Saturday, November 23, 2013
Three things: Rams-Bears
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS – A look at three things worth watching in Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.
Attack with Zac
Despite the protestations of Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the Bears defensive numbers aren’t quite as skewed as he made it sound this week, at least not when it comes to the success teams have had running the ball against them.
The Bears sit 31st in the league in run defense, allowing 133.9 yards per game on the ground. Likewise, teams are averaging 4.48 yards per carry, which is 27th in the NFL.
Chicago has been crushed by injuries to key players such as cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Henry Melton and will be without defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea this week against the Rams.
All of that should mean a big opportunity for the Rams’ vastly improved run game to have another strong outing powered by rookie back Zac Stacy.
Since taking over in Week 5, Stacy has 533 rushing yards, fifth most among all NFL backs. Each week, his workload seems to get bigger and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon.
“I’m used to getting over 20 carries and I had 20 carries in college for the most part, so it’s really no different,” Stacy said. “It doesn’t feel like a lot, but Monday morning when you wake up that’s when you feel it. It’s been great just being able to help this offense and this team be successful, and I just want to keep that mentality.”
Benny Cunningham showed promise as a change of pace for Stacy against Indianapolis and could also play an important role in this one.
It’s a bit of a cop-out to put turnover-related issues in this space because the turnover battle is always a huge component in determining NFL games. But it takes on a bit more meaning when you play the Bears.
Chicago’s defensive struggles have been well documented, but the one area that group continues to excel is in getting takeaways and converting those takeaways into instant points.
The Rams have done an OK job of taking care of the ball since Kellen Clemens took over at quarterback, but they’ve had some costly giveaways in the red zone in their past two games.
The Bears, meanwhile, have 22 takeaways, tied for fourth most in the league and have scored five defensive touchdowns.
“The one thing that hasn’t gone away from that Chicago defense is the turnovers that they’re able to generate,” Clemens said. “I think they’re third in the league or something right now with 22 takeaways. That’s still going to give their offense opportunities and it’s something that we can’t give them.”
On the flip side, Chicago has been flawless in protecting the ball since its veteran backup, Josh McCown, took over at quarterback. The Rams have forced a respectable 19 turnovers, tied for 10th in the league and will need to find a way to coax McCown into some mistakes, especially if the Bears do what they usually do in this category.
Bears running back Matt Forte is widely regarded as one of the best running backs in the league in no small part because of his ability to make plays as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Forte is sixth in the league in rushing yards with 774 but it’s his versatility that makes him especially dangerous. He’s seventh in the league among running backs in receiving yards with 374. And the Bears rarely miss when targeting Forte, who catches the ball 81.7 percent of the time he’s targeted.
“He’s a really good pass-receiver out of the backfield,” Fisher said. “When you’ve got the targets that they have downfield, they’re stretching the field and you pay attention to them, it’s that check down, that three-four yard checkdown that ends up going 30-40 yards. That’s what concerns you. He’s an outstanding screen back as well. He knows how to set the screen up and hit the alley and use his blockers.”
With McCown at quarterback and his ability to avoid mistakes, it’s likely he’ll continue to take checkdowns when the chances present themselves.
The Rams have struggled against screens in multiple games this season and will need to be aware not only of screens but of Forte leaking out of the backfield for additional catches to have a shot to slow down Chicago’s offense.