The Chicago Bears (6-4) square off against the St. Louis Rams (4-6) on Sunday at noon. The Bears are currently tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North, yet Detroit holds the tiebreaker. The Lions host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) this weekend. Detroit is 3-1 at Ford Field, so they are heavy favorites against a Buccaneers team that is one of the worst in the league.
The Rams are 2-3 at home, while the Bears are 2-2 on the road. If the season ended today, Chicago would not make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the NFC, so the Bears have work to do with just six games left in the season. A loss to St. Louis creates a very steep hill for Chicago to climb if they want to make the postseason.
This will be the 91st meeting between the two franchises, with the Bears holding a 52-35-3 all-time edge. On the road, Chicago is 22-21-1 against the Rams, with the two teams splitting the last six games in St. Louis. The Bears have won the last two matchups at the Edward Jones Dome.
S Craig Steltz (concussion) is questionable and will be a game-time decision.
For the Rams, G Harvey Dahl (knee) and QB Brady Quinn (hip) have been ruled out. CB Cortland Finnegan (eye) is doubtful. Trumaine Johnson will likely start in Finnegan's place. Probable for St. Louis are RB Chase Reynolds (knee), S Darien Stewart (foot) and S Matt Giordano (thigh).
Bears on Offense
Chicago's offensive rankings
Points Scored: 3rd (28.2)
Total Offense: 9th (367.3)
Rushing Offense: 18th (110.3)
Passing Offense: 10th (257.0)
St. Louis' Defensive Rankings
Points Allowed: 14th (23.4)
Total Defense: 19th (351.8)
Rushing Defense: 18th (114.5)
Passing Defense: 14th (237.3)
Matchups to Watch
G Kyle Long vs. DE Chris Long
The sibling rivalry ratchets up to the next level with the Long brothers squaring off for the first time in their respective playing careers. For most of the snaps, Chris will come off the edge, yet he also works inside on occasion, which will pit the two linemen against each other. Chris has 6.5 sacks this season, while Kyle has allowed just two sacks, so it should be a quality matchup if the two go 1-on-1. If Kyle gives way to big brother, it could make Josh McCown miserable.
LT Jermon Bushrod vs. DE Robert Quinn
Quinn is one of the NFL's premier young pass rushers and is currently second in the league with 12.0 sacks. He's a rare breed, one who posses outstanding quickness and speed off the edge, along with immense strength. Bushrod has played well for the Bears this year but he's given up his fair share of pressure. He played well against Terrell Suggs last week but that was in the midst of a rainstorm on a field of mud. In the Edward Jones Dome, an indoor stadium on field turf, footing won't be an issue, so Bushrod must be on top of his game if McCown is to stay clean in the pocket.
Keys on Offense
-The Rams have 32.0 sacks, seventh best in the league, yet they are first in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The team's pair of edge rushers are a handful, meaning Jordan Mills, who is arguably the worst pass-blocking offensive tackle in the league, must raise his level of play. If Mills struggles, Chris Long could have a field day. Expect the Bears to chip and double the right side in order to lessen the burden on their rookie right tackle.
-St. Louis has a group of active linebackers led by fifth-year veteran James Laurinaitis, the team leader in tackles (75) and interceptions (2). Alongside him is rookie Alec Ogletree, a player many Bears fans were calling for in the first round of this year's draft. And then there's Jo-Lonn Dunbar, an average six-year linebacker who won a Super Bowl in New Orleans. Collectively, the group has struggled against the run. If the interior of Chicago's offensive line can corral defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brocker, the two best run stoppers on the team, there should be plenty of room for Matt Forte at the second level. If Chicago's top runner can clear the line of scrimmage, he could turn in some big gains on the ground.
-Veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan is doubtful with an eye injury but in reality, Chicago wants him on the field. Finnegan has been downright horrible in coverage this year. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks are completing 76.5 percent of passes thrown to Finnegan's coverage, good for a collective QB rating of 136.0. He's also allowed four touchdowns, so Brandon Marshall should have a lot of success, whether it's Finnegan or Johnson who shadows him. On the other side of the defense, second-year corner Janoris Jenkins hasn't been much better, allowing five touchdowns of his own this year. Against this secondary, which includes two banged up safeties, there's no reason Chicago can't be very successful through the air. If the passing attack is shut down, something went terribly wrong.
Bears on Defense
Chicago's Defensive Rankings
Points Allowed: 26th (26.7)
Total Defense: 24th (373.0)
Rushing Defense: 31st (133.9)
Passing Defense: 17th (239.1)
Turnover Ratio: 4th (+10)
St. Louis' Offensive Rankings
Points Scored: 19th (22.4)
Total Offense: 27th (316.5)
Rushing Offense: 22nd (99.4)
Passing Offense: 21st (217.1)
Matchups to Watch
LT Jake Long vs. DE Julius Peppers
Long is one of the best offensive tackles in the game and has been well worth the money St. Louis spent on him this offseason. Yet he has allowed five sacks this year, which leads the team, so Peppers will have some opportunities to be disruptive in the backfield. Peppers is coming off his best game of the season – an 11-tackle, two-sack performance against the Ravens – and is playing at his highest level in months. If Peppers can have success against Long, it should rattle QB Kellen Clemens, which will lead to hurried throws and turnovers.
WR Tavon Austin vs. NB Isaiah Frey
The Rams have done a very poor job of getting the ball in Austin's hands this year. He's one of the most explosive players in the league, one who is a homerun hitter every time he touches the ball, yet he's been largely ignored in the passing game this year. He's been targeted three times or less in four of the past five games, including just three targets last week – although he turned those into two catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, which is a testament to his big-play ability. Frey is nursing a sore hand but must put the pain behind him and stay on Austin like a glove. If Frey allows separation and Austin finds space at the second level, it could lead to disaster for Chicago's pass defense.
Keys on Defense
-St. Louis' rushing attack is ranked just 22nd in the league but the team has run the ball much better of late. Over the last three games, the Rams have gained 500 yards on the ground, led by Zac Stacy, whose downhill running style could spell big problems for a Bears defense that has been gashed repeatedly the past month. To make things worse, they'll be without Stephen Paea, the club's best run stopper. The emphasis will fall on Cohen and Wootton to be stout inside, but also on linebackers Jon Bostic and James Anderson, who have made countless mistakes against the run the past few weeks. If holes open like the Red Sea is parting, as they have the past month-plus, Stacy will run wild and the Rams will move the ball very effectively.
-Chicago can't sleep on Brian Quick in four-receiver formations. The rookie wideout has only caught 11 passes this year but four of them have one for 20-plus yards, which includes a 73-yard touchdown grab. If he gets behind the secondary, which has been an all-too-common occurrence for safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte this season, Quick will make the Bears pay.
-The Rams have been pretty decent in pass protection, which is a big change from years past. They've allowed just 24 sacks this season, 11th best in the league. Their weakest link is left guard Chris Williams, a former first-round pick of the Bears. Williams has been a sieve in protection this year, something coordinator Mel Tucker must exploit. If he can dial up some blitzes to put pressure on Williams, Chicago will have success getting after Clemens, which will go a long way toward picking up a road victory.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.