Chicago Bears: St. Louis Rams
“If I go line up at quarterback and take a couple of snaps, you are all going to say we are running the option or running the Wildcat,” Hester said. “That’s your job.”
“I did it to have fun,” Hester said. “Being a special-teamer now, I really don’t get as many reps as the normal guys do in practice since I’m a specialist now with the returns. That’s pretty much all I do now. To keep myself busy, I jump in every now and again to play around.
“We all hang out off the field, so whenever I come over there and play around with those guys, it gives them a little more energy and a little more excitement to go out there and work hard. When they see me in their group, it sparks them up a little bit. You have to make practice fun. You just can’t go through the same routine every day. When you joke around and have some fun, it goes by quick.”
While Hester seemed to enjoy the attention, he got serious for a moment when asked if he could cover Tavon Austin, the Rams' speedy rookie wide receiver, if the situation called for it.
“I can cover anybody,” Hester said before cracking a smile. “Just put a safety over the top, and I can shut anybody down. I need a safety over the top; I’m a Cover 2 man.”
Hester is likely an emergency option for the Bears if they suffer more injuries in the secondary Sunday. Cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) has already been ruled out, while safety Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion and starting nickelback Isaiah Frey is dealing with a fractured right hand that will require him to wear a cast during the game. The Bears also have reserve cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin on the depth chart, and could theoretically elevate another defensive back from the practice squad before Sunday since the active roster stands at 52 (the max is 53).
“It’s like having a flat tire,” Paea said about the bad toe. “Imagine having to drive on a flat tire.”
Paea will continue to rest and receive treatment on the toe, but he’s unsure how long he’s going to be sidelined.
“It’s just frustrating right now,” Paea said. “It’s the same exact thing injury. I just re-aggravated it. The field was kind of wet (Sunday), so that (probably helped cause) it.”
With Paea down for at least a week, the Bears are expected to welcome back defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring). McClellin participated fully in practice the entire week and is listed as probable.
Also probable for the Rams game: long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) and right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps).
Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) is questionable, and had limited participation in practice on Friday.
Quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Week 12. However, Ratliff practiced Friday (limited participation) and might be ready to make his Bears’ debut in Week 13.
The Bears' roster stands at 52 players (53 is the max). The open roster spot could be used to elevate a defensive back off the practice squad if Steltz is inactive on Sunday.
“Shea practiced full today so we feel good about that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “[We feel good about] getting some people back. Isaiah worked noncontact [drills] today and was limited.”
Right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps) and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also practiced without restrictions.
Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were limited. Trestman effectively ruled out Ratliff for the Rams game, but Steltz appears to be making progress after being on the wrong end of a nasty collision while covering a kickoff last week versus the Baltimore Ravens.
Starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) missed practice for the second consecutive day and is unlikely to play Sunday in St. Louis.
The Bears officially ruled out weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) earlier in the week, but Cutler seems to be on the mend. The quarterback attended practice again Thursday without a hard cast on his left leg to protect his high-ankle sprain. Cutler simply wore a brace on the ankle and stood on the field for much of the workout that is open to the media.
Trestman was asked if Cutler is permanently out of the hard cast.
“I really don’t have an answer for you,” Trestman said. “It’s really a week-to-week thing. Really, on the cast or the brace he has, it might be a day-to-day thing. But I’m really not any more informed than that. Other than that, I know Jay is going to be week-to-week. I said day-to-day [Wednesday]; I meant week-to-week. … And we’ll see where he is. You see him in practice. You’re getting a good idea of where he’s at. You see him moving around, trying to move around during the individual periods that you’re out there to see and get a good idea of where he’s at. And hopefully he won’t have to have the cast put on.”
Much has changed over the years, with the Rams moving around before settling about 4 1/2 hours south on I-55.
Sunday's game between the teams will be the 89th in their history, but it represents much more for each.
At 6-4, the Bears are still in the hunt for the NFC North Division and, failing that, a potential NFC wild-card berth. The Rams are clinging to their playoff lives at 4-6 and probably need to win out to reach the postseason.
ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright take a closer look at Sunday's matchup.
Wagoner: There's been lots of talk about the quarterback situation up there, something that we can relate to in St. Louis. Josh McCown seems like he's done a good job filling in for Jay Cutler. What does he bring to the table that allows him to have success, and how do teammates view him?
Wright: Aside from the immense physical gifts such as athleticism and his ability to make up for whatever limitations he may have in terms of arm strength with anticipatory skills, McCown possesses an engaging personality that makes his teammates play hard for him. Bears general manager Phil Emery in the past has called McCown "a glue guy." Having played for several teams where he gained experience as a starter and worked behind quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner and Jon Kitna, McCown has taken what he's learned and applied it to his own play while relaying some of those experiences to Chicago's younger players. That's part of the reason McCown is widely considered a fatherly figure in the locker room. McCown's teammates respect him immensely because the veteran knows his role and works just as hard as starter Jay Cutler to be prepared to assume that role when the situation calls for it.
Speaking of backup quarterbacks, this game is certainly going to be a Backup Bowl and Kellen Clemens seems to be settling in as the replacement for Sam Bradford. What does he bring to the table and how confident is the team in his ability to get it done down the stretch?
Wagoner: After reading your response about McCown, I was tempted to just copy and paste it and simply sub in Clemens' name where appropriate. Clemens' numbers are about what you'd expect from a backup and fall in line with his career totals. He had pretty much the ideal game you'd want him to have against Indianapolis. He didn't have to throw much, but when he did, he made no mistakes and took advantage of big-play opportunities. What's more, he's completely unafraid to step up in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball or pull it down and try to make something happen with his legs. His teammates respect him and it shows in the way they battle for him week to week. To be sure, Clemens is no Bradford, but he has already given the Rams all they want on the field and has been a key mentor in the locker room for his many young teammates.
Switching gears a bit, Chicago's defense has taken an obvious step backward this year. How much of that do you attribute to the change in coaching staff and how much is a product of aging core players on the defense at large?
Wright: There's a little bit of all of that going on, but the biggest blow to the defense by far has been injuries. The Bears lost starting nickel corner Kelvin Hayden for the year before the season even started, then lost franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton with a torn ACL only to see his replacement, Nate Collins, lost for the season with the same injury. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman landed on the injured-reserve list due to a torn triceps suffered Nov. 10, and seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has been out the past three games with a small fracture in a shoulder. Oh, did I mention the Bears also lost starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea has been in and out of the lineup -- and there's a chance he could miss Sunday -- with a nagging turf toe injury and defensive end Shea McClellin missed the past two games due to a strained hamstring? So injuries have destroyed chemistry for the Bears. Considering all the defense has gone through, it's somewhat a surprise it hasn't performed more poorly.
With the Rams coming off a bye, what areas needed the most work during the time away, and is the team confident it was able to sufficiently address them?
Wagoner: I suppose the simple answer to this question is they needed to work on everything during the bye week, but it's more detailed than that. The Rams are again the youngest team in the league and the thing they struggle with most is consistency. They simply haven't been able to string together good performances. So the mission over the bye was to get healthy, get their young guys extra reps in practice and try to position themselves to follow up a dominant win against Indianapolis with another strong performance this week against the Bears. Most notably, they must find a way to be better week to week on defense. They've had some thoroughly dominant performances surrounded by clunkers. Without Bradford, the margin for error is even smaller, so it falls on the defense to pick up the slack by putting up strong performances every time out. The Rams were riding high after the win against the Colts. They believe they can win every week. We'll see if the bye served them well or killed whatever momentum they might have built in Indy.
On the subject of that defense, the Rams clearly have a tall order coming Sunday. With Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte and the emergence of Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, this seems like as good a group of skill position players as the Bears have had in a long time. Do you view it that way and what does that mean for the team moving forward?
Wright: Absolutely, it's probably the best they've had collectively in the past 20 years and signifies a shift in philosophy for the organization. Prior to the addition of coach Marc Trestman; the Bears always spent their money to build elite defenses while sacrificing quality on offense. But Emery has made it clear the Bears want to start fielding more explosive offenses while continuing the tradition of strong play on defense. So the Bears have invested heavily on offense in free agency and the draft, and it appears they'll be able to keep the group together for a long time, especially if they can secure Marshall for the long term because his contract is set to expire after next season. So while it appears the Bears are set on offense, they've got to immediately turn the attention back to the defense, which is aging and has several players coming up on the end of their contracts at season's end. Tillman's deal is about to expire and the team must decide if it wants to continue to invest huge cap dollars in defensive end Julius Peppers. I'd expect an interesting offseason for the Bears this spring, and a radically changed defense in terms of personnel in 2014.
Last spring, it seemed that a good portion of the Chicago fan base really hoped that somehow Tavon Austin would fall to the Bears. He's obviously made plenty of noise recently for the Rams and seems to be ascending. How much is there that we haven't yet seen from this guy?
Wagoner: Austin is still just scratching the surface of his big-play potential. His breakthrough performance against the Colts was nice, but now it's up to him and the Rams to find a way for him to duplicate it on a more regular basis. Responsibility for Austin's early-season struggles was shared by all parties -- some of it was his struggles to catch the ball and run good routes consistently, some was a product of an offense unsure how to deploy him best -- but it seems things are opening up for him a bit. The Rams have made a more concerted effort to get him the ball down the field in recent weeks as opposed to throwing the short screens and hitches that went nowhere in the first half of the season. That doesn't even include his home run ability as a returner. Austin still has plenty of room to get better, but in the meantime, his breakout game should not only bolster his confidence but open some other things up for the offense.
But does this mean Hester, a former collegiate and NFL cornerback, is a candidate to line up on the defensive side of the ball Sunday in St. Louis?
“He’ll jump into (the drills) from time to time and get a little work in,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “But there is really no news there. I’m not in the conversation business.”
Hester started games at cornerback and nickel back in college at the University of Miami and was a reserve cornerback for the Bears in 2006. Hester saw limited time on defense but did record 11 tackles and one pass break-up.
“We try to keep Devin as busy as we can throughout the course of practice,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “But you never know. You never know. We certainly want to keep him doing what he’s been doing. But he does have value, certainly, doing other things. And who knows. Nothing’s out of the question. It’s not something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about.”
With Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman on injured reserve and starting nickel back Isaiah Frey dealing with a fractured hand, perhaps Hester is an emergency option in the event the team suffers another injury at cornerback, or if Frey’s hand becomes an issue during the game. Tim Jennings is the logical candidate to bump inside and play the complicated nickel back position if Frey is unable to go. But given Hester’s experience, there is a remote possibly that he could be asked to step in at cornerback and play zone coverage. However, the Bears do currently have two reserve cornerbacks on the active 53-man roster: Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin.
Long certainly held his own when the offensive and defensive lineman squared off in the individual one-on-one pass rushing drill, which is always the most enjoyable drill to watch from a spectator standpoint. On two separate occasions, Long pushed Bears defenders to the ground before they were able to head up field, the first player being defensive tackle Nate Collins, one of the club’s better inside pass-rushers.
“They definitely play to the whistle, I'll give them that,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said during Fox's postgame show in Chicago. “They play hard to the whistle every time. Today wasn't that bad. There are some things on film you see, but today didn't seem that bad. There was a little bit of yapping, but that's going to happen every game.”
Bears offensive lineman Chilo Rachal agreed.
“They talk a lot, extremely a lot,” Rachal said. "Me in my position, I feel it’s unnecessary. Everybody is a competitor. When you’re losing, I guess you feel the need to talk much. I think that’s their game plan. They’ve been doing it since Game 1. That’s what we hear. The Redskins said they played dirty. I think that’s their game plan to get in guys’ heads. It’s dumb. It’s foolish.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call them dirty. Because I’m on the line, I don’t get to see everything. I just think they talk a lot of trash, but as far as dirty, I didn’t get to really see any of that."
Bears running back Michael Bush said the Rams’ trash-talking wasn’t too effective.
“You just look at them, and they’ll shut up the next time they’re back,” Bush said. “That’s the game. If you don’t get caught up in it, it’ll be fine.”
In last week’s loss to the Rams, Griffin III thought the Rams were unprofessional in their behavior and hit him after plays. Griffin was sacked once and knocked down several times in the game.
The Rams sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler twice on Sunday, were called once for roughing the kicker on a punt and once for roughing the quarterback.
CHICAGO -- Despite all the additions and lofty expectations for the offense, defense -- as usual -- carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-6 triumph Sunday over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.
Led by Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks), the Bears sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, with Major Wright returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to limiting the signal-caller to a passer rating of 39.2.
Coming off a meltdown in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago’s offense -- which operated without starting running back Matt Forte -- sputtered, but showed small signs of improvement.
Here’s a closer look:
What it means: The entire NFC North entered this week’s games with 1-1 records, so the Bears needed a win to stay in the mix atop the division standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the race. But the Bears didn’t want to put themselves in a hole so early in the season and fall into a situation where they’re playing catch-up.
Besides that, winning is the best way to rebound from a devastating defeat like the one suffered on Sept. 13 at Green Bay.
Front four still fearsome: Chicago’s front four built on its impressive start to the season by generating six sacks of Bradford on Sunday to run up their season total to 14.
The Bears entered the game tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks, accounting for 47 yards in losses. Interestingly, every one of those sacks had come from the defensive line. But Nick Roach broke the string of sacks by defensive linemen by getting in on the action for the club’s linebackers.
Missed opportunity: Devin Hester's drop of a sure touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter seemed to sum up a day of missed opportunities by the Bears' offense. The Bears had just driven 11 plays, and siphoned away close to six minutes off the clock only to settle for a 22-yard Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 13-6.
Hester’s miss was just one of many by the Bears, who suffered multiple dropped passes from Brandon Marshall and some errant throws by Cutler.
The offense hoped to rebound in front of the home crowd after last Thursday’s embarrassing performance. The unit showed improvement in several areas, but for the most part sputtered.
Major playmaker? Wright has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout his three-year tenure with the team, ranging from questions about durability to his grasp of Chicago’s defensive system. Well, Wright finally seems to be dispelling the doubts.
In the fourth quarter Sunday, Wright intercepted a Bradford pass intended for Danny Amendola with 9:06 left to play and returned it for a 45-yard TD to make the score 20-6 after the extra-point kick. Tim Jennings, who also picked off a pass late in the game, tipped the ball right into Wright’s hands. But on the return for a TD, Wright showcased the physical traits the Bears raved about when they drafted him with a third-round pick in 2010.
Wright recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the team’s system contributed to his problems over the first two years of his career. But in the offseason, Wright said he put forth more of an effort to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies of the defense, and that appears to be paying off.
Wright entered Sunday’s game with 15 tackles in three starts.
Windy City: Kickers took advantage of light east winds in the first half with Gould connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting on a 56-yarder with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Gould’s 54-yard bomb was his longest since Dec. 11 of last season when he booted a 57-yard field goal at Denver. Since Dec. 5, 2010, Gould is 6-of-6 on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.
Two No. 1s down, three to go: Bradford marked the second of five No. 1 overall picks the Bears will face this season. The club faced 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck in Week 1 and came away with three interceptions in 41-21 victory over the Colts and limited Bradford, the first pick of 2010, on Sunday to 152 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 39.2.
Each of the club’s first four home games features No. 1 overall picks. The next two are Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick of ’09, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the top pick in ’11. The Bears wrap up matchups against No. 1s in Week 11 when they face Alex Smith (No. 1 overall in ’05) at San Francisco on Nov. 19.
Best actor goes to: No contest, Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi wins. After locking up with Rams defensive end William Hayes at the end of a Michael Bush run, Carimi flopped to the turf in an attempt to draw a penalty. If you recall, Carimi was called in the team’s loss to the Packers on Sept. 13 for a personal foul for continuing after the whistle was blown.
Hayes didn’t appear to be doing that when Carimi appeared to throw up his arms and basically launch himself backward onto the ground.
Bad acting, Gabe. You deserve a Razzie. It was certainly entertaining, though, drawing giggles throughout the Soldier Field press box.
What’s next: The Bears receive another opportunity on the national stage next Monday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Surely the memory of the meltdown at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13 will remain fresh on the club’s mind in preparation for the Cowboys. So the Bears will work hard to avoid a repeat performance in the national spotlight.
Defensively, the Bears continued their stingy ways with a front four that registered three sacks of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in the first two quarters.
So if there are any adjustments to be made, they fall solely on the offense. Here are a few suggestions:
Run the ball more: The Bears don’t seem to have fully committed themselves to running the ball despite Bush, Kahlil Bell and Devin Hester combining in the first half for respectable numbers. By what the Bears have done so far with the ground attack, they’ve been able to dominate time of possession. In fact with 1:56 left in the first half, the Bears were leading time of possession 19:19 to 8:45. We’ve said it here over and over again: the Bears can run all the play action passes they want. But if they haven’t shown any type of commitment to the run, the play fakes aren’t believable to the defense.
Through the first two quarters, Bush has been a pounder. The Bears should continue to let him pound, which will enable them later to hit big off playaction.
The Bears ran the ball 19 times for 77 yards in the first two quarters, but the attempts need to increase even more.
Eliminate the mistakes: Whether it’s false starts, errant throws or dropped passes, the Bears have hurt themselves too much already, and it’s somewhat surprising that St. Louis hasn’t been able to capitalize. Brandon Marshall has dropped at least two passes so far, as has Alshon Jeffery. But the receivers aren’t the only problem here. Cutler hasn’t been exactly accurate thus far. Perhaps that explains his passer rating of 44.8 and the fact he’s already thrown an interception.
The Bears need to pick up where they left off in the second quarter, when they moved the ball efficiently on the way to extending their lead. During that drive, Cutler completed 5 of 6 for 46 yards and offensive coordinator Mike Tice called a nice mix of runs and passes, which kept the Rams off balance on a scoring drive capped by Bush’s 3-yard run.
Win matchups up front: The Bears operated out of the one-back, double tight end formation for several plays in the first half. But when they do that they’re using maximum protection, which means the Bears get just two receivers out on the route. Well, it’s much easier for the Rams to cover just two receivers as opposed to four or five. But the Bears can run multiple receivers out on routes because they need them blocking for Cutler.
So if the Bears want to start using more three- and four-receiver sets, the offensive linemen need to win their individual battles so Tice won’t continue to give them help from running backs and tight ends on passing plays. The Bears can’t execute the full play book until they can adequately protect Cutler. The offensive line hasn’t shown that capability consistently enough just yet. But it definitely needs to.
Matt Forte -- declared out on Friday -- leading a group of inctive Bears that includes former starting defensive tackle Matt Toeaina.
Other Bears inactives include receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, guard Edwin Williams, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, defensive tackle Nate Collins and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu. With Toeaina out of action Sunday, it’s expected that recently acquired defensive tackle Amobi Okoye will take his spot in the defensive line rotation.
Inactives for the Rams include quarterback Austin Davis, safety Matthew Daniels, running back Terrance Ganaway, defensive tackle Matthew Conrath, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, receiver Brian Quick and defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
ST. LOUIS RAMS at CHICAGO BEARSWhen: Noon, Sunday | TV: Fox, Ch. 32, WFLD-TV | RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
CHICAGO BEARS (1-1)
Coach: Lovie Smith Record including playoffs: 72-58
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Jeff Fisher: 1-1 | Career record vs. Rams: 3-0
Last week: Lost to Packers 23-10
Key stat: With seven takeaways, the Bears are tied for the NFL lead after three games with four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Since Smith became head coach of the Bears in 2004, the club leads the NFL in takeaways and has compiled a record of 43-9 over that span when they finish a game on the positive side of turnover margin.
Offense rank in 2011: 27th (298 ypg) | Defense rank: (338.5 ypg).
Offensive leader: Although several factors play a role in pressure such (receivers, the defense, shoddy blocking, etc.), the fact is Jay Cutler has been under pressure 44.4 percent of the time, which is the most in the NFL. That pressure has been tremendously detrimental to
Cutler’s accuracy as he’s completed just 39.1 percent of his throws under those conditions, which ranks among the bottom three quarterbacks in the league.
Defensive leader: CB Tim Jennings has picked off a career-high three passes so far, but what has gone unnoticed this season is how difficult it’s been for opponents to throw against him. Opposing
quarterbacks have generated a passer rating of 19.7 on throws targeted at Jennings’ coverage area, according to Pro Football Focus. As a run defender, Jennings hasn’t yet missed a tackle this season.
ST.LOUIS RAMS (1-1)
Coach Jeff Fisher: Record including playoffs 148-124
Career record vs. Smith: 1-1 | Career record vs. Bears: 1-3
Last week: Defeated the Washington Redskins 31-28
Key stat: Overcame a 15-point deficit against the Redskins to come away with a 31-28 win. Before then, the Rams hadn’t overcome a deficit that large since Nov. 27, 2005, when they came back from 21 down to beat the Houston Texans in overtime.
Offense rank in 2011: 18th (351 ypg). | Defense rank: 24th (401 ypg).
Defensive leader: Coming off a breakout season in 2011 in which he posted 13 sacks, Rams DE Chris Long is still looking for his first sack of 2012. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t wreaked havoc so far this season. Long tallied three pressures in St. Louis’ opener against the Detroit Lions, and five more last week in the win over the Redskins. He’s also got four quarterback hits on the season.
history have accomplished 1,000 yards in seven or more consecutive seasons. That list includes Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Thurman Thomas and LaDanian Tomlinson.
Hester barely missed hitting on a couple of long returns in the first two games of the season, the most notable being a 38-yard kickoff return against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Hester also returned a kickoff 31 yards and a punt 23 yards in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts.
"We've been close," Bears special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "We've been maybe one guy staying on his block a little longer away [from Hester breaking it] in both punt return and kick return. We're knocking on the door there.
"He's always due. Every time he has the ball he's due."
Since his rookie year in 2006, Hester leads the NFL with 47 punt returns of 20-plus yards and is one return score away from tying Deion Sanders for the most combined return touchdowns in NFL history with 19.