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.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott retained a role in Week 15, but came back down to Earth in terms of production compared to his surprisingly strong outing in Week 14. This week, Scott ran the ball six times for 26 yards and caught seven passes for 39 yards. He was thoroughly outplayed by rookie Miles Sanders this time around and likely disappointed any fantasy owners who were chasing his previous performance.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 19-of-27 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Titans in Week 15. He also added 32 rushing yards in the game. Watson now has 11 interceptions on the year, a new career-high, but he also has a career-high 33 total touchdowns on the year (26 passing, 7 rushing). Watson's amongst the top tier of fantasy quarterbacks in the game and should be one of the first quarterbacks off the board once again next year. His next matchup is an extremely favorable one against the Buccaneers in Week 16.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert caught five passes in Week 15, gaining 55 yards. Goedert was expected to take on a much bigger role this week with most of the Eagles wide receivers out due to injury, but he ended up with just six targets and a somewhat disappointing final line.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz caught five passes in a Week 15 win, gaining 61 yards and scoring a touchdown. Ertz was expected to play a huge role in this one, and ended up with a team-leading 10 targets, but only came down with five of them. The touchdown made it a decent fantasy performance overall, but likely left his fantasy owners wanting for more.
Houston Texans running back Carlos Hyde topped 100 rushing yards for the third time this year against the Titans in Week 15. Hyde had 26 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game. He's now over 1,000 rushing yards on the season with five touchdowns. Hyde's been a solid RB2 most of the year in non-PPR leagues. He's less valuable in PPR as he has just nine receptions on the year. However, it's been a solid season nonetheless for Hyde and he'll look to keep it going against the Buccaneers in Week 16.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston rewarded fantasy owners who stuck with him in Week 15 after his terrible Week 14 performance. Winston threw for 458 yards and four touchdowns in the Bucs win over the Detroit Lions. The fifth-year quarterback also threw an interception, which is expected at this point. Even without his two top receivers available for most of the game, Winston was able to dominate. He will slot in as a mid-range QB1 against the Houston Texans in Week 16.
Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside did absolutely nothing in a Week 15 win over Washington. Arcega-Whiteside was targeted twice but did not come up with a catch despite being essentially one of two wide receivers on the field for the Eagles all game. He suffered a hamstring injury at the end of last week's game, but was reportedly fine and wasn't supposed to be limited at all. His goose egg may have knocked more than a few fantasy owners out of the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz completed 30 of his 43 pass attempts in Week 15, tossing three touchdowns and gaining 266 yards. Wentz's first score came on a 15-yard pass to Miles Sanders. His second was on a two-yard strike to Zach Ertz, and his third was a huge fourth quarter score on a four-yard pass to Greg Ward. Wentz was solid in this one and led his team to a crucial win over Washington.
Philadelphia Eagles rookie running back Miles Sanders was amazing in Week 15, piling up 122 yards on 19 carries and catching six passes for 50 more yards. Sanders scored once on the ground and once through the air. His rushing score was a one-yard plunge and his passing game score came on a great 15-yard catch in the corner of the end zone. Sanders was expected to have a huge role in this one with Jordan Howard (shoulder) still out and most of the Eagles wide receivers dealing with injuries as well.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (coach's decision) is inactive for Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals. Coach Reddie Kitchens reportedly "was hesitant" to activate Njoku off the IR last week- and the 23-year-old struggled against the Bengals. Backups Demetrius Harris and Ricky Seals-Jones will likely share targets, which is unfortunate because the Cardinals are the most tight-end-friendly matchup in fantasy football. Neither player is the most appealing option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin was forced to leave Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions due to a hamstring injury. Before leaving the game, Godwin had caught five passes for 121 yards. With Mike Evans also out, the Bucs receiving corps will be led by Breshad Perriman and Scott Miller.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin left Sunday's game against the Lions with an apparent leg injury. He will not return. Godwin was spotted limping after running a route, and after attempting to exit the game under his own power, he was eventually carted back to the locker room. Before his exit, the 23-year-old caught five of his seven targets for 121 yards. Not good news for a Bucs team that recently announced that Mike Evans (hamstring) could miss the remainder of the year after suffering an ailment of his own.
Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku has been declared inactive for the team's Week 15 game. Njoku did not look sharp during practice this week and struggled with drops and some routes during the week, according to the Associated Press' Tom Withers.
Fantasy Spin: Njoku recently returned from the Reserve/Injured list but appears to need more time to return to game speed. Demetrius Harris likely will serve as the starting tight end but can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is listed as active for Week 15's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. This was expected as Thielen completed a full week of practice. He will return to a favorable matchup as stud cornerback Desmond King will not play and the Chargers rank 20th in pass DVOA for the season. The Vikings passing game has been rolling as of late and they project to have to throw in this game as they're favored by just one point. Obviously, Thielen comes with some risk as he's returning from a lengthy injury absence, but he can be utilized in fantasy lineups as a high-end WR3 with sneaky upside in this matchup.
The Minnesota Vikings have declared RB Alexander Mattison, DE Hercules Mata'afa, OT Aviante Collins, DE Jalyn Holmes, SS Jayron Kearse, OL Olisaemeka Udoh and OG Dru Samia inactive for Week 15.
The Oakland Raiders have declared QB Mike Glennon, OT Trent Brown, DL Olsen Pierre, LB Kyle Wilber, CB Daryl Worley, WR Hunter Renfrow and OT David Sharpe inactive for Week 15.
The Los Angeles Chargers have declared DL Sylvester Williams, CB Desmond King, OT Trey Pipkins, QB Easton Stick, S Roderic Teamer, WR Jalen Guyton and OG Spencer Drango inactive for Week 15.
The Cleveland Browns have declared WR Taywan Taylor, LB Olivier Vernon, OT Drew Forbes, TE Pharaoh Brown, DL Justin Zimmer, CB Eric Murray and TE David Njoku inactive for Week 15.
Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams (head) has been cleared to return to the Week 15 game after being checked for a concussion.
Detroit Lions DT Mike Daniels (arm) suffered an arm injury during the Week 15 game and is considered questionable to return.