When you go against a defense as talented as the Rams’, who also field Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the NFL, you have to have a plan. The Bears weren’t shy that they would specifically focus on a few things to try to limit Donald’s impact on the game, just like any team would. Most noticeably, Matt Nagy dialed up a lot of short passes, including some screens, to get the ball out fast. If you haven’t seen the spray chart of Andy Dalton’s completions, take a look:
That’s right, out of 27 completions, only one was caught farther than 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. In fact, only three passes flew past that 10-yard threshold. The aforementioned completion, the 4th-and-15 heave and Dalton’s interception in the endzone.
While focusing on quick routes may have helped to neutralize Donald’s game-wrecking ability, it may have inadvertently played to the strengths of the Rams’ second-best defensive player: Jalen Ramsey.
“He's a unique player, All-Pro, Pro Bowler, instinctive, especially in short spaces,” said Marquise Goodwin. “Us not running past 10 yards, that fell right into his hand, I feel like.”
Goodwin would know, as he managed to beat Ramsey on Justin Fields’ first NFL completion. The lack of deep routes also limited the Bears’ chances of hitting on explosive plays, something Nagy recognizes will have to change moving forward. While Bears fans may clamor online that starting Justin Fields will help in that department, Nagy made sure to quell that notion, too.
“We want to make sure that we are stretching the field vertically, and we weren’t able to get that as much,” said Nagy on Monday. “And we kinda knew going into it it was gonna be one of those types of games. That’s just one of those deals where we want to, moving forward, try to do everything we can to keep defenses honest going downfield. But nothing to do with Andy as much as it was more of the scheme.”
Conventional thinking says a deep shot or two helps to open up the middle of the field for easier completions, and helps open up the run game as well. Week 2 seems like a great opportunity for Nagy to open up the playbook, too. Even though the Bengals have a strong defensive line, just like the Rams, they were torched for 336 yards through the air against the Vikings, which was fourth-most across the NFL.
Then, players like Goodwin can truly show off what they can bring to the offense.
“I just focus on what I can and it’s just being fast and catching the ball when it comes my way.”