The cliché this week is that the Bears-Rams game is a statement game for the Bears. Well, it is. Period. “It’ll be a big week for us to get back on track,” coach Matt Nagy said, looking back, then looking ahead, “and understand where we’re at and what we have ahead of us.”
“Understand where we’re at” is really the crux of it, for lots of reasons – starting with Mitch Trubisky, assuming the second-year quarterback is good to go after two games off due to his throwing-shoulder injury.
As far as pressure on Trubisky, that really isn’t any greater than it is every week, or than what the second-year quarterback puts on himself in his own self-generated internal drive to be great. But the Rams game stands with the New England game to this point in this season as a defining, bellwether moment for an arrow-pointing-up quarterback and a team that hopes the same for its collective arrow.
Trubisky is becoming a true leader of his team and he has the stats of a top-10 quarterback. But he is just 6-9 against the NFC, better against “other” conference, which has to change. And he still just reached .500 for his career the last time he was on the field, the win over Minnesota.
That Vikings game was notable for its having been over a “good” team (defined as one with a winning record). It’s something Trubisky has done before: Carolina and Baltimore last season, Seattle and then Minnesota this year.
Not to split hairs here, but still on Trubisky’s to-do list is engineering a win over a “champion,” an elite team winning or that would win its division. That didn’t happen against the Patriots this year or in any of his four meetings with eventual champions last season (Minnesota twice, Philadelphia, New Orleans).
And the simple reality is that the Bears and their quarterback will not be champions unless and until they can defeat them.
Which is not to say that the NFC North title is at stake Sunday night. The only sub-.500 among Minnesota’s final four games is Detroit, which is a road game for the Vikings in a place where they are suspect 3-5 for their last eight meetings with the Lions. The Bears are the only one of Minnesota’s final four opponents against which quarterback Kirk Cousins has a winning record (2-1).
Complacency has sprung up as a mild concern with a young team (usually the ilk susceptible to that un-emotion), with admitted letups in the losses at Green Bay and New Jersey and suspected in the painful, costly backslide at Miami where 11- and seven-point leads were squandered in the span of roughly 18 second-half minutes.
That’s not likely to surface against the Rams, although letting up against the Packers when Aaron Rodgers was still in a helmet ranks as one of the true head-scratchers of 2018 (wounded animals can be far nastier to deal with than healthy ones).
Indeed, if there’s an underlying positive out of the loss to the Giants it may be the shock effect – the Bears were admittedly not fully ready to go at the outset of that game, mystifying if only because they were going into an NFL game with a backup quarterback. Chase Daniel’s performance may actually have contributed to a touch of over-confidence, but only the players in their meeting rooms can speak to that, and no one’ll admit that.
The conventional general NFL defensive philosophy is to make a team one-dimensional by shutting down the opposing run game. The Rams won’t have to do that to the Bears; the Bears have effectively taken care of that themselves with their lack of consistent commitment to and effectiveness in their run game.
Which sets up a simplistic reverse-engineering prospect for what the Bears will face on Sunday:
Make the Bears one-dimensional by going after Trubisky and the passing offense first and force the Bears to beat them using something Matt Nagy and his team don’t do particularly well or even like to do.