Category Archives: NFL

Bears’ Season Over, Journey Just Beginning

Bears Season Ends on Sour Note

Be You

If you listen closely, you can probably still hear the reverberations of the goal post at Soldier Field. After Cody Parkey’s 43-yard potential game-winning kick hit both the upright and the crossbar, that goal post might not even exist anymore. Sure, the kick was tipped. That does little to numb the pain of eight years of missing the playoffs, only to have your season ended in that fashion. Now, the Chicago Bears have to do some soul searching. Despite the success this year, the loss exposed several issues.

All year long Head Coach Matt Nagy has lived by the motto “be you”. Sunday, though, he may have shown that he is who we thought he was. Flashback to the 2017 AFC Wild Card game, and you see a Kansas City Chiefs offense looking suspiciously like the Bears did Sunday night. Chicago looked stagnant and boring for three and a half quarters. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was off kilter most of that time, while his coach did little by way of play-calling to help him.

Turtling

Typically the Bears offense has a lot of motion and formations to it; designed to create chunk gains by springing receivers open on all three levels. That does not work when you are not challenging down the field. Instead, Chicago seemed to take the what the Eagles gave them almost to a fault in the first half. A quick scoring drive gave them a 6-3 lead at halftime. They should have taken note. Trubisky was his usual erratic self, but he looked better when playing a faster, freer-flowing pace.

In the second half, it was more of the same, although Trubisky did play much better when let off the leash. It was troubling to see him struggle early and the play-calling not adjust sooner to get him into a rhythm. Perhaps even more disturbing is the Bears running backs only totaled 13 carries the entire game; two more than K.C. rushers in their Wild Card loss last year. Play-calling cost the Chiefs when Nagy was OC. It cost him again Sunday, this time with the Bears.

Cavalry? Not Quite

Their biggest improvements will come from within. When faced with someone who knew him well, Nagy blinked. Perhaps these last two playoff exits will compel him to come out firing and keep his foot on the gas for 60 minutes. His scheme works and his quartback showed he can thrive in it when given the opportunity. Another offseason in this offense bodes well for the young signal-caller. They cannot rest on their laurels. Both must be more consistent; Nagy with aggressiveness, Trubisky with accuracy.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson showed why the Bears paid him. Hopefully, he can be healthier next year. Same for tight end Trey Burton. Also, Taylor Gabriel is not a number two receiver. That may be Anthony Miller, but his fit in the slot seems ideal. Running back is interesting because the Bears were more explosive when Tarik Cohen was featured but struggled closing out games. When Jordan Howard was featured they struggled to put up points. Either keep both involved or find a three-down back.

Defending Defense

The defense faces the possibility of losing coordinator Vic Fangio. That would be a massive blow, but some of the names thrown out should he leave are promising. The personnel — namely linebacker Khalil Mack and lineman Akiem Hicks — will remain largely intact and safety Eddie Jackson will return from injury; his absence was felt Sunday. They need to add more pass rushers, as do most teams. Maybe Kylie Fitts steps up in his second year. It will also be a key year for former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who has two career sacks.

Too many second half let downs defensively needs to be resolved regardless of if Fangio stays or goes. For all the well deserved praise, there were several penalties by the defense that walked the Philadelphia Eagle down the field. Bryce Callahan’s absence went largely unnoticed until the final Eagles score. Having ten men in the field and giving up a touchdown in a playoff game is unacceptable. Sure Jackson would have helped, but the late game breakdowns hurt this team all season.

Not so special teams

Special teams has not been a strength for the Bears since Dave Toub left. Busted coverage and poor returns were overshadowed by the kicker’s affinity for goal posts. It will all need to be corrected if the Bears are to truly contend for a title. Punting was also hit or miss. Punter Pat O’Donnell doesn’t have the strongest leg, which can be problematic in Chicago. He does do a decent job of pinning opponents when drives still near midfield, but touchbacks are an issue. If not for Parkey, this is a bigger story.

Chicago will almost certainly waive the embattled kicker – who missed seven field goals and three PATs in 2018 – eating the remaining three years and north of three million dollars in the process. His contract makes the Mike Glennon deal seem smart. The Bears stuck with Parkey despite his career-worst season, but a return is unlikely. Even before Robbie Gould was cut the Bears have been dealing with kicking issues. Simply put, it has been an issue longer than it has mattered, but one that will be a priority this offseason.

Bright Future

Overall, the roster is young and should be stable for the next few years. Save for safety Adrian Amos, nickel corner Callahan, and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, the rest of the impending free agents are replaceable. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie is a candidate to return, but the position could also use an upgrade; perhaps through the draft.

The hope has to be that the offense takes a leap forward; closer to the echelon of the defense, alleviating that burden. There is a good chance this team is nowhere near as healthy next year, and the rest of the division should not be as injured. They have to get better. The offseason rhetoric is bound to promise improvement. The proof will have to wait until next season. This is of course after a season that ended heartbreak, but was better than anyone saw coming.

New Year, Who Diss?

Adobe_Post_20181229_234843

New Year, (Bad) Old Takes

No picks this week. Not to avoid being wrong, just because there are way too many variables to make decisions confidently in many of this week’s contests. Instead, this will be a different exercise. One where I own up to things I was wrong about prior to the start of the season. A ‘mea culpa’ of sorts to go into the new year with a fresh slate.

Playoff Bound

My expectations for this week are:

Now to own it…

Patrick Mahomes is good…like really good: Before the season I was not of the mindset that the second-year pro would be an MVP candidate leading the Chiefs’ explosive attack. Taking over for Alex Smith, Mahomes has seemingly taken Kansas City to another level; though postseason victories are needed for certainty.

The Bears would be 7-9, 8-8 at best: This one hurts to admit as a Bears’ fan. I sold the team short, underestimating the impact of Head Coach Matt Nagy would have. Now the team is 11-4, NFC North champs, and still vying for a first-round bye. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is far from a guarantee to be a star, but he and the team are in great hands.

Jacksonville Jaguars will repeat as AFC South champs: This had nothing to do with the disaster that is a Blake Bortles-led offense. It had everything to do with the Jaguars supposedly having the best defense in the division and the other teams’ quarterbacks all having their own issues. Instead cornerback Jalen Ramsey‘s off-season jawing was aimed in the wrong direction.

Le’Veon Bell will lead the league in scrimmage yards: Talk about failure to launch. With Bell not reporting due to a contract dispute, the Steelers had to move on. His replacement, James Conner is currently in the top-12 in scrimmage yards even after missing the past three contests.

2018 will be Pete Carroll’s last with Seattle Seahawks: Fueled by the departures of many key pieces from the franchises most successful era, the thought was that the Seahawks would be closer to rebuilding than contending. Credit Carroll for keeping things together; rededicating the team to the run and getting the defense to be respectable.

Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South: Cam Newton began the season playing his most complete ball under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Unfortunately, Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder became an issue once again. The team lost six straight, resulting in the Panthers shutting the QB down once eliminated from contention.

The Cleveland Browns blew both first-round picks: When Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward were selected first and fourth, respectively, the thought was, “typical”. Shaped largely by the previous doings of the organization, the opinion was based on past performance; usually a good indicator of future success. The Browns nailed both picks, especially Mayfield.

Andrew Luck would not be the same: Another quarterback with shoulder worries, Luck missed a season and a half trying to make it back. In fairness – to me – it took a few games for the Colts QB to look all the way like himself, and he may never have the same arm strength, but Luck’s return along with a ground game and improved protection have Indy thinking playoffs.

The New York Giants will win the NFC East: While I thought the G-Men should have taken a quarterback second-overall, they appeared poised to make noise with running back Saquon Barkley. That was before Eli Manning was more inconsistent than ever to start the year. Typically a slow-starter and postseason maven, Manning took too long to find his groove in 2018.

Josh Rosen will be the most successful rookie QB: Supporting cast and coaching had a ton to do with this, but wrong is wrong. Rosen’s lack of mobility was on full display as the Arizona Cardinals failed to protect him. A lack of weapons – aside from the oft-forgotten David Johnson and aging Larry Fitzgerald – and competent coaching kept optimism in check this season.

Those are my confessions if poor prognosticating in 2018. I would love to hear your worst preseason takes, sound off here or tweet it @JoshLWOS.

Week 16 Game Picks

Week 16 Picks are live! 8-8 in week 15, hopefully better this week.
Lock: Atlanta over Carolina
Upset: Arizona over L.A.

Playoff Implications Abound In Week 16

Redskins @ Titans: Both of these teams are still alive in the playoff race, but both need help to make it. Tennessee (8-6) has a better shot by virtue of having their actual starting quarterback – Marcus Mariota — under center. Derrick Henry is on a heater but faces a stiff test in a Washington (7-7) front featuring fellow Alabama alum, Jonathan Allen. New Redskins starting quarterback Josh Johnson, threw his first passes since 2011 and won in Jacksonville last week. Still, injuries have to catch up at some point right? Prediction: 21-14 Titans

Final Score: 25-16 Titans

Notes: Tennesse outlasted Washington in what turned out to be a battle of the backups. Derrick Henry is still going strong as the Titans control their playoff destiny.

Ravens @ Chargers: Two teams, getting it done in different ways, meet with divisional crowns still in play. Los Angeles’ (11-3) attack is helmed by quarterback Philip Rivers. In the midst of an MVP-caliber season, Rivers’ load will be lessened by the return the of the running back, Melvin Gordon from injury. They will take on Baltimore’s (8-6) top-ranked defense, led by Pro Bowlers C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle. On offense, an option-heavy attack has quarterback Lamar Jackson in position to lead the Ravens to the postseason; provided he can continue making enough plays with his arm. Prediction: 21-20 Ravens

Final Score: 22-10 Ravens

Notes: Baltimore took a major step towards actually winning the division — Pittsburgh losing also helps. For what, exactly, remains to be seen as they are still relying on Lamar Jackson’s legs and the defense, though his arm was plenty effective this week. 

Bengals @ Browns: Cleveland (6-7-1) still has an outside chance at the playoffs. That alone is an accomplishment but this team has made it clear they will fight until the end. Led by quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, the Browns have employed a run-oriented attack that keeps them in games most weeks. As the defense has been leakier in the second half of the season, expect the ground game to again be the focus. Cincinnati (6-8) has endured a brutal season. Victims of injuries – as well as poor play and coaching — expect changes in the Queen City. Prediction: 27-10 Browns

Final Score: 26-18 Browns

Notes: The Browns continued their climb from obscurity. Unfortunately, they are no longer playoff eligible. Still, this franchise has come a long way and has a bright future with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. The Bengals likely won’t get a much-needed change of staff.

Buccaneers @ Cowboys: Coming off a dud of a performance, expect Dallas (8-6) to get back on track against Tampa Bay (5-9) team in disarray. Look for another heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott, who showed no lingering effects of a reported neck injury. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper should get back on track against the Bucs; who lack any semblance of a defense. It could be another bad performance for quarterback Jameis Winston and crew in this week. DeMarcus Lawrence leads a sneaky-good pass rush and Byron Jones matches up well with stud receiver, Mike Evans. Prediction 27-24 Cowboys

Final Score: 27-20 Cowboys

Notes: Dallas managed to pull this one out as the final margin was decided by a Tampa fumble. They did lock up the division with the victory. Jameis Winston is not long for the Bucs.

Vikings @ Lions: Neither of these teams saw themselves in their respective positions when the season began. Minnesota (7-6-1) came in with championship aspirations but now faces the prospect of missing the playoffs altogether. Kirk Cousins’ play has elevated receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but not the team. They face a Lions team that has done more damage to themselves than any opponent. Aside from an odd trade of Golden Tate, injuries sunk Matthew Stafford and this team; especially the loss of Marvin Jones. The Detroit (5-9) defense will be without Ezekiel Ansah, leaving Darius Slay as the lone playmaker. Prediction: 24-10 Vikings

Final Score: 27-9 Vikings

Notes: The Vikings took care of the Lions on the road. Next, they prepare to host the division champion Bears in Minnesota, in a game where Chicago may not play their starters for the duration. Detroit has already begun soul-searching.

Giants @ Colts: Fresh off a convincing win over the Cowboys, Indianapolis (8-6) is making a push for the playoffs behind quarterback Andrew Luck and a newfound ground game headed by Marlon Mack. The defense has played much better than anticipated with the NFL’s leading tackler, Darius Leonard. New York (5-9) is playing the last games of a disappointing season. They will be without Odell Beckham Jr yet again, and it probably makes sense to shut him down for the remainder of the year. Running back Saquon Barkley has not been enough to mask Eli Manning‘s uneven play under center. Prediction: 28-14 Colts

Final Score: 28-27 Colts

Notes: The Colts got the win, and travel to take on the Titans in a win-and-get-in situation. Andre Luck will have to outduel Blaine Gabbert if Marcus Mariota can’t make it back from yet another injury. Derrick Henry and Marlon Mack might be the more entertaining matchup.

Jaguars @ Dolphins: There honestly is not much to look for in this one; neither team has a shot at the playoffs. That is an exceptionally poor outlook for Jacksonville (4-10) after they won the division last season. Leonard Fournette has missed chunks of time for the second year in a row, Blake Bortles is good as gone, and Jalen Ramsey has not exactly endeared himself. Miami (7-7) started the season hot only to fade drastically as injuries to Ryan Tannehill had Brock Osweiler under center. The defense – toothless late in the season – will be without top corner, Xavien Howard. Prediction: 14-10 Jaguars

Final Score: 17-7 Jaguars

Notes: Not much to take away from this game between two lost franchises. It will be interesting to see who goes on either side with big names like Leonard Fournette and Jalen Ramsey being discussed in Jacksonville. Washington already cut D.J. Swearinger.

Bills @ Patriots: Normally, this is when New England (9-5) is getting into gear for a deep playoff run. This year they approach the second season with more questions than answers. Aside from the surprise exit of receiver Josh Gordon, rumors have come out that Tom Brady may be playing with a strained MCL. Buffalo (5-9) is far from a playoff team. They will need to provide quarterback Josh Allen with more weapons than Zay Jones and LeSean McCoy; who was subject of trade rumors. Perhaps a deal gets done in the offseason, but there will be a lot of new faces next season. Prediction: 34-10 Patriots

Final Score: 24-12 Patriots

Notes: New England secured their tenth straight division title. Take that as you will but Tom Brady and friends have been dominant in an era of parody. For Buffalo, get Josh Allen some help.

Packers @ Jets: With players auditioning for next season, conventional wisdom says Green Bay should sit Aaron Rodgers for the remainder of the year. He came out this week and shot that idea down. Davante Adams is having his best year during one of the Pack’s worst. Jamaal Williams takes over for the injured Aaron Jones. New York is similar to the Bills in that they march towards the offseason needing to infuse the roster with more talent. Quarterback Sam Darnold and safety Jamal Adams are the only true building blocks on this team, though suspended linebacker Darron Lee has potential if he can stay clean. Prediction: Packers 27-14

Final Score: 44-38 Packers

Notes: Green Bay needed over time with the Jets’ offense clicking and the Packer defense failing again. Aaron Rodgers outlasted Sam Darnold in the end.

Texans @ Eagles: Deshaun Watson‘s return has Houston (10-4) leading their division. His top target, DeAndre Hopkins will have to continue being the standout he has been his entire career, the rest of the cast is extremely unreliable. J.J. Watt will take his dominant act on the road; a big test for the Eagle o-line. Philadelphia (7-7) will try to recapture the magic of last season and make a playoff push; Nick Foles gets another start at quarterback for the injured Carson Wentz. Look for big games from Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffrey, the Texan defense ranks well, but their competition has been suspect. Prediction: 27-24 Eagles

Final Score: 32-30 Eagles

Notes: Philly is channeling their inner-selves with Nick Foles looking right at home in this offense. Houston’s defensive woes came to fruition as anticipated. An issue in conjunction with their protection of Deshaun Watson.

Falcons @ Panthers: A couple of NFC South also-rans, this matchup looked better when the schedule came out than it does now. Taylor Heinicke takes over at quarterback after Carolina (6-8) finally shut down Cam Newton. Christian McCaffrey will have to carry even more of the load. Atlanta (5-9) will count this year as a wash after injuries decimated their defense. Tevin Coleman has not come close to Devonta Freeman‘s production. Julio Jones’ third 100-catch season will be for naught. The hope has to be that 2019 should bring more health, and thus more success. Prediction: 28-10 Falcons

Final Score: 24-14

Notes: Atlanta just had too much firepower for Carolina sans Cam Newton. Another year of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ primes have gone to waste. Next can’t come soon enough for either team.

Rams @ Cardinals: In need of a confidence boost – and momentum before the playoffs – Los Angeles (11-3) goes on the road following back-to-back losses. They may be without the services of Todd Gurley as he nurses a knee injury, possibly forcing the newly-signed C.J. Anderson into duty. Jared Goff‘s outlook is murky after recent struggles. Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones lead Arizona’s (3-11) defense; quietly top-10 on a per-play basis. If the Cards can protect rookie Josh Rosen – a lot to ask facing Aaron Donald – and feed David Johnson they could conceivably be competitive. Prediction: 17-14 Cardinals

Final Score: 31-9 Rams

Notes: This week’s upset pick was a major dud, but the Rams got a much-needed victory. They’ll wrap up the regular season against the 49ers. Arizona will likely have a new coaching staff and possibly GM in place next year. Maybe they will use David Johnson correctly.

Bears @ 49ers: This game has “trap” written all over it. Chicago (10-4) is riding high after back-to-back wins and clinching the division. Mitchell Trubisky played better last week, but will likely need to string together a few of those performances if the Bears are going to go far in the playoffs. More Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen plus a Khalil Mack-led defense mean Trubisky just needs to play smart. San Francisco (4-10) hurt their draft pick but got the upset last week. George Kittle and Nick Mullens have a strong rapport, look for them to try exploiting Eddie Jackson‘s potential absence. Prediction: 28-17 Bears

Final Score:  14-9

Notes: Chicago avoided the dreaded trap game to keep their hopes for a first-round bye alive. The health of Eddie Jackson and Allen Robinson will need to be monitored. The Niners, for their part, never give up but have been outmatched most of the season.

Steelers @ Saints: Pittsburgh (8-5-1) ended a three-game skid with a stunning win over an old-looking Patriots at home. This week they go into New Orleans (12-1) looking to stay ahead of the Ravens in the division. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are going to give the top-seeded Saints’ resurgent defense fits; assuming the latter suits up. Drew Brees is usually lights out at home further implicating a shootout. The three-headed monster that is Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram all have tough matchups so it will be imperative that one of a myriad of role players step up. Prediction: 34-31 Steelers

Final Score: 31-28 Saints

Notes: This game delivered on the hype as it came down to the last drive. Juju Smith-Schuster will be down on himself, but there were also a few questionable calls that did not help. Drew Brees jumps right back into the lead for MVP.

Chiefs @ Seahawks: Yet another game with significant playoff implications for both sides, Seattle (8-6), likely looking ahead, letdown last week. Russell Wilson will need to be at his best, though he would likely be content to just give the ball to Chris Carson 25-plus times. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are both capable of going off as well if needed. Kansas City (11-3) lost on a heart-breaking two-point conversion. Patrick Mahomes is on his way to becoming the youngest MVP in league history. He will try to ride Tarvis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to the award, but more importantly a win in a hostile environment. Prediction: 27-24 Seahawks

Final Score: 38-31 Seahawks

Notes: Russell Wilson has to be on the MVP shortlist this has been an impeccably efficient season. No one wants to see the Seahawks right now. The Chiefs are another team whose defensive woes came to the forefront. They will have to figure something out ahead of the playoffs

Broncos @ Raiders: Not much to see here folks. Denver (6-8) is rumored to be heading towards a coaching change. Phillip Lindsay is the best thing about the Broncos offense and he will look to get back in track against a hapless Oakland (3-11) team. Derek Carr and the Raiders may be headed for a divorce in the offseason. It is not out of the question this ends up as the lowest-rated Monday night game of the season, if not history. Prediction: 21-14 Broncos

Final Score: 27-14

Notes: Oakland has won two of their last three games for some reason. Jon Gruden keeps hurting his own cause as the picks acquired have already been guaranteed to at least be in the 20s or higher. Denver is headed toward a divorce with Vance Joseph, but Phillip Lindsay has been one of the best stories in football.

Friday Files

Adobe_Post_20181214_144101NBA:
James Harden goes 50-10-10; has 19 free throws as Rockets topple Lakers 126 – 111
• Spurs find defense; blow out Clips 125 – 87
• Bulls lose to Orlando 97 – 91; reportedly bench Parker
• T.J. Warren’s 30 points vs Mavs help Suns snap skid; overshadow Dirk’s return

NFL:
• Philip Rivers, Chargers exorcise demons on TNF; stun Chiefs at Arrowhead
• Keenan Allen goes down with hip injury
• OBJ out again with quad injury vs Titans
Carson Wentz to possibly be shut down for rest of season

Trubisky Awful on SNF

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 09: Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) hands the football to Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) in action during an NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears on December 09, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky returned to action Sunday night after missing the previous two contests with a shoulder injury. He finished 16 of 30 for 110 yards and three interceptions. Bad interceptions.

Whether the injury or rust was the cause of his erratic play last night remains to be seen. To clarify: Trubisky has been perhaps the most erratic quarterback in the NFL this year. It goes deeper than game-to-game or even series-to-series. Trubisky will look like two completely different quarterbacks from one play to the next. It is a major flaw, but is something he had done better with before getting injured.

Prior to Sunday night, Trubisky had not completed less than 60 percent of his passes since week eight against the hapless Jets; a game he finished with two touchdowns and zero intercepts. In fact, this was only the third game of the season with a completion percentage in the 50s.

Look, Mitch still makes too many bad throws, period. His reads are usually correct however. He has also shown the ability to make every throw, and we know about his running ability. Where he lacks is consistency, but that will come as he continues building chemistry with his surrounding cast.

The Green Bay Packers come to the lakefront next week. They just embarrassed Matt Ryan and the Falcons for a 34-20 victory. It was not nearly as close as the final score suggests.

Surely they would love nothing more than to hang a loss on the Bears in defiance of any changing-of-the-guard narrative. A Bears win not only locks up the first playoff appearance since 2010, it would also put a nice little bow on what has been fascinating season to follow.

Bears Put Clamps On Rams

Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris (95) and Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) sack Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) in action during an NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears on December 09, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Well then. There are a number of superlatives that could be thrown out to describe what happened. ‘Lockdown’ seems to be the most fitting for a game the Bears won 16-5. That was the Chicago Bears defense on a night when quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was…awful.

Missing high and long all night, Trubisky showed every bit of a two week layoff; finishing 16 of 30 for 110 yards one touchdown and three bad interceptions. It is not a new issue, but it is one he had done better with before getting injured against Minnesota. He will need to be better, but not much if the Bears defense manhandles opponents like it did Los Angeles.

The running game was a different story. Jordan Howard (19 runs for yards) and Tarik Cohen (9-69) gave the Bears what they had been missing for weeks: consistent positive yardage on the ground. It was especially nice to see Howard, a focal point the past two years, get rolling. With the playoffs drawing nearer, having a 230 pound sledgehammer to wear down defenses is going to pay dividends.

If Trubisky was awful, Goff can only be described as putrid. Yes he finished with more yardage — going 20 of 44 for 180 yards — but he threw four interceptions of his own and absorbed three sacks, one of which was a safety. Some will say that two of the picks were “fluky”, but the Chicago front seven had Goff under duress the entire night.

His supporting cast did not fair much better. One of Jukes & Jumpers keys to victory, the Bears took the NFLs leading rusher completely out of the game. Todd Gurley finished with 11 carries for 28 yards; tacking on 30 yards by way of three receptions. Every time Gurley touched the ball, there was a defender hot in pursuit. Typically one of the most explosive runners in the game, Gurley was repeatedly kept to two- and three-yard carries; with a long of 12 yards.

With Goff being off his game, his receivers were not able to do much. Robert Woods was the only one to have an impact; catching seven passes for 61 yards. Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds combined for six catches and 58 yards. Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are playing great football right now; while Bryce Callahan is also having an under-the-radar good year, though he did leave the game with an injury.

The Bears defense came in to the night in the discussion for best defense in the League. They made their claim in front of a raucous crowd Sunday night. Perhaps the most satisfying part was the sound tackling and pressure late in the game. Both issues have haunted the Bears most of the season

Next up, an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and avenge a tough loss next week; when the Packers (5-7-1) come to Soldier Field. The latest meeting in a long and storied rivalry, the circumstances are quite different this time around.

Keys to a Bears Victory on SNF

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 18: A detailed view of the jumbotron at Soldier Field displaying a Bears Win sign is seen after game action during a NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on November 18, 2018 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — As the Bears prepare for their toughest test to date, here are the keys to a Bears Victory:

Offense

1) Get Mitch, offense in a rhythm early: There should be a LOT of points scored in this one, so Matt Nagy needs to get Mitch Trubisky going quickly. Mitch will undoubtedly be rusty, having missed two weeks with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Why not call some quick hitting plays? Get the ball out of Mitch’s hands and into one of those playmakers; let them do the heavy lifting.

2) Control the clock: It has been an issue all season, but against the League’s second ranked offense, it would behoove the Bears to establish a consistent ground game. The Rams are actually middle of the pack against the run. The issue is teams typically do not get the chance to stack carries. The Bears need run it early and often, and not abandon it if unsuccessful early.

Defense

3) Stop Todd Gurley: Perhaps this should say ‘slow Gurley’ but the idea is the same. Make the Rams one dimensional, something the Bears have done all season. It should be mentioned that Gurley is also a threat in the passing game. Which brings us to the final key…

4) Get after the quarterback: Jared Goff is having a wonderful season. He has even been mentioned in MVP discussions. But the Bears have a player who specializes in terrorizing his position. Vic Fangio needs to get Khalil Mack back in early season form. Not that his impact has not been felt recently, but he was sacking quarterbacks and taking the ball away at a blistering pace to start the campaign. The Bears hope to see that version tonight on the lakefront.

***Bonus Key***

Show up in the fourth quarter defensively: For all the well-deserved praise the Bears defense has gotten, this is one thing that certainly sticks in players, coaches and fans craw. The Bears have given up far too many points and yards in the final frame. The biggest reason has been poor tackling allowing insane amounts of yards after catch. The Bears must be technically sound and bring down the Rams explosive weapons when they have the chance.

Nagy, Bears Not Thinking Hibernation

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 18: Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy talks into his headset in action during a NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on November 18, 2018 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Sunday marks a turning point for the 2018 Chicago Bears, but coming off a tough loss to the Giants, the Bears have a chance to propel their season from good to great. Yes the playoffs are a few weeks away, but this is a little more important at the moment.

With such a young team — the Bears did not start a player 30 or older start until Chase Daniel on Thanksgiving — it is imperative they learn to win the tough games. A near-interception away from an opening day victory over the Packers, the Bears bounced back against Seattle at home. The following weeks saw Chicago trade a pair if wins with a pair of losses; then rattle off four straight, snapping a divisional losing streak along the way.

Week 12 was a reality check. Daniel was shaky at best as he spent the majority of the day fumbling snaps and holding the ball too long. There was also this. Matt Nagy’s questionable timeout before halftime seemed to turn the game. Credit the specter of Eli Manning for not getting in the way of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham.

Such opportunity might not exist this Sunday. Los Angeles comes in sporting the best record in the NFC. Even after losing Cooper Kupp to injury, the Rams still feature a pair of explosive playmakers in Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. They keep defenses honest for the NFL’s leading rusher (No, not Derrick Henry.) in Todd Gurley.

The Rams “weak link”, the defense is just as star studded. Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having another dominant season. With him wrecking lines, it would be easy to overlook other difference makers such as Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh; deadline acquisition Dominique Fowler and Aqib Talib returning from injury.

Prior to the season the Bears were a bit of a mystery. Opting for health over giving the starters significant reps together, the offense was certain to take some time to click. It has since proven more than capable of putting up points in bunches. They should have their chances Sunday night at Soldier Field.

They will need to do so without some of the mistakes and penalties of recent weeks. This would also be the perfect time to finally get the ground game going. In the playoffs, the ability to keep it away from an offense is just as important as actually defending it.

On paper these teams are more even than might be assumed. While the Rams offense is more better at this point, the same is true for the Bears defense. The last time the Rams played in cold weather they won, in Denver, but it was not overly convincing. Sunday’s forecast is 27 degrees. While not always reliable, you take whatever advantage you can.

I will not tell you that the Bears are definitely going to come out of Sunday Night Football as the winners. I will not tell you that a win or loss Sunday makes or ruins the Bears’ season. I will tell you that if they do win, it might be time to start thinking playoff seeding and potential matchups. What a difference a year makes.