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.
Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil said on NFL Live that he wants to become the league's highest-paid offensive lineman. "Im not going to talk numbers, as Im going to keep that between me and the club. I am looking to be the highest-paid lineman, of course. I worked my butt off to be in that position and hopefully we can make that happen," Tunsil said. The 25-year-old first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016 was acquired from Miami along with receiver Kenny Stills last year for two first-round picks and a second-rounder. He's an elite left tackle that should easily wind up making around $20 million per season on a long-term deal with the Texans. His presence on the blind side for years to come will be excellent news for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) said he's still not fully recovered from an ankle injury that held him to just 11 games in 2019. Ebron had to have his ankle examined and "cleaned out" by an independent doctor near his home in Houston because of league restrictions keeping players from visiting other organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. The 26-year-old has yet to be examined by the Steelers medical personnel. "If the season started today, I dont think Id be able to 100% perform. But we dont play today," Ebron said. He was a disappointment last year as a TE1 after setting career highs in catches (66), yards (750) and touchdowns (13) in 2018. The 10th overall pick by the Lions in 2014 must get healthy first, but he'll also be competing for targets with Vance McDonald, which will hurt his overall fantasy ceiling in his new home.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed quarterback Blaine Gabbert to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. Gabbert will serve as the backup to Tom Brady in 2020. The 30-year-old former 10th overall pick of the Jaguars in 2011 will help Brady learn head coach Bruce Arians' system. He didn't see the field at all in 2019, but Gabbert has played in 56 games (48 starts) in his eight years in the NFL with stops in Jacksonville, San Francisco, Arizona and Tennessee. You can obviously ignore Gabbert in all fantasy leagues, and he'd merely be a low-end QB2 option in Tampa if Brady were to get hurt and miss any time.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said that offensive tackle Jack Conklin will stay at right tackle in Cleveland. The Browns added Conklin in free agency as they look to improve a dreadful offensive line from a season ago. The eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2016 draft was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season and has been one of the better right tackles in the league in his four seasons. The 25-year-old has started all 57 games he's played in and has played in a full 16-game season in three of his four years in the league. Conklin will help bring stability to the right side of the Browns line, but they'll need help elsewhere.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry signed his $10.2 million franchise tender on Thursday, but the two sides are still committed to working on a long-term contract extension before the deadline on July 15. Henry led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards on 303 carries last season, and he was tied for the league lead with Aaron Jones with 16 rushing scores. His 25 receptions left a lot to be desired in PPR leagues, but there's no denying that Henry is the bell-cow running back in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league. It makes the 26-year-old one of the most desirable RB1 picks for fantasy owners early in drafts.
Free-agent linebacker Markus Golden is the only player on the open market that had double-digit sacks in 2019. Golden recorded 10 sacks in 16 games last year and was sixth in the league with 27 quarterback hits while being tied for 14th with 13 tackles for a loss. He was believed to be asking for $10 million per season, according to a source, but he won't be getting that now. It's unlikely that New York will re-sign Golden after already adding Kyle Fackrell for one year and $4.6 million. The Giants are likely to add a low-priced veteran later on as they look to boost their pass rush. Golden earned $3.75 million last year and made another $1 million for reaching 10 sacks. The 29-year-old had a good season in 2019, but fantasy owners in IDP leagues shouldn't be expecting a repeat necessarily.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said that the uniqueness of quarterback Taysom Hill's role requires the team to have a third quarterback active on game days, and that won't change in 2020 with Teddy Bridgewater now in Carolina. The Saints are likely to look for the best quarterback (rookie or a veteran) that is available to be the No. 3 behind Drew Brees and Hill. New Orleans thinks highly of Hill as the heir apparent to Brees, but he's attempted just 13 passes the last two seasons, including just six attempts despite Brees missing extended time in 2019 with a finger injury. The 29-year-old gadget player won't have any lasting fantasy significance in redraft leagues unless Brees gets injured again or retires.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip) said on Wednesday that his surgically repaired hip is fully healed and that he could play in a game at full strength right now. I feel 100 percent, Tagovailoa said in an exclusive interview with NFL Network. I feel like if there was a game today, I'd be able to go out and perform the same way I was able to perform in previous years. I feel as mobile as possible. I feel 100 percent. His agent, Chris Cabott, said that Tagovailoa's doctors have cleared him without restrictions. Tagovailoa is expected to be one of the top picks in this year's draft and the second QB selected after LSU's Joe Burrow, who is expected to go first overall. Tua hasn't said which teams he's met with virtually. The left-handed thrower has some injury risks, but he's extremely accurate and athletic and could be starting games in 2020 for whichever team selects him.
Free-agent LB Markus Golden is unlikely to return to the New York Giants because he's asking for too much money, according to a source. Golden is believed to be asking for north of $10 million per year.
Fantasy Spin: If Golden is classified as a defensive lineman, he rates as a midrange DL1 option in IDP leagues. He had 72 total tackles and 9.5 sacks last year. He's a flex option at linebacker wherever he lands.
Updating previous reports, Dallas Cowboys LB Aldon Smith will have a $2 million base salary and can earn $2 million more in sack incentives.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz was hurried 67 times in 2019 - tied with Derek Carr for the second-highest total in the league.
Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr was hurried 67 times in 2019 - tied with Carson Wentz for the second-highest total in the league.
Free-agent DE/LB Aldon Smith (Raiders) reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday, April 1. Smith has not played in the league since 2017. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.
The Dallas Cowboys signed former Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith to a one-year, $4 million deal on Wednesday. He'll receive $2 million in base value and can earn an extra $2 million from sack incentives. Smith's contract with the team will officially begin when he's reinstated by the NFL. The former seventh overall pick by the 49ers in the 2011 draft, Smith last played in 2015 with the Raiders and has been out of the league since because of multiple off-the-field incidents. He was a first-team All-Pro with San Fran in his second season in the league and recorded 19.5 sacks and 29 QB hits that year. The Cowboys are taking a flier and hoping that he can get back at least some of that form to help Dallas' defensive line in 2020. All bets are off when it comes to Smith's play, but it's a nice comeback story nonetheless.
The Seattle Seahawks signed former Raiders defensive end Benson Mayowa to an undisclosed deal on Wednesday, according to his agent, David Canter. Mayowa had a career-high seven sacks in his one and only season in Oakland last season in a rotational role. The 28-year-old will likely be a rotational player again in Seattle, which limits his ceiling in IDP leagues. Should Jadeveon Clowney go elsewhere on the open market, Mayowa will look to pick up the slack in rushing the passer. In seven seasons in the NFL, Mayowa has 20 sacks and 41 QB hits in 87 games played (15 starts).
Free-agent DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) is still an option for the Seattle Seahawks even though they signed DE Benson Mayowa.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Benson Mayowa (Raiders) signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks worth $3 million, according to a source. The deal could be worth as much as $4 million with incentives.
Free-agent DE Benson Mayowa (Raiders) signed with the Seattle Seahawks Wednesday, April 1, according to his agent. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has dropped his asking price at least $2 million off the more than $20 million per season that he had been looking for, according to sources. Clowney is now seeking around $17-18 million per year, and the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans remain "interested" in signing the three-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher. He was traded from the Texans to the Seahawks before last season and had three sacks in 13 regular season games. Despite the lack of sacks, the 27-year-old was constantly disrupting the opponent's backfield and had two defensive touchdowns. He also dealt with a core muscle injury that required surgery, causing him to miss two games. Clowney is an injury risk but is effective when on the field. He'll be a boom/bust IDP commodity.
Free-agent DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) is now believed to be looking for $17 million to $18 million per season in a new contract, according to sources. He was believed to looking for at least $20 million per season when free agency started.