Even Sean McVay realizes thereâ??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 loserâ??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 McVayâ??s tenure.
â??They were a great defense, period,â?쳌 McVay said. â??They still are a great defense, but they did do some different things schematically that – I donâ??t run away from the fact that I didnâ??t handle that night well at all.â?쳌
Los Angeles was 11-1 and cruising through a season that would bend with a Super Bowl trip, but Vic Fangioâ??s defense reduced McVayâ??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 couldnâ??t move the ball on the ground against that setup, the Ramsâ?? play-action strategies were largely useless – and then Goff made mistakes.
â??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,â?쳌 Bears coach Matt Nagy said of the Ramsâ?? struggles in Chicago last season. â??Weâ??re going through that right now offensively.â?쳌
Other teams copied the Bearsâ?? 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 havenâ??t even needed the strategy to beat the Rams lately.
â??I wouldnâ??t say what they did has shown up a lot,â?쳌 Goff said, recalling the Bearsâ?? setup. â??Itâ??s something that teams have tried, and weâ??ve beat it at times, and we havenâ??t at times. Itâ??s definitely part of a scheme that people have played not only to us, but across the league. Nothing too crazy. Pretty simple. Weâ??ll be ready if they do it again.â?쳌
Chuck Pagano runs the Bearsâ?? defense now, and it has scarcely lost a step statistically despite Chicagoâ??s overall struggles.
The Ramsâ?? 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 Angelesâ?? 12 points.
The Bearsâ?? biggest concern this time around likely should be Aaron Donald and the Ramsâ?? defense, which has been on a roll since the week before it acquired shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville.
â??Really good defense,â?쳌 quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. â??I think it starts up front for them. Theyâ??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.â?쳌
Here are more things to know about the prime-time showdown between 2018 division winners:
Allen Robinson figures heâ??s in for a physical confrontation and plenty of trash talk from Ramsey.
The Bearsâ?? leading receiver and Ramsâ?? 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.
â??Itâ??s gonna be physical, itâ??s gonna be competitive, itâ??s gonna be fun,â?쳌 Robinson said. â??Iâ??m definitely looking forward to it.â?쳌
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.
â??I talk, he talks, so itâ??ll be fun,â?쳌 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 Ramsâ?? 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 Kuppâ??s hands to reach its potential.