Who believes they’re still in it?
That’s what Sunday Night Football boils down to, emotionally. Which team thinks that a win puts them on track for an NFC Wild Card spot?
There’s a path forward for the Bears, should they prevail, with a home game against the Giants and a rematch against a Lions team they just defeated to close out November.
As for the Rams? Well, we’ll finish this Week 11 column with the latest on their playoff hopes. But first, will they finally look the part in prime time?
Game-Winner Slips Through Goff’s Grasp
Twice last week, it was there for the taking.
With great field position and needing a touchdown, Jared Goff led his depleted offense onto Heinz Field. First, with 2:46 and three timeouts remaining. Then, with just 1:01 left in the game.
Those possessions ended with turnovers on downs and via interception, respectively.
The Rams fourth-year veteran, playing the most important position in sports, knows that his current production isn’t cutting it. And his circumstances only get more difficult after losing two offensive linemen. What’s his plan to flip the script?
“I think when you do the little things right, it’ll lead to more yards and more touchdowns and higher completion percentage and all those stats that we like to look at,” Goff said this week. “It really just starts with getting rid of the football accurately and on time.”
By “on time,” Goff might as well be saying “A-S-A-P.” Because Sunday night, he figures to have this group in front of him:
Left Tackle – Andrew Whitworth
Left Guard – Austin Corbett (15 NFL snaps prior to last week’s emergency duty)
Center – Austin Blythe (first NFL start at center, coming off a stomach bug)
Right Guard – David Edwards (rookie making his fourth NFL start)
Right Tackle – Bobby Evans (rookie making his first NFL start)
Take Whitworth out of the equation and the other four Rams have one combined NFL start at their current posts.
It has been 19 drives and 20 days since Goff found Josh Reynolds for a 31-yard touchdown in London, the Rams most recent touchdown.
The Los Angeles Rams practice ahead of this weekend's SNF matchup against the Chicago Bears.
Not A Sight For Sore Eyes (Or Offenses)
And we mention that not to harp on the offensive struggles, but just to tee up the fact that the Bears are one of the last defenses you want to see in your current condition.
Since the start of 2018, Chicago has given up a league-low 47 touchdowns (and three of those have been on returns when the defense wasn't even on the field).
So don’t blame them for Chicago’s 4-5 record. The Bears have allowed fewer than 3.7 yards per rush and 17.4 points per game (both figures rank fourth in the league).
Punts > Giveaways
After speaking with Sean McVay this week, it seems he might be more inclined to tailor his play-calling to leverage his top-tier defense. How can he keep Goff – and the football – out of perilous positions?
By being a bit more stubborn about running it, even if the Bears defense dares him to drop back and pass. Perhaps he’ll deploy a heavier dose of fly sweeps and screens, along with faster-developing pass concepts?
Ultimately, it may require a willingness to punt. Play field position. Make the anemic Bears offense start every drive with a long field. Then let the defense flex its muscle.
Cordarrelle Dares You
Somewhere in Thousand Oaks this week, Bones Fassel likely said to Greg Zuerlein, “Let’s drive them all out of the end zone this Sunday.”
Bears return man Cordarrelle Patterson – who won Super Bowl LIII with the Patriots – leads the NFL with 552 kick return yards and a 29.1 kick return average. He also owns seven career kickoff return touchdowns, most recently a 102-yard dash in Week 7 against the Saints.
Zuerlein saw him up close and personal in Atlanta, as you might remember the Rams kicker being forced to make the tackle on Patterson’s opening kickoff return.
In Defense Of Ramsey
This was an interesting bit from Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus.
However, as with all tweets, it lacks plenty of context. Among the sharp replies, that Ramsey is travelling with the opponent’s best receiver, that he did force a fumble in Atlanta, and that he’s never been the risk-taking, ball-hawking zone corner that Marcus Peters is.
Also, it should be pointed out that since he joined the Rams, Los Angeles has given up a total of 30 points on defense. That’s impressive no matter the deficiencies of the offenses they’ve faced.
Ramsey makes his Coliseum debut Sunday against a former Jacksonville teammate, Allen Robinson, who has accounted for 27% of the Bears targets this season, the third-highest proportion in the NFL behind Michael Thomas (NO) and DeAndre Hopkins (HOU).
Party in the Backfield
While it’s difficult to draw a straight line between Ramsey’s arrival and the subsequent sack attack, surely his presence has been a contributing factor.
Over their last three games, the Rams have recorded 13 sacks, matching their season total from their first six contests.
Tough Week for Tight Ends
One stray parallel between the Bears and Rams before we finish with playoff possibilities.
Goodness, it’s a tough week to be a tight end.
On the L.A. side, the projection for Sunday night is fairly optimistic, as Tyler Higbee (knee), Gerald Everett (wrist), and Johnny Mundt (groin) all landed on the injury report but are expected to be available.
It’s far worse for Chicago. Trey Burton (calf) and Adam Shaheen (foot) have been ruled out. And even with them in the lineup, the Bears tight end production has been paltry. As a unit, they’ve combined for 28 receptions and just a single score in 2019, and not one individual has 100 yards receiving on the year.
Wild Card Waning
Here are a couple current measures of the Rams chances of making the postseason:
FiveThirtyEight – 22%
Football Outsiders – 11.4%
Until something shifts dramatically, let’s concede that San Francisco and Seattle are out of reach. That leaves the Rams battling for the sixth and final NFC spot with Minnesota, Carolina, and the runner-up in the NFC East (Dallas or Philadelphia).
The Vikings host Denver this week, and are in great position to hit their bye at 8-3. Minnesota’s worst-case scenario feels like 10-6, with 11-5 a very realistic projection.
Carolina could get to 6-4 with a win over Atlanta. However, they still have two games against the Saints, road trips to Atlanta and Indianapolis, and a home game versus Seattle. They would have to play remarkably well to get to 10 wins.
As for the Eagles, they’ll be favored in games against Miami, Washington, and two versus the New York Giants. Bank those, and 9-7 would be their floor. Layer in an upset of the Patriots this week, the Seahawks next week, and/or the Cowboys in December and 11 wins might not be a stretch for Philadelphia.
Should the Eagles step up, L.A.’s competition could instead come from the Cowboys, who at 5-4 have trips to Detroit, New England, Chicago, and Philadelphia remaining. If they can’t hold serve at home against the Rams, could Dallas tumble out of the playoff framework altogether?
However the East shakes out, 5-2 the rest of the way may not get it done for the Rams.
So if 6-1 or 7-0 is required, clearly a home loss to the Bears is not an option.