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 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.
Kansas City Chiefs DE Alex Okafor (chest) suffered a chest injury during the Week 15 game and will not return.
Green Bay Packers RB Tyler Ervin (hand) suffered a hand injury during the Week 15 game and is considered questionable to return.
Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams (head) left the Week 15 game early and is being evaluated for a concussion.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (thumb) is officially active for Week 15 against the Detroit Lions. Winston wasn't able to throw a football in practice until Friday, though he was able to finish off last week's 456-yard, four-touchdown performance with the injury. Winston has a great chance to stay hot against Detroit's suspect pass defense. Fantasy owners must beware the risk- Winston can be erratic even without a fractured thumb.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (ribs, illness) is inactive for Week 15 against the Denver Broncos. Darwin Thompson, LeSean McCoy and Spencer Ware will shoulder the load for Kansas City. The Chiefs backfield isn't an ideal fantasy situation, though McCoy, who's had success running in snowy conditions, and Thompson are probably the safest choices.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs) is officially inactive for Week 15 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Scarbrough wasn't able to practice on Thursday or Friday, so it was likely a longshot for him to play anyway. Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, and practice-squad call-up Wes Hills will lead the backfield in Scarbrough's absence. All are shaky plays, considering Tampa Bay possesses the league's best run defense.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker (concussion) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Parker has been playing well during the second half of the season and should continue to be the main option in the passing game for the Dolphins. He will have a favorable matchup and can be at least a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (groin, wrist) is active for Week 15's game against the Chicago Bears.
New England Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu (ankle) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Sanu has posted disappointing numbers since joining the Patriots but should have a favorable matchup this week. He could be a flex option in some deeper leagues but can also be benched if fantasy players have better options available.
The Houston Texans have declared CB Cornell Armstrong, WR Keke Coutee, WR Steven Mitchell, RB Taiwan Jones, DL Joel Heath, DT Eddie Vanderdoes and FS Mike Adams inactive for Week 15.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) is officially active for Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans. When healthy, Fuller has been a difference-maker, averaging 7.6 targets and 74 receiving yards per game. He possesses considerable upside and could be worth a start in what should be a competitive divisional game. Fuller's presence is also a boost to quarterback Deshaun Watson's stock for this contest.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee, shoulder) is active for Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Edelman was optimistic about playing, though it's nice to get the official word. He's a must-start considering his eight-game streak with double-digit targets and the fact that Tom Brady doesn't seem to trust any other receiver in this offense right now.