Week 14, on Sunday Night Football, the Chicago Bears face their toughest opponent of the season against the Los Angeles Rams.
This weekend, the Chicago Bears square off against the Los Angeles Rams in what should be their biggest test of the season. On Sunday Night Football, with (hopefully) Mitch Trubisky back under center, it will be a battle of NFC heavyweights.
One of the main reasons the Rams have been able to win so many games this year? It’s Aaron Donald. Sure, they score a lot of points on offense. But, without Donald, I’m not so sure they would be able to come out on top with the way the defense has played otherwise. So, how do the Bears try to contain this guy?
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Here is the good news: The Rams’ defense is certainly not as good as it should have been this season. Granted, they have played games without both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. But, this unit has given up plenty of points throughout the season.
Four out of their last five games, the Rams have given up 51, 31, 45 and 27 points, respectively. I think we can learn something from each of those games, as well, in comparison to the Bears and their offense.
When you look at Donald’s season, there are very few negatives. He doesn’t have a lot of cracks to fill, mainly because he is the epitome of how you play defensive line at the highest level.
This season, Donald is likely on track for another NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and maybe he’s in the NFL MVP discussion as well. With 16.5 sacks, eight stuffs and four forced fumbles, he’s been the sole reason this Rams defense has been able to hold up over the year.
Let’s look a little closer at the one game he was held without a sack, vs. the New Orleans Saints.
This was a high-scoring affair, which the Saints ended up winning, 45-35. In that game, first of all, the Saints ran the ball well — a whopping 34 carries for a total of 141 yards. Obviously, if you are keeping the defense honest by not shying away from the run, then Donald has to keep his head on a swivel and can’t laser-in on the quarterback every down.
For the Bears, getting Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen going is absolutely crucial in neutralizing Donald. Last week, against the New York Giants, Matt Nagy shied away from Howard in the second half after he had a good thing going over the first two quarters — why?
That’s one of the big questions fans are asking this week.
Against the Rams, you will have to score points, yes. But, establishing time of possession is also crucial. How do you do that? You run the football.
The Saints had three players with runs of double-digit yards in this game — and one of them was Drew Brees. Yes, even Brees got in on the action. With a mobile quarterback like Mitch Trubisky, it will be possible to veer away from Donald’s direction using RPO’s and designed quarterback runs.
Let’s look even closer. Michael Thomas had 12 receptions in this one, good for nearly half of the receptions by the Saints overall. Sure, he had the long touchdown towards the end of the game, but most of his catches were in short-to-mid-range fashion.
Now, the Bears don’t have a guy on the level of Thomas. But, they have guys like Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller who are great possession guys — Miller, in my opinion, being even better in that respect.
If Nagy can get the ball out of Trubisky’s hand quickly, to not just these guys, but a variety of his targets, this will help his case against Donald. The reason the Saints were successful was because, a lot of the time, Brees was able to get the ball out quick. That’s the key.
Remember, this Rams defense is beatable. Keep that in mind. Outside of Donald, the performances have been inconsistent across the board on that unit.
When you look at the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the league’s top offenses, Donald finished with a couple of sacks and two forced fumbles. Why was the Rams defense able to force so many big plays? The big thing I saw when watching this game was clear: Patrick Mahomes holds the ball much longer than he should at times.
This was a problem with Trubisky early in the season, but since then, he’s used his legs a lot more to escape the pocket and has become smarter when it comes to getting the ball away.
The Bears don’t have a prayer to outright stop Donald. He’s just that good. But, they can certainly formulate a game plan that attempts to contain him on most downs. It starts with running the football. Then, opening up the quick passing game to your receivers who can make moves after the catch — don’t forget Taylor Gabriel.
From there, the Bears should have plenty of opportunities to score against this defense. The question then becomes, how do they stop the Rams on the opposite side? That’s an entirely different debate.