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.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught eight passes for 95 yards and one touchdown in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 14. New England's offense is in full-blown crisis mode but Edelman continues to put up career numbers. Edelman surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in his career and now has 90 receptions on the season with six touchdowns. The Patriots offense is in a deep slump but Edelman can be safely dropped into fantasy starting lineups heading into Week 15.
New England Patriots running back James White carried the ball six times for 33 yards and added five receptions for 35 yards in the Patriots Week 14 loss to the Chiefs. On a night when the Patriots offense struggled for most of the game there weren't many bright spots to be found. From a fantasy perspective, however, White is slowly taking hold of the lead running back duties in the backfield. The Patriots appear to have lost all faith in second-year back Sony Michel and White brings versatility in the passing game. Look for White's touches to continue to rise in the final three games of the season.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense came through in a big way in Week 14's victory over the Detroit Lions. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo both had interceptions and the Vikings sacked David Blough five times in what was a dominating effort from start to finish. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was an absolute force as he picked up three sacks and three tackles for loss in the win. Hunter became the youngest player to reach 50 sacks in the history of the NFL; it's past time for him to be a household name in the league. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and Mike Hughes (oblique) left the contest late, but Mike Zimmer wasn't concerned about their injuries after the game. The Vikings Defense will be a recommended play in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed only 19 of 36 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. New England had a 21-game winning streak at home snapped as the offense continued its descent into mediocrity. All of the blame should not go to Brady but the future Hall of Famer's completion percentage continues to plummet. Four rushing touchdowns have helped his fantasy production over the last month but Brady has passed for only nine touchdowns over his last eight games played. The Patriots are heading towards the playoffs but will need massive improvement if they hope to defend their title. Brady's fantasy value is in free-fall right now.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel carried the ball only five times for eight yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The second-year running back was completely phased out of the team's offensive game plan as the Patriots search for an offensive identity. His fantasy value, in turn, has reached a new low as James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden all out-rushed Michel. The talented back has lost so much fantasy luster over the last month that fantasy owners may need to consider dropping him in favor of higher upside options moving forward.
Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton caught five of his seven targets for 34 yards in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Although he didn't pile up a bunch of yards, Sutton led the team in receptions and targets. A Week 15 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs should have him back in the WR2 conversation.
Denver Broncos LB Todd Davis finished with 15 tackles, including five solo stops, in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Davis has quietly delivered double-digit tackles in five straight games, making him a streaming option for those in the IDP market.
New Orleans Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith snagged two of his four targets for 29 yards and a touchdown vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Smith missed so much time this year with ankle injury and was set back because of it. He how has scores in two of his last three but has no more than a pair of catches in any of the last five appearances. That kind of involvement is of no use in fantasy playoff lineups.
Denver Broncos CB Kareem Jackson finished with 11 tackles, including six solo stops, an interception, three passes defensed and returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison had 14 carries for 46 yards in Week 14, adding two receptions for 18 yards in the win. The 16 touches were a new career-high for the rookie as he got a lot of late-game run with the Vikings holding a sizeable lead. Mattison likely won't offer standalone value in the fantasy playoffs, but he remains valuable as a priority handcuff to starter Dalvin Cook.
New Orleans Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. caught four passes for 50 yards on six targets vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Ginn is merely a flier for a cheap touchdown most weeks. With so much at stake in Week 15, he's no better than a weak flex vs. Indy. The Colts gave up six WR scores in the five games entering Week 14 before allowing a trio of TDs to the position against the Bucs.
The Washington Redskins Defense played well enough to hold the Packers to 20 points on Sunday, but the bigger story is that they straight-up could not stop Aaron Jones on the ground. Jones rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and added six receptions for 58 yards. Jones' big day on the ground offset the fact that this Washington defense was largely able to hold Aaron Rodgers in check, as they sacked the Packers quarterback four times, held him to 195 yards and one touchdown through the air, and forced him to lose a fumble. The Redskins remain a risky option for any fantasy owner contending for a league championship, but they're not without upside.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara carried the ball 13 times for 25 yards and caught four of six targets for 18 yards in a 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It's fair to wonder if something is wrong health-wise with Kamara, who's been a bust in fantasy this year. It could also be a play-calling issue, as he was seemingly stopped dead in his tracks every time he touched the ball. Whatever it is, he's now gone without a touchdown in eight straight games- an inexplicable streak for someone with his talent. Kamara will look to rebound from this in Week 15 against the Indianapolis Colts, who possess a strong run defense.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Olabisi Johnson caught his only target for a nine-yard score in the first quarter of Week 14's win over the Detroit Lions. The touchdown was Johnson's third of the year in what has been a productive campaign for the seventh-round rookie out of Colorado State. Adam Thielen (hamstring) is expected to be back for Week 15's contest against the Los Angeles Chargers, which would result in Johnson's standalone value completely disappearing. He's off the redraft radar for the fantasy playoff home stretch as he simply doesn't receive enough volume.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown on eight targets at the New Orleans Saints in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: A 39-yard catch-and-run late in the game set up the Niners for the game-winning kick, and it also helped salvage an otherwise pedestrian fantasy day. Atlanta comes to town in Week 15 with the 10th-weakest defense at stopping tight end yardage in the five weeks leading up to Week 14. Carolina only added to the damage with a backup TE.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Peyton Barber rushed 11 times for 34 yards in Week 14 against the Indianapolis Colts and he added two catches for 19 yards on his two targets.
Fantasy Spin: Barber and Ronald Jones split the backfield touches and neither really did anything of significance. Both remain decent low-end RB3 or flex fantasy options heading into Week 15 against the Detroit Lions.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught six of nine targets for 92 yards in a Week 14 win over the Detroit Lions. Diggs was able to burn Darius Slay for 44 yards on a great sideline grab to set up a Dalvin Cook touchdown before halftime. He did most of his damage in the first half as the Vikings went run-heavy with a big lead in the final two quarters. Diggs will have borderline WR1 appeal in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers, regardless of the status of Adam Thielen (hamstring).
Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard totaled nine stops with a tackle for loss, two passes defensed and two interceptions, including one for an 80-yard touchdown, in Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny (knee) left the Week 14 game against the Los Angeles Rams due to a left knee injury. He left for the locker room and will have X-rays, according to NBC Sports sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.
Fantasy Spin: With Penny sidelined, Chris Carson figures to see a majority of the workload with C.J. Prosise figuring in on passing downs and as a blocker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston completed 33-of-45 passes for 456 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in the Week 14 game against the Indianapolis Colts. He also rushed for five yards and a score.
Fantasy Spin: It was a big game for Winston despite the interceptions, and the rushing score was a nice bonus. He faces another fantastic fantasy option against the leaky pass defense of the Detroit Lions in Week 15.