Bears offense vs. Rams defense
There are two ways to look at last week’s loss to the Packers when it comes to judging how this offense performed. The first is to blame the lack of production on Kyle Orton’s bum ankle and assume he wasn’t healthy enough to play effectively. The second is to accept the fact that the Packers’ defense is clearly that good and thoroughly dominated the Bears for 60 minutes. I prefer the former to the latter, but I don’t like to make excuses. The Packers were the better team last week and the Bears need to execute better on offense. This week, there will be no dispute. Orton’s ankle should be almost as good as normal, so, if the Bears’ offense is truly as good as it seemed in the first half of the season, then we should expect nothing less than a complete victory on Sunday. It’ll all start up front as the Bears’ offensive line needs to impose its will against the Rams’ defensive front in order to establish the run. It shouldn’t be too hard. The Rams are giving up 158 yards per game on the ground, fourth-worst in the NFL. I think you’re going to see Matt Forte with at least 20 carries, and the Bears as a team will rush at least 30 times. Judging the Bears’ performance by their number of rushing attempts won’t necessarily be accurate, though, because the Rams are almost as bad against the pass, giving up 233 yards per game, which is 24th in the league. I think Orton should return to form and this Bears offense will have success all game moving the ball down the field. The Rams are giving up an NFL-worst 31.7 points per game while the Bears are averaging 24 points per game. Anything fewer than that for the Bears would be an utter disappointment.
Bears defense vs. Rams offense
If ever there was a game meant for the Bears’ woeful pass rush to show up, this game is it. The Rams have given up an alarming 32 sacks this year — an average of just more than 3 per game — and they’ll be without seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace. Pace is the consummate pro, a fixture at left tackle since he was drafted in 1997. Adding to their problems on offense, All-Pro running back Steven Jackson also will miss Sunday’s game. Even with Jackson in the lineup, the Rams are currently averaging only 96 rushing yards per game, which is 8th-worst in the league. The Rams average just 175 passing yards per game, which is about 75 yards fewer than the Bears’ dreadful pass defense allows. There is no reason to doubt that the Bears not only will stop the run — which they’ve been doing with good consistency all year long, save for last week — but that they’ll keep the passing game in check, too. The Rams’ offense is second-worst in the NFL in points scored, averaging just 14 points per game. If they’re somehow able to score much more than that, it would have to have been the result of turnovers or poor field position, and you would almost be able to guarantee the Bears would not be able to fix their defense in the remaining five games thereafter.
One could make the case that Devin Hester’s “coming out party” was when he returned a punt for a touchdown on Monday night against the Cardinals in his rookie season of 2006. But what truly established him as perhaps the NFL’s finest kick returner ever was his record-breaking, two-touchdown performance in another Monday night game just weeks later. His opponent? The St. Louis Rams. With all that said, now’s not the time for Lovie Smith to get nostalgic and modify the game plan, which — according to multiple sources — is to continue using Danieal Manning as the primary kick returner and leave Hester to his punt return duties. Manning came in to relieve Hester in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Packers, and in his three kicks alone, Manning showed more determination and upfield burst than in most of Hester’s returns all season. Rams kicker Josh Brown has a strong leg and has converted on 4 of 6 field goals from beyond 50 yards as well as 5 of 5 from 40-49. And speaking of big legs, punter Donnie Jones is first in the league with a 49.5 average. He booms the ball. And not only does he kick it far, his coverage teams get down there and cover well, because he’s No. 3 in the league with a 40.4 net average. But for as bad as the Bears have been in kickoff and punt returns, the Rams have been as bad or worse.
The Bears clearly have more to play for in this one than the Rams do. Every NFL player has pride and will give his best effort from the outset. They’re professionals; that’s their job. But if the Bears come out and punch them in the mouth from the opening kickoff on, this Rams team, which is banged up and lacking sufficient talent to begin with, will pack it in early. The Rams are in the bottom third of the league in turnover ratio, which means one problem can have a compounding effect. If you get after them early and take the ball away, they’ll start pressing and more opportunities will present themselves. They have no fight left in them. At least, no more so than the average team in the league. There is no homefield advantage because the fan base has a defeatist attitude, and the turf that the Rams play on is advantageous to a team based on speed, such as the Bears. The question then becomes, do the Bears have fight left in them? And if so, do they have enough pride in themselves and their coaching staff to avenge last week’s embarrassing defeat and knock these guys on their backsides? I think they do, and I think they win in convincing fashion to stay on top of the division for another week.
Final Score: Chicago 30, St. Louis 17