Sunday, November 24, 2013
5 things to watch: Bears at Rams
By Michael C. Wright
Here's a look at five things to watch for Sunday when the Chicago Bears face the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:
Communication in the noise: The Bears know they'll need to find a way to communicate efficiently in the Edward Jones Dome, which is a noisy venue. Complicating that, however, will be St. Louis' formidable pass rush led by Robert Quinn (12 sacks) and Chris Long (6.5 sacks), not to mention the Rams, coming off a bye will be fresh.
"The Rams are a very fast defense, especially when you play them on turf," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "The two defensive ends are very quick off the ball. They time your snap count. So we have to do a good job of changing the count and being ready to get off in a hurry. The difference is probably the turf and the noise in an away game. Last week, we faced two excellent ends, but when you get in someone's home field and they have the noise and you have to get off in the noise, out of your stance in the noise, it's a little tougher; big challenge for us."
That's why center Roberto Garza and quarterback Josh McCown will be key in making pre-snap adjustments and line calls. McCown needs to change up the snap count constantly to keep the Rams off balance.
Offense's start: In Chicago's first two possessions last week against the Baltimore Ravens, McCown hit on just 2 of 5 throws for 8 yards and suffered a sack. Garza flipped out a bad snap on the third play from scrimmage that also slowed the team's start.
The Bears can't hope for a weather delay like last week, which actually helped the offense to regroup and come out firing on all cylinders after the stoppage in play.
"I think we've just got to be a little bit more tuned in maybe Friday through Sunday [with the game plan]," McCown said. "I'm not sure exactly, but I think there's something. There was a disconnect there for us. It's not coaches, it's just players."
To prevent a similar start this week, McCown and Trestman have stressed the need for the Bears to conduct extra studying in the 48 hours prior to Sunday's kickoff.
Julius Peppers: Facing a solid tackle last week in Baltimore's Eugene Monroe, Peppers finished with 12 tackles and a pair of sacks in Sunday's win. Peppers has posted three sacks, 15 tackles and two pass breakups over his last three outings. So it's safe to say Peppers is finally rolling after notching only one sack over the first four games of the season. But that needs to continue as the Bears embark on the playoff push.
In recent weeks, the coaching staff has started to limit Peppers' practice repetitions in an attempt to make sure he's fresh for Sundays.
"How do I feel? Not as fresh. This is Game 11, so it's a long season," Peppers said. "We've just got to adjust, whether it be getting extra treatment, managing practice time or you just got to find what works for you. We're still trying to jell. It's an ongoing process, and I see a little improvement, but we still have a long ways to go. We'll never get there, but we'll try to get as close as possible."
Run defense: Chicago's run defense is what needs to improve most. The Bears currently rank 31st against the run, allowing an average of 133.9 yards per game. The Bears have surrendered 40 runs this season for gains of 10 yards or more, including 10 runs for gains of 21 yards or more.
"If you just take a look at the last game. We had a double-digit run, a big run, early in the first drive, and then we were able to make some corrections and settle down for the most part, the rest of the game," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "That's what we have to do, we have to start faster and we have to eliminate those big runs. There is progress being made, but its' not where we want it to be right now. We know the areas where we need to improve."
Kick coverage teams: The Bears have Devin Hester. The Rams have a younger version in Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft. Austin became the first Ram since 2008 to score three touchdowns in a game on Nov. 10, and the third player NFL history to score three touchdowns of 55 yards or more in a game. Austin did that by catching two TD passes, but what scares the Bears is the 98-yard punt return he ran back against the Colts.
So the Bears need to tighten up the kick-coverage units, especially with so many inexperienced players filling in due to injuries.
"We've got one that's like him [in Hester]," Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "I know when we were playing Devin, it was always nerve wracking getting ready for him and it's the same thing with this guy. The thing that nobody gets is how many returns he's had called back. Dallas, a touchdown, a 50-yarder I believe, and there were several others during the year. He's explosive. It's going to be a real test for us."