The Bears and Rams are arguably the two biggest disappointments in the NFC this season.
The Rams have dropped four of their past six – with only wins over the Bengals and Falcons – and the Bears are losers in four of their past five, beating only the Matt Stafford-less Lions.
The Rams have been just OK in most categories while the Bears offense is in a race to the bottom, but the defense is still a top-10 group.
Both of these clubs’ difficulty of schedules to date are above average and somewhat similar, but the Rams have been able to coast a bit after a tough start while the Bears have been in the meat of theirs in recent weeks.
There is just nothing to suggest right now that either of these teams is poised to rise up and give us a worthwhile encore to the Vikings-Cowboys and Seahawks-49ers prime-time treats in Week 10.
Rams offense vs. Bears defense: Leading his club to a Super Bowl last season, it appeared Jared Goff had arrived as a franchise QB, but he has struggled mightily with his Super Bowl hangover this year, completing barely 60% of his attempts (60.3) and partially negating his 11 TD passes with nine picks.
Equally puzzling is what’s happened to Todd Gurley. An MVP candidate a year ago, Gurley has only 119 touches through nine games, with 428 yards rushing (4.1) and 81 receiving on 15 grabs. We assume it’s his knees, but the Rams aren’t saying.
Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are as solid a trio of receivers as you’ll find, and Kupp is having a Pro Bowl campaign, but the three have found the end zone only six combined times and Cooks is battling a concussion that sidelined him last week.
The Bears “D” has struggled with tight ends, and Gerald Everett is good if not great (34-365-2 receiving), while Tyler Higbee’s 21 catches help make the Rams formidable at the position.
Ultimately, the Rams are just 12th in total offense while the Bears are ninth on defense, and the Rams are 20th running the ball, sixth throwing it, 22nd on third down and 10th in scoring at 25.1/game, compared to the Bears “D” at ninth, 15th, 11th and fourth, respectively.
Bears offense vs. Rams defense: Most of Chicago is painfully aware of the Bears travails on offense – 29th in total offense, 27th running, 30th passing, 26th in sacks allowed, 29th in third down conversions and 27th scoring (18.0 points a game).
And the whole world knows about defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in each of the past two seasons. Like Mack, Donald’s numbers are off a bit this season, but his 5 ½ sacks and 15 ½ tackles for loss still make him a game wrecker, and the Bears’ issues on the interior of their offensive line are well documented. This is a nasty matchup for the Bears.
Michael Brockers also can be disruptive inside, so youngsters James Daniels and Rashaad Coward are certain to have their work cut out for them, and Dante Fowler Jr. will keep Charles Leno and Bobby Massie busy all night long, too.
Clay Matthews was off to an excellent start at linebacker until he broke his jaw – coinciding with the time the Rams’ recent slide began – and veteran Eric Weddle has been what the Rams hoped he would be at safety.
All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey has yet to make a huge impact since his arrival, and he and Allen Robinson should know each other very well from their time together on the practice fields in Jacksonville.
The Bears’ “other” receivers will have to take advantage of young corners Troy Hill, David Long and Nickell Roby-Coleman for Chicago to compete.
Special teams: Rams PK Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein and P Johnny Hekker are two of the best in the business, but so far this season, neither is really out-kicking Eddy Pineiro or Patrick O’Donnell, and O’Donnell might even rate a slight edge over Hekker with his 16 punts inside the 20 and just two touchbacks vs. Hekker’s 10/1 ratio. The Bears rate clear edges in punt return, kickoff return and punt coverage, while kickoff coverage is close to even.
Coaches: Sean McVay, the NFL’s 2017 Coach of the Year, and Matt Nagy, the 2018 Coach of the Year, have a lot in common beyond the fact they are both struggling right now. Much as Nagy pretty much leaves his defense to Chuck Pagano, McVay relies on Wade Phillips on that side of the ball.
While both won their top coach awards on the strengths of their own adaptations of the West Coast offense, they also are well regarded for the cultures they’ve built and communication skills with their players.
The only clear difference is McVay has been at it twice as long, but two-plus years on the job aren’t career defining either.