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.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson (quadriceps) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Jackson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL all season and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers DT D.J. Jones (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Thursday, Dec. 12.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews (knee) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Andrews suffered the injury last week but likely will receive his normal workload in Week 15. He should be a starting option in all leagues this week.
The New York Jets have declared DL Quinnen Williams, OL Chuma Edoga, RB Bilal Powell, CB Brian Poole, WR Demaryius Thomas, S Jamal Adams and CB Arthur Maulet inactive for Week 15.
New York Jets WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) was declared inactive against the Baltimore Ravens Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Thomas scored his first touchdown of the season last week, but he isn't a safe enough option to be a consideration during the fantasy playoffs, even if he's able to return for Week 16.
The Baltimore Ravens have declared WR Jaleel Scott, CB Anthony Averett, OT Ronnie Stanley, OG Ben Powers, DL Justin Ellis, QB Trace McSorley and DB Chris Board inactive for Week 15.
Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee (pectoral, thigh) and LB Leighton Vander Esch (neck) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. DT Antwaun Woods (knee), G Zack Martin (elbow, ankle), P Chris Jones (abdomen), CB Byron Jones (hip), OT La'el Collins (knee) and DL Michael Bennett (foot) were limited. S Jeff Heath (shoulder), RB Tony Pollard (ankle), OT Tyron Smith (Achilles) and S Darian Thompson (biceps) participated in full.
San Francisco 49ers TE Garrett Celek (back), DL Dee Ford (quad, hamstring), DL D.J. Jones (ankle), CB Richard Sherman (hamstring), S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), DT Jullian Taylor (elbow) and CB K'Waun Williams (concussion) didn't practice Thursday, Dec. 12. WR Dante Pettis (knee) was a full participant.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) fully participated in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzgerald has been a solid option in the passing game over the last month and should see a handful of targets this week. He could be a possible flex option in deeper leagues.
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (hand) remained a full participant in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Prescott should be good to go for the game Sunday, Dec. 15, against the Los Angeles Rams. He's a mid-tier QB1 against the Rams.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (knee) participated in full at practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Cooper will likely face the defensive coverage of Los Angeles Rams CB Jalen Ramsey, and we've already seen him completely shut down by a top corner in New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore earlier this season. Fantasy managers should expect a below-average performance.
Buffalo Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), RB Frank Gore (illness), DE Jerry Hughes (non-injury) and OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. DT Corey Liuget (knee) and DT Jordan Phillips (knee) were limited during practice.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) was limited during practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Landry has been a consistent option for fantasy players this season and will continue to receive plenty of targets in the passing game. He should be at least a No. 3 receiver this week.
Los Angeles Chargers LB Thomas Davis Sr. (non-injury) didn't practice Thursday, Dec. 12. LB Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) was limited. LB Drue Tranquill (elbow) practiced in full.
Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku (knee) fully participated in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Njoku will have a favorable matchup this week against the Arizona Cardinals and can be a low-end No. 1 tight end in fantasy leagues.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk should have a decent chance to play in the Week 15 game, but fantasy players should keep an eye on the situation over the next few days. He can be a No. 3 receiver or flex option in leagues if he plays.
San Francisco 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel has lived up to his second-round billing in recent weeks and remains a steady WR3 in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Over his last five contests, Samuel has either surpassed 100 scrimmage yards or scored a touchdown, becoming an instrumental piece of the offense. Even with veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders reassuming No. 1 receiver status, Samuel has continued finding ways to make an impact. Against an Atlanta Falcons Defense ranked 26th in DVOA, there should be ample opportunities for all Niners playmakers.
New Orleans Saints TE Jared Cook (concussion) was limited in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: It's promising to see Cook on the practice field. He'll still need to pass the league's concussion protocol, but he has a long week ahead of the matchup Monday, Dec. 16, against the Indianapolis Colts.
Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross (foot) fully participated in practice Thursday, Dec. 12.
Fantasy Spin: Ross returned to the lineup last week and finished with 28 yards. He will have a tough matchup this week and can be kept on the bench in fantasy leagues.
New Orleans Saints LB Kiko Alonso (quad), G Andrus Peat (forearm), OT Terron Armstead (ankle), DE Cameron Jordan (abdomen)m S Vonn Bell (knee) and CB Patrick Robinson (calf) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 12. OL Will Clapp (elbow), LB A.J. Klein (knee) and FB Zach Line (knee) were limited.