The Chicago Bears (1-1) enter tomorrow's contest against the St. Louis Rams (1-1) coming off last week's embarrassing defeat to the Green Bay Packers. The Rams, on the other hand, come into Chicago having defeated the Washington Redskins last week.
The two teams will be meeting for the 89th time, second most for the Bears against any club not currently in the NFC North. Chicago holds a 51-43-3 advantage in the all-time series with the Rams franchise.
Bears on Offense
Chicago offensive rankings
Points scored: 14th (25.5)
Total offense: 27th (298.0)
Rushing offense: 17th (104.0)
Passing offense: 26th (194.0)
St. Louis defensive rankings
Total defense: 24th (401.0)
Rushing defense: 21st (129.5)
Passing defense: 24th (271.5)
Turnover Ratio: 10th (+1)
Matchups to Watch
RT Gabe Carimi vs. DE Chris Long
Carimi has struggled so far this season, allowing eight hurries, the most in the league amongst offensive tackles. His job won't get any easier against Long, who had 13.5 sacks last season and is second in the league in hurries (10). On the opposite side of the field, LT J'Marcus Webb will have his hands full with DE Robert Quinn. If Carimi gets worked over by Long, QB Jay Cutler will be getting pressured from both sides, which is a recipe for disaster.
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Cortland Finnegan
Marshall was shut down last week by Green Bay corner Tramon Williams, ending the contest with just two catches for 24 yards. Finnegan presents the same type of challenge. He's a quick corner with good cover skills. Yet it's his not his athletic ability that Marshall need worry about most, it's his attitude. Finnegan is an instigator, to the point where most in the NFL feel he's a dirty player. In the past, Marshall has had problems controlling his anger. If Finnegan gets under his skin, he could single-handedly shut down the Cutler-to-Marshall connection.
-Webb has to play better this week, as this could be his final chance to keep his starting gig. If he struggles against Quinn, a powerful pass rusher, he could finally get the hook from OC Mike Tice, or a backhand from Cutler.
-The Rams will again be without DT Michael Brockers, their best interior defensive lineman. The inside of their defensive line is nothing to write home about, so the Bears should have plenty of success running between the tackles. RB Michael Bush, who will start in place of the injured Matt Forte (ankle), needs to get the ball early and often to wear down St. Louis' defensive front.
-Chicago must establish the run, particularly on 1st down. The Bears have rushed just 11 times on 33 1st downs this year. Tice needs to call Bush's number early in the count, to create an effective play-action passing game.
-The Bears have had 27 third downs so far this season. In those 27 attempts, WR Earl Bennett has caught just two passes. Bennett is the team's most sure-handed receiver and needs to be utilized more to keep drives alive.
-If the St. Louis Rams decide to double cover Marshall throughout the game, as the Packers did, then another Bears pass catcher needs to step up. Bennett, Devin Hester and even Kellen Davis need to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups Marshall's presence provides. Yet the player that truly needs to raise his game is WR Alshon Jeffery, who has the size (6-3, 213) and hands to be a great receiver in this league. He needs to get aggressive on the field and be a playmaker, forcing the Rams to ease off Marshall.
-G Chilo Rachal will be starting his first game for the Bears at left guard. Chris Spencer, the player Rachal replaced, was ineffective through the first two contests. If Rachal proves to be an upgrade, it will go a long way toward stabilizing the front five.
Bears on Defense
Chicago defensive rankings
Total defense: 14th (338.5)
Rushing defense: 9th (84.5)
Passing defense: 21st (254.0)
Turnover ratio: 7th (+2)
St. Louis offensive rankings
Points scored: 12th (27.0)
Total offense: 18th (351.0)
Rushing offense: 13th (114.0)
Passing offense: 19th (237.0)
Matchups to Watch
CB D.J. Moore vs. WR Danny Amendola
Currently, Amendola leads the NFL in receptions (20) and is third in receiving yards (230). He's extremely dangerous on third downs, where he leads the league in receptions (8) and is second in yardage (86). He works mainly out of the slot in the Rams' spread offense, meaning Moore will be tasked with covering him for most of the game. Amendola is St. Louis' biggest threat through the air. If Moore can keep him in check, it will go a long way toward stifling the Rams passing attack.
LB Brian Urlacher vs. RB Daryl Richardson
RB Steven Jackson did not practice this week and is listed as questionable. Yet even if he does play, he won't be the biggest threat in the run game. Urlacher's knee is hindering him right now, creating a one-dimensional, north-south player. He is struggling to move laterally and cannot change directions. As such, Richardson, a faster player, will give Urlacher fits running off tackle. The Rams would be wise to exploit that matchup with plenty of pitches, stretches and screens to Richardson.
-OT Wayne Hunter is listed as questionable but practiced on Friday and should be able to go. He'll get a heavy dose of Julius Peppers, with some Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton sprinkled in. Hunter holds the key to keeping QB Sam Bradford upright. If Hunter gives up pressure off the edge, Bradford – a pure pocket passer – will have trouble getting into a rhythm.
-After an unproductive 2011, Bradford has exploded out of the gates in 2012. He currently ranks third in the NFL in passer rating (112.4) and completion percentage (71.7). In the fourth quarter, his rating jumps to 145.8, second best in the league. Additionally, his 125.2 rating on third downs is fourth best.
Pressure is the best way to throw Bradford off his game. With St. Louis' spread offense, it's going to be hard for the Bears to find a lot of blitz opportunities, meaning that pressure must come from the front four. The edge rushers must do their jobs but the defensive tackles, particularly Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye, must also be able to penetrate. The Rams boast arguably the worst offensive line in the league, yet RG Harvey Dahl is a stud. Melton and Okoye must wear him down and apply pressure in Bradford's face.
-WR Brandon Gibson is the Rams' deep threat. His 17.3 yards per catch ranks 17th in the league. While Amendola will be doing his thing underneath, safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte must make sure that Gibson does not get free deep. If he does, Bradford is going to find him for big chunks of yardage.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.