3TFO: Bears @ Rams, Week 12
Despite having to travel for it, Chicago will be happy to see this one played in a dome after battling the weather in their Week 11 overtime win over Baltimore. This game marks a stretch where the Bears will be living out of suitcases in four of five weeks as they try to outlast Detroit and Green bay for the NFC North crown.
For the Rams, their 4-6 record sees them not far from the wild card race, but trailing their entire division and with an imposing schedule the rest of the way — they don’t appear to be a smart bet to challenge for a place in the postseason.
This is the 91st time these two long-time NFL franchise have met, and here are a few aspects of the game that could play major roles in deciding it.
Pass Rush Mismatch
The obvious place to start in this one pits the pass protection problems of the Bears’ O-line against the pass rushing prowess of the Rams’ D-line. Chicago’s five up front collectively have a hold of the league’s second-worst Pass Blocking Efficiency rating despite allowing one of the lowest sack totals. The hits and hurries they’ve given up take their total pressures allowed to 155, a figure that trails Arizona’s 158 at the wrong end of things. The St. Louis D-line, on the other hand, has produced a league-high 31 sacks to go with 37 hits (a Top-5 mark as well) and their collective Pass Rushing Productivity score of 8.7 is in the Top 3, with just Seattle’s talented rotation and the Watt-led Houston line ahead of them.
The focus, then, will be on conversion. While the Rams’ big bodies have been able to convert over 20% of their total pressures into sacks, the Bears have been fortunate to see just 6% of their line’s pressures allowed finished that way. Will Robert Quinn and Chris Long (both in the Top 10 among 4-3 DEs in PRP, Quinn No. 1) impose themselves on the Chicago tandem of Jordan Mills and Jermon Bushrod (both in the Bottom 15 tackles in PBE, Mills last overall)?
That McCown Magic
Facing the pressure he’s likely to see won’t be something new for Josh McCown. In his short time holding the reins, he’s faced pressure on 42.7% of his drop-backs, a number that would rate just outside the five most pressured quarterbacks in the league if he had enough snaps to qualify. The fact that, like Cutler before and as alluded to above, he’s managed to escape with a very low sack rate (sacked just five times on those 47 pressured drop-backs) paints part of the picture of his success to date. Beyond just keeping the play alive, he’s not thrown a pressured interception and has a rather amazing 80% Accuracy Percentage with the rush closing in – maintained for a few more drop-backs to get him into qualifying range and he’s at the top of the league in that category by a healthy distance. It’s always tough to count on continued magic as there comes a time where the odds seem stacked in favor of regression, but McCown is riding a wave right now and each test that comes along make it that much more interesting.
Austin, Act II
When we last saw the Rams before their bye in Week 11, they were speeding up and down the field in Indy on their way to a shocking 38-8 win over the Colts that was highlighted by the long-anticipated breakout performance from Tavon Austin. A 98-yard punt return touchdown and long catches of 57 and 81 yards that also went for scores had all eyes on the rookie who was supposed to pose a regular threat as part of the St. Louis passing game. His season to date, however, had been filled with much less sizzle. The burden now rests in repeating the feat – or at least building something closer to that performance than those that led to it. Austin has run 84% of his routes from the slot this year, a position intended to grant him the freedom to make use of his elusiveness. He’s turned his 42 slot targets, however, into just 0.88 Yards per Route Run – a mark that leaves him short of 41 other slot receivers on the list of 52 qualifiers.
He’ll draw Chicago cornerback Isiah Frey often in this matchup and a peek at the passer ratings associated with the two players suggests there may be room for Austin to impress again. Frey has given up a QB rating of 106.2 on balls his way this season while passes to Austin, buoyed by that big game, have resulted in a 110.3. An interception on a throw toward either of them would be the first on the year.
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