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.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman Melvin Ingram was behind the only happy moment for the Chargers Defense on Sunday as they got otherwise got thrashed by the Vikings. Late in the second quarter, with LA trailing by just two points, Ingram snagged a poorly-thrown pass to nab the only positive turnover of the day for the Chargers. The team would go on to give the ball away seven times, and their defense was wholly outmatched throughout the entire contest as they fell by a final score of 39-10. The Chargers defense is usually better than that, as that was the first game this season where the team lost by more than one score. Look for them to bounce back against the Raiders next week.
The Los Angeles Chargers aren't a great football team this season, but it's hardly the fault of wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams put up another strong day with 71 receiving yards and a touchdown on Sunday, but LA got blasted by the Minnesota Vikings. Williams' score was the only touchdown of the day for the Chargers, who committed seven turnovers in the loss. Williams is now at 912 receiving yards on the season, and he'll likely eclipse the 1,000-yard notch before the season is out, joining teammate Keenan Allen in the club. The third-year wideout has proven this season that he can be a superstar in this league, though he's also reinforced that superstar wide receivers don't necessarily translate to team success at the same time.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry did something in Week 15 that he hasn't done since the second game of his NFL career: cough up a fumble. After catching a pass deep in his own territory early in the fourth quarter, a defender stuck his hand right into the ball as he dragged Henry to the ground, and the ball popped out and straight into the waiting arms of another Vikings defender. Fortunately, Henry's mistake wasn't a back-breaking one since the Chargers were already down 22 points at the time and committed six other turnovers on the day. Henry will look to get back on track when the team hosts the Raiders next week.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was one of a couple members of the Chargers team that still looked like a stud on Sunday, even though his team was getting run over by the Vikings. Ekeler rushed seven times for 19 yards and caught five passes for another 62 yards while remaining turnover-free. Unfortunately, Ekeler wasn't able to find the end zone, but the 81 scrimmage yards are still a nice consolation prize. Ekeler has been one of the team's standout players this year even though they've been a downtrodden squad overall. A wonderful playmaker, Ekeler has added a lot of fun and excitement to an otherwise disappointing team.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen hasn't been the loudest receiver on the block this season, but he's still put in the work and ground his way up over the 1,000-yard mark once again. Allen topped the millennial mark in Week 15 by posting nine catches for 99 yards in the team's blowout loss to Minnesota. Allen ranks fifth in the league in receptions and 11th in yards, though his five touchdowns are tied for second-fewest amongst 1,000-yard wideouts this year. It's hard to believe how bad the Chargers team has been this season with how well Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler have played for the entire season, but it's evidence that big numbers to those guys don't necessarily translate to wins.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers flip-flopped back to the bad setting on Sunday when he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble against the Vikings. Rivers did rack up 307 passing yards in the blowout loss, but his four turnovers were a large part of why LA got demolished. The rest of the squad coughed up three more turnovers to cause the team to tie the all-time record for most turnovers in a single game. Rivers is third in the league in passing yards, but his 18 interceptions are second-most as well. The yards are nice, but the turnovers are more than a little responsible for the team's woeful record. With all attention turned to next year's draft, the question will now be whether the team will turn to Tyrod Taylor in the final two games or if Rivers will even get to finish out the season.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was one of the team's primary sources of turnovers on Sunday as he coughed up the ball on two separate occasions, both times deep in his own territory. Gordon is usually one of the most sure-handed backs in the league, and he's never lost two fumbles in a single game before this week. In fact, he's only fumbled twice three other times in his career, and it's only happened one other time since his rookie season. The Chargers were stomped in every facet of the game on Sunday, so Gordon's fumbles were just one of the many issues the team had. Hopefully, he'll be able to bounce back from them and light up Oakland next week.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister caught all three passes slung his way on Sunday, but they only added up to 23 yards and no scores. Hollister burst onto the scene earlier this year when Will Dissly hit the IR with a torn Achilles, but he's cooled down as the weeks have gone on. He's faced a few tough matchups, but he's also having to deal with the thing all players struggle with at some point, which is that teams are starting to adjust to him. As teams get tape on opposing players, they learn their moves, they learn their sets, and they start to account for them. The test will now be whether Hollister can make the appropriate adjustments to his game to get more chances. That remains to be seen.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers drilled a 30-yarder in Sunday's win over the Panthers to improve to five straight games without missing a field goal. Unfortunately, he faded his first extra point attempt into the right upright, giving him a missed XP for the second week in a row. That said, he made the other three on the day to finish with a solid performance. He finished the season 12-of-13 on field goals on the road, and he has yet to miss from inside the 40-yard line all year. Myers is no Justin Tucker, but he's been a solid kicking addition for the Seahawks this season.
Seattle Seahawks rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf made a strong leaping catch over his man late in the first quarter to bring in his sixth touchdown of the season on Sunday. Metcalf climbed the ladder to snag the perfectly placed pass by Russell Wilson, giving him his first score in six weeks. Metcalf was only targeted four times in the day, one of which was on an ill-fated trick play pass thrown by Josh Gordon where Metcalf was double covered and not open in any way, shape, or form. With Tyler Lockett rounding back into form, Metcalf will likely recede back into being a home run hitter more often than not, but he's proven that he can work as a possession receiver when needed.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett seemed to finally be healthy as he ripped apart the Carolina Panthers Defense on Sunday. Lockett hauled in eight of the nine passes thrown his way for 120 yards and a touchdown, giving him his first big game in six weeks. Surprisingly enough, Lockett told reporters after the game that his shin contusion and the lingering flu bug are actually still impacting him, which was an unexpected confession after such a big performance. With Lockett nearing full strength, Seattle becomes a lot more dangerous team heading into the playoffs. Expect Lockett to be a main part of their offense week-in and week-out as he nears 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
The Seattle Seahawks are never boring, and they're certainly not predictable when it comes to players like wide receiver Josh Gordon. Coming into Sunday's game against Carolina, Gordon had caught all of six passes for the Seahawks so far in four weeks with the team, and he had only been targeted 10 times. In Week 15, Gordon was only targeted once, but it was for a 58-yard bomb that was an absolutely magnificent throw by Russell Wilson. Ever more surprisingly, the newest and rarely-used member of the squad was then tagged late in the third quarter to be the passer in a trick play. Gordon promptly threw a deep interception into double coverage. Maybe they'll have him do an onside kick next week.
With one of his best performances of the year, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson helped lead Seattle to the win over Carolina on Sunday. While Wilson's 286 yards and two touchdowns weren't the type of flashy numbers that folks love to see from the QBs nowadays, his solid approach included a 77% completion rate and his second-highest passer rating of the season. Wilson had been coming off the back of some recent sub-par performances, so this was a welcome change of pace. He also led Seattle to a 7-1 road record this year, the best in their franchise history. Wilson has clearly been surpassed by Lamar Jackson in the MVP race, but he's still a huge part of why the Seahawks have already clinched a playoff berth.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson was tasked with being the solo shot in the backfield once again after Rashaad Penny hit the IR with a torn ACL, and he came to play. Carson destroyed the Panthers Defense on Sunday as he carried the ball 24 times for 133 yards, a new career-high. He also ran in a pair of touchdowns and exploded for huge yardage on the regular against the Panthers. He's now at 1,190 rushing yards this season, another career-high, and he'll be expected to remain one of the focal points of Seattle's offense for the rest of the season. Expect the Seahawks' success to ride heavily on his shoulders as the regular season winds up and the postseason begins.
The Seattle Seahawks Defense came up big with a win over Carolina even though they were banged up to start the game and lost more firepower as the game went on. Already missing Jadeveon Clowney (flu) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), Seattle lost both Bobby Wagner and Quandre Diggs to sprained ankles during the game. Afterwards, Wagner told reporters that his ankle was fine and was cracking jokes while walking without a limp, but head coach Pete Carroll said Diggs' injury seemed to be more serious. Diggs may miss next week's game against Arizona.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson tied for the team lead in catches in Week 15, coming down with five catches for 62 yards. He was targeted seven times, good for second on the team. Johnson made some big plays in this one and should be primed for another good game next week against the Jets secondary.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Nick Vannett played well in Week 15, catching five passes for 40 yards. He was targeted six times. With Vance McDonald (concussion) forced to miss the game, Vannett was the main tight end for the Steelers offense. His five catches tied for the team lead in catches. He'll be a solid TE2 with a decent floor for as long as McDonald is out.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense was okay against the Buffalo Bills in a Week 15 loss. They allowed 17 points, but recorded a sack and an interception. The Steelers defensive unit will have a better matchup in Week 16 against a scuffling New York Jets team. They'll be a solid fantasy option for fantasy championship week.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges did not play well in a Week 15 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Hodges completed 23 of his 38 pass attempts for 202 yards and one touchdown. He threw four interceptions, some at critical times in the game. The Steelers take on the Jets next week and should fare slightly better through the air, but Hodges still won't be much of a fantasy option for the fantasy championships.
The Buffalo Bills Defense was excellent in a Week 15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. They recovered a fumble, collected four interceptions, allowed just 10 points, and got four sacks. It was an all-around impressive performance by Buffalo, who will have a tougher contest next week against the New England Patriots.