Week 3 W2W4: Bears-Rams
September, 21, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO BEARS (1-1) vs. ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-1)Noon Sunday at Soldier Field on FOX
| Game day should be a welcome respite for Jay Cutler, who has been subjected to an intense week of scrutiny and criticism for his actions and performance in the team’s loss to the Packers. With a better game plan, protection and better decision making, it’s likely Cutler rebounds in front of the home crowd. Sam Bradford, meanwhile, seems to be on a hot streak having thrown four touchdowns and just one interception on the season to go with a passer rating of 112.4. Bradford faces a difficult task against Chicago’s defense, but he held up well in his first two games against respectable opponents.
|Matt Forte has been declared out for this game, but the Bears don’t anticipate a drop off with Michael Bush starting his first game as a Chicago Bear. Bush possesses deceptive speed and moves in between the tackles, while giving the team a little more power than they’d have with Forte in the lineup. The Rams face uncertainty at running back, too, because Steven Jackson is a game-time decision after missing the week of practice because of a groin injury. If Jackson can’t play, the Rams will call on Daryl Richardson, who brings a speed element to the offense.|
|Cutler and the offensive line took the brunt of criticism for the team’s performance in the loss to the Packers, but the receiving corps was virtually non-existent, especially No. 1 target Brandon Marshall, who was neutralized. The Bears need others to step up such as Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester as well as Marshall. Danny Amendola caught 12 passes in the first half of St. Louis’ game last week, which tied Reggie Wayne’s record for the most catches in a half. Brandon Gibson and Steve Smith are also capable targets.|
| RG Lance Louis was the only Chicago offensive lineman to put together a strong performance against the Packers, and the Bears go into Sunday with a new starter at left guard after they decided to go with Chilo Rachal over Chris Spencer. The struggles of LT J’Marcus Webb are well documented. But expect an improved performance up front for the Bears.
St. Louis is ravaged by injuries up front, which can’t be a positive sign against a Bears defensive line that seems to have found its groove.
|Rams DE Chris Long is coming off a 13-sack 2011 season, but hasn’t yet made a sack in 2012 despite generating eight pressures through the first two games. His counterpart on the other side, Robert Quinn, has produced two sacks. Chicago’s defensive line led by DE Julius Peppers and DT Henry Melton (at least one sack in each of the last two games) is a deep group that includes a pair of promising pass rushers in rookie Shea McClellin and third-year DE Corey Wootton. The youth and athleticism of Chicago’s front four will lead to plenty of duress for Bradford.
|Bears MLB Brian Urlacher continues to work himself back to form, but the truth is he’s still got a way to go. But he played all of the club’s defensive snaps against the Packers and came away with 11 stops. Lance Briggs continues to play at a high level and Nick Roach is coming off a seven-tackle outing. MLB James Laurinaitis has posted double-digit tackle totals for the Rams in two consecutive weeks, while Rocky McIntosh brings experience. WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar ranks second on the team in tackles (20).|
|The Bears are allowing 254 yards per game through the air, but the secondary is producing turnovers. CB Tim Jennings leads the Bears with three interceptions and Chris Conte also has a pick, while CB Charles Tillman forced his 30th career fumble last week against the Packers. The Rams field a feisty group led by CB Courtland Finnegan, who joined the club in free agency. Rookie CB Janoris Jenkins looks promising and S Quintin Mikell is a hard hitter coming off a 100-tackle 2011 season.|
|The Bears gave up a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt, and although the unit hasn’t played badly, it hasn’t performed up to its usual standards of performance. Devin Hester needs only one return TD to tie Deion Sanders for most career return TDs. K Robbie Gould and P Adam Podlesh, meanwhile, continue to put together solid games. Amendola is a dangerous threat as a punt returner. But the Bears might be able to take advantage of inexperience. The Rams have rookies at punter and kicker, and a second-year player handling snapping duties.|
|A former Chicago Bear player, Jeff Fisher has 148 overall wins, which ranks him fourth among active head coaches. But Fisher and Lovie Smith get an opportunity to break a head-to-head tie. Overall, Fisher hasn’t enjoyed much success as a coach against his former team, judging by his 1-3 record against the Bears. Smith, meanwhile, hasn’t yet lost in games he’s coached against St. Louis (3-0), where he served as the Rams defensive coordinator from 2001-03.|
|The final 23-10 score of Chicago’s loss to the Packers wasn’t indicative of how poorly the Bears performed on national television. So surely the Bears will be looking to bounce back in a major way in front of their home crowd after an extended rest. With a difficult matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, the Bears know the importance of Sunday’s game. So look for improvement in all facets of offense from the Bears. The Rams entered the season with a new head coach in Fisher, a new general manager in Les Snead, and 31 players on the roster who didn’t play for the team in 2011. So this Rams team is totally different from what fans have become accustomed. They played well against a solid Detroit Lions team in the opener, and are coming off a comeback win over the Redskins.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 27, Rams 17|