "D.J. was banged up last year," Kingsbury said. "We think he has a good skill set. But that's an area that we'd like to have three. You saw we got to (using) a third (running back in 2019). We'd like to have three that we feel like we could roll through and not lose much." Kenyan Drake, who signed his transition tender, will see the majority of touches, but Chase Edmonds and D.J. Foster will also get some work. Drake was one of the best running backs in the league after his trade over from the Dolphins, and he'll be a coveted RB1 in fantasy circles with Arizona's offense looking more explosive with the addition of receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Edmonds will merely be a handcuff for those that take Drake early in drafts.
The Kansas City Chiefs agreed to an undisclosed one-year deal with running back DeAndre Washington on Wednesday, according to a source. Washington was drafted in the fifth round by the Raiders back in 2016 and has rushed the ball 282 times for 1,122 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns in his four years in the NFL. He's also added 88 catches on 110 targets for 613 yards and another score in 55 career games (five starts). The 27-year-old had 108 rushing attempts for 387 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games last year (three starts). He'll provide depth for the Chiefs backfield behind Damien Williams while also competing for touches with Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams. He finds himself in an even more crowded backfield, meaning that it's unlikely Washington will yield any fantasy help.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said that wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) is "fully healthy" and has been working out in Atlanta. It's good news after Green missed the entire 2019 season. He's scheduled to make around $18 million in 2020 on the franchise tag, but we may not get to see him until later this summer due to restrictions amid the coronavirus. Green will turn 32 in July and has played in just nine games in the last two seasons due to injuries. But he was a Pro Bowler each of his first seven seasons in the league from 2011 to 2017, surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark six times. He'll likely have rookie quarterback Joe Burrow throwing him passes in 2020, which could make fantasy owners even more hesitant to draft Green as even a WR2.
The Los Angeles Chargers remain "very high on" running back Justin Jackson. Melvin Gordon is now playing for the Broncos, so there will be more opportunity for Jackson behind Austin Ekeler moving forward. Jackson, a seventh-round pick by the Bolts in 2018, has rushed 79 times for 406 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in his 20 games (one start) in two seasons for the Chargers. The soon-to-be 25-year-old also has 24 catches for 157 yards in his two years in the league. Ekeler should take over workhorse duties in this backfield with Gordon gone, but Jackson will have a role as a change-of-pace back and could be a great value pick late in fantasy drafts this fall.
There's a chance that the Los Angeles Chargers look to trade cornerback Desmond King. King is seemingly a man without a position now that the Bolts signed Chris Harris Jr. to defend the slot in the middle of the field in 2020. Casey Hayward and Michael Davis can work on the outside, so it remains to be seen what the team will do with King if they hold onto him. The 25-year-old fifth-round pick in 2017 was a first-team All-Pro in 2018 when he had a career-high three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). King had 51 tackles (40 solo) and two passes defensed without an interception in 15 games (eight starts) in 2019. He could be part of a draft-day trade if the Chargers indeed move him.
Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines is expected to get "plenty more action" in the offense this season, in the opinion of The Athletic's Zak Keefer. And that could translate into much more fantasy success with new quarterback Philip Rivers under center, a veteran signal-caller who isn't afraid to dump the ball off to his pass-catching backs. Hines, 23, ran the ball just 52 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns behind Marlon Mack in 2019, adding 44 receptions for 320 yards. Both his rushing and receiving marks were down from his rookie season in 2018 when he was playing with Andrew Luck. With an offense that should attack more under Rivers, Hines could be a nice PPR sleeper late in drafts.
The Cincinnati Bengals have high expectations for tight end Drew Sample to take a "significant jump" in his second year with the team, especially with Tyler Eifert no longer in town. Sample caught just five passes on six targets for 30 yards in nine games (two starts) in his rookie season and he was drafted as mostly a blocking tight end. C.J. Uzomah will be the team's primary pass-catcher at the position, but Sample will inevitably see more snaps on offense and should see his offensive numbers take a sizeable rise over his rookie season. The soon-to-be 24-year-old former second-round pick could become interesting in dynasty/keeper leagues with the Bengals expected to take LSU QB Joe Burrow with the first overall pick later this month.
Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler had an 85.2 percent catch percentage last season, which was the best rate of anyone with 45 receptions.
Fantasy Spin: Ekeler had just one drop and 92 grabs for 993 yards. He rushed 132 times for 557 yards (4.2 yards per carry) as well, and with Melvin Gordon gone, he should remain one of the top five backs in PPR.
Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr has seen his teammates drop 216 passes over the course of his six-year career - the most drops a quarterback has witnessed over that span.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup was charged with 11 drops in 2019 - the second-highest total in the league.
New Orleans Saints RB Latavius Murray averaged 2.7 yards before contact per rushing attempt in 2019 - tied for the sixth-best average among qualified rushers last season.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle was charged with only two drops on 107 targets in 2019. He was one of only five players in the league with at least 100 targets - regardless of position - to finish with a drop rate below two percent.
Las Vegas Raiders TE Darren Waller was credited with eight broken tackles on his 90 catches in 2019 - tied with George Kittle for the second-highest total among tight ends.
Denver Broncos LB Von Miller has forced 640 quarterback pressures over the past decade, which are 40 more than any other player within that time.
Updating a previous story, free-agent WR Cody Latimer (Giants) officially signed an undisclosed contract with the Washington Redskins Tuesday, April 7.
Fantasy Spin: Latimer set career-highs with 24 receptions and 300 yards with the New York Giants in 2019. He has a viable path to a notable role within the Washington offense and could become a streaming option by mid-season.
Updating a previous story, free-agent DB P.J. Williams (Saints) officially signed an undisclosed contract with the New Orleans Saints Tuesday, April 7.
Updating a previous story, Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Bell officially signed Tuesday, April 7. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
Updating a previous story, free-agent DB Damarious Randall (Browns) officially signed with the Las Vegas Tuesday, April 7. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
Updating a previous story, free-agent LB Reggie Ragland (Chiefs) officially signed with the Detroit Lions Tuesday, April 7. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
Updating a previous story, free-agent DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Bears) officially signed with the Dallas Cowboys Tuesday, April 7. Official terms of the deal were not disclosed.