Aaron Donald

(Too) Bold Predictions: The Blake Bortles-Mitch Trubisky debate gets answered once and for all

(Too) Bold Predictions: The Blake Bortles-Mitch Trubisky debate gets answered once and for all

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

J.J. Stankevitz
1. Eddie Jackson -- finally! -- has his first two interceptions of the season.
Does this count as a bold prediction if I've predicted it, incorrectly, multiple times this year? Whatever. Either way: It finally happens! Jared Goff has nine interceptions this year and the Rams' offense has looked broken at times. Sunday should be a nice opportunity for Jackson to finally get that takeaway he's so hungry for, and we'll say he stacks another one on it. These things do come in bunches, after all.

2. Blake Bortles vs. Mitch Trubisky gets settled once and for all.
Sean McVay intentionally put Blake Bortles in the Rams' loss to the Steelers last week, as if one of the NFL's foremost offensive minds was taken over by Jason from "The Good Place." The prediction here: Things go catastrophically wrong for Goff in the first half Sunday night, but the Bears aren't able to capitalize, holding a 6-0 lead at halftime. With the Rams' season on the line, McVay breaks the glass and gives Bortles a shot in the second half, which goes...actually, kind of well? I have the Rams beating the Bears in my official prediction, and I wouldn't imagine a Bortles-led offense would be good enough to beat the Bears. But is a Trubisky-led offense good enough for the Bears to beat the Rams? This could be an ugly, yet fascinating, night if Bortles and Trubisky wind up quarterbacking against each other.

Cam Ellis
1. David Montgomery has his most impressive game of the season. 
The Bears probably aren't going to have a lot of success running it through some of the interior gaps, because, you know, Aaron Donald and all. The Rams' run defense is great (3rd in DVOA) so getting over the (kind of arbitrary) 100-yard mark may not happen, but without Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, and Jalen Ramsey smothering Allen Robinson, the Bears aren't going to have that many options available to them on Sunday night. It sounds like Montgomery may be a gametime decision, but it's hard to imagine how the Bears move the ball at all without him. Whether it's total yardage, the number of touchdowns, or some jaw-dropping display of his space alien abilities to avoid being tackled, Montgomery's the story on Monday morning. 

2. The Bears' offense looks as good as it has all year. 
Like I said in prediction 1, the Bears' offense goes into Sunday night with a serious lack of NFL experience at the skill position. Shaheen and Burton are out, so they'll have to rely on JP Holtz, Ben Braunecker, and Bradley Sowell, who I promise are all real people. Allen Robinson has to go up against Ramsey, and David Montgomery's ankle has made him a maybe. But who cares?! All the common sense says a Trubisky/Cohen/Braunecker core probably isn't getting the best of Wade Phillips, but (Too) Bolds is not the place for common sense. For no rhyme or reason, something about the Bears' offense clicks tonight. Will it be fun? Yes! Will it continue going forward? No! 

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Rams

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Rams

1. Get turnovers, and points off turnovers. 

Jared Goff's interception rate is 2.5 percent, and only three quarterbacks have been picked off more than the nine charged to the former No. 1 overall pick. As a result — fun fact time! — Goff’s passer rating (82.7) is worse than Mitch Trubisky’s (85.2). 

Sean McVay’s play action-heavy offense has still worked at times this year, but Goff has looked like a liability operating it. The opportunities should be there for Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Eddie Jackson — who’s still searching for his first interception of 2019 — to take the ball away multiple times, something they haven’t done since Week 5 (the Bears have two takeaways in their last four games). 

Of course, McVay could deploy an extremely conservative gameplan to keep Goff from putting the ball into harm’s way. But this offense largely is what it is, and as long as the back end of the Bears’ defense doesn’t bite on play action, it’ll have chances to take the ball away. 

And when those chances do come, one of two things needs to happen: Either it’s a pick six, or the Bears’ offense scores a touchdown immediately following a turnover. Sustaining long drives against a good Rams defense will be difficult for an offense that hasn’t really done that in 2019 anyway. So score on short fields, or get defensive touchdowns, and the Bears will put themselves in position to win on Sunday night. 

2. Make it three for three against Aaron Donald. 

The Bears muted Aaron Donald’s impact a year ago, limiting him to just one tackle in their 15-6 win at Soldier Field. Credit Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand for an excellent coaching job of his guys last December, which maybe wasn’t a fluke — when Hiestand’s Notre Dame offensive line faced Donald back in 2013, they held the then-Pitt star to…one tackle. 

Hiestand’s O-line shut down Donald last year with backup Bryan Witzmann starting at right guard, though the challenge on Sunday may be greater given current right guard Rashaad Coward is still very much a greenhorn at his position. And Donald, too, is entering Sunday playing some of his best football. 

Five of Donald’s six sacks have come in his last four games, and he has 13 “stops” — tackles that represent a failure for the opposing offense, as defined by PFF — in that same span. His ability to wreck the game, whether or not David Montgomery plays (he's a gametime decision with an ankle injury), needs to be held in check. 

The Rams are fourth in defensive DVOA, one spot ahead of the Bears, with Wade Phillips’ defense actually improving off 2017 and 2018 while the Rams’ offense has regressed. Donald, who’s still playing like the best defensive player in the NFL for the third year in a row, is a big reason why. 

3. Have Allen Robinson win his matchups against Jalen Ramsey. 

Ramsey hasn’t played the sort of transcendent worthy of sacrificing two first-round picks to acquire, as the Rams did before October’s trade deadline. In three games with the Rams, Ramsey has allowed 14 receptions on 17 targets with no interceptions, though he hasn’t allowed a touchdown either, per PFF. 

While Ramsey has been good, he hasn’t been great — and that should allow Allen Robinson to have chances to make plays as his former Jacksonville Jaguars teammate shadows him. Robinson has been outstanding this year, and has been the only player on the Bears offense in whom Mitch Trubisky has displayed unbridled trust. If he can manage a big game — how about 100 yards and a touchdown? — it’ll be because he won his matchups against Ramsey. And if Robinson does that, the Bears offense will have its best chance at beating one of the league’s better defenses. 

If Trubisky can't get Robinson the ball, or Ramsey gets an interception or two, the Bears will have an exceedingly difficult time overcoming having their best offensive player being taken away. 

Prediction: Rams 22, Bears 13

The Bears will arrive at the Coliseum with a 3.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Football Outsiders, the result of how poor they’ve played this year coupled with a loaded NFC wild card race led by the Minnesota Vikings (7-3) and Seattle Seahawks (7-3). A win will keep their flickering playoff hopes from being extinguished, but it will not mean Chicago can start thinking about the postseason yet. 

The Rams, though, are in a similar boat. A win would move them to 6-4, and they still have a game against the Seahawks remaining that could swing a wild card spot in their favor. So both teams will play Sunday evening with their metaphorical backs against the wall.

Ultimately, the Rams’ defense is what will drive their win. Phillips’ zone-heavy scheme stifled Trubisky and the Bears’ offense last year, and not even having the threat of Trey Burton on Sunday will have a negative impact on Matt Nagy’s offense. 

The Bears will have to play their best game of the season to earn a victory (even better than Week 4), but last weekend’s win over the Lions was not the kind of inspiring effort that leads one to believe a great, complete game is coming. 

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Bears fans prefer Khalil Mack over Aaron Donald by wide margin

Bears fans prefer Khalil Mack over Aaron Donald by wide margin

While most of the attention around Sunday night's showdown between the Chicago Bears (4-5) and Los Angeles Rams (5-4) has been on both teams' struggling quarterbacks and underperforming offenses, the defensive side of the ball will provide fans with a rare opportunity to watch two future Hall-of-Famers: Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.

Mack, who despite falling into a bit of a slump by his standards, remains the Bears' headline player. His 5.5 sacks through nine games put him on pace for just under 10 on the year, which would be the first time since his rookie season that he failed to reach double digits. 

Donald, meanwhile, is also experiencing a regression in his production. He had a remarkable 20.5 sacks in 2018 but is on pace for just under 11 sacks in 2019, which is actually right around his yearly average. And let's face it: last season was his career-year.

The analytics paint a clearer picture for how well Mack and Donald have played this season. Mack's 89.4 grade from Pro Football Focus ranks him seventh among edge defenders, but keep in mind that third place is currently held by 49ers rookie Nick Bosa with an 89.7. Mack can easily end the year at or near the top once again. 

Donald, on the other hand, doesn't have to make a run to reach the top of the interior defenders' list. He owns PFF's highest grade with a 92.9. In fact, Donald's grade is the highest for any defensive player in the NFL entering Week 11.

So, yeah, the Bears' interior offensive line trio of Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward have their work cut out for them.

But even with Donald having such a fantastic season and Mack struggling a bit over the last month or so, Bears fans are still all-in on No. 52. We ran a poll on Twitter asking which of these two superstars fans would rather have in Chicago, and the results were overwhelmingly in Mack's favor.

Is this a because of fan bias? Maybe. But the annual conversation about who will win the league's defensive player of the year always includes these two guys; it's not unreasonable to think 81 percent of Bears fans would prefer the edge rusher over the interior disrupter. Although, with the way the NFL's passing offenses are evolving, we're seeing more and more evidence that interior disruption is as valuable (if not more valuable) as pressure off the edge. Let's see how a poll like this shakes out a year from now.

Mack and Donald represent the worst possible reality for a struggling quarterback. The last guy Jared Goff wants chasing him down is Mack, and Donald busting through the offensive line is a nightmare-turned-reality for Mitch Trubisky. It'll be must-see TV.

Kickoff between the Bears and Rams is scheduled for 7:20 p.m. CST on NBC's Sunday Night Football.