Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams
Kickoff: 7:20 p.m., SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Ca.
The Line: Rams by 7 1/2. Over/under 47 1/2
BearDigest pick: Rams 26, Bears 17
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya)
Radio: WBBM-AM 780, FM-105.9 (Jeff Joniak, Tom Thayer, Mark Grote)
National, Westwood One (Ryan Radtke, Rod Woodson, Scott Graham)
Spanish, TUDN AM-1200, FM-93.5 (Omar Ramos, Miguel Esparza)
The Series: The 96th meeting between the teams in a rivalry which started when the Rams played in Cleveland in 1937. The Bears lead the series 54-38-3, including a split of postseason games, a win by the Bears in January 1986 and by the Rams in 1950. The Rams have won the last two games overall and have won six straight in Los Angeles. The last Bears win over the Rams in Los Angeles came in 1982, 34-26.
The Coaches: Bears coach Matt Nagy is 28-20 in his fourth season and is 0-2 in the playoffs. He is 1-2 against coach Sean McVay and the Rams
McVay is 43-21 in his fifth season, including 3-3 in the postseason and 2-1 against the Bears.
Last Year: The Bears finished 8-8 and second in the NFC North but made the playoffs with a wild card. They lost 21-9 in the wild-card round of the playoffs at New Orleans. The Rams were 10-6 and second in the NFC West, then won their wild-card round game at Seattle 30-20 before losing in the NFC divisional round at Green Bay 31-18.
What to Watch: Both veteran quarterbacks debut with their teams, Andy Dalton for the Bears and Matthew Stafford with the Rams. Stafford was 11-9 starting in games against the Bears, including a 34-30 win at Soldier Field last December. He had been 0-3 against them since Nagy became coach until that win. Stafford's passer rating against the Bears is 86.3. Dalton has a 2-1 record starting against the Rams with a passer rating of 89.4. In prime-time games, he has a 6-17-1 record as a starter. ... Both teams have new defensive coordinators, Sean Desai for the Bears and Raheem Morris for the Rams. ... The game features three of the top defensive players in the game, Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. ... RB Sony Michel makes his Rams debut after being traded in August by New England, and will play behind RB Darrell Henderson.
Injuries: The Bears are without nose tackle Eddie Goldman. They had a handful of other minor injuries but those players are expected to play, including Mack (groin), wide receiver Darnell Mooney (back), edge rusher Robert Quinn (back) and safety Tashaun Gipson (back). Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek (forearm) is doubtful.
Matching Up: The Bears last year were 26th on offense, 22nd in passing and 25th at rushing. They were 11th on defense, 12th passing and 15th rushing.
The Rams last year were 11th on offense, 13th passing and 10th rushing. They were first on defense, first against the pass and third against the run.
Notables: Nagy has a 9-2 record in September games and the Bears won all three September games last year. ... Dalton's lone loss to the Rams as a starter was last year for Dallas in a 24-10 Week 8 defeat. He threw for 329 yards and a TD. ... Bears TE Jimmy Graham needs one catch for 700 in his career. ... Bears RB David Montgomery was one of five players in the NFL to have 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year. He has scored a TD in six straight games. ... Mack has 11 sacks in 13 prime-time games, and has forced eight fumbles in those games. ... Kicker Cairo Santos has made 27 straight field goals, a Bears record. The NFL record is 44 straight by Adam Vinatieri. ... McVay has won all four opening-day games he has coached. ... Donald needs 2 1/2 sacks to set the Rams all-time record currently held by Leonard Little with 87 1/2. ... Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a former Bengals tackle who played with Dalton and is the second-oldest player in the NFL (39) behind Tom Brady. He turns 40 in December and is 4 1/2 years older than his coach. Bears left tackle Jason Peters is 39 and the third-oldest player in the NFL. He turns 40 in January. ... Former Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had a career-high 10 1/2 sacks last year in his first season with the Rams. ... The Rams were the youngest team in the NFL when camp started (26.35 years). The Bears have the oldest opening-day roster (27.0).
Key Individual Matchups:
Bears G Cody Whitehair vs. Rams DL Aaron Donald
The Bears had a strong plan in 2018 for Donald and handled him by passing him off up and down the line with good communication. They held Donald to two tackles and a quarterback hit. In the process, they opened up enough holes with their run blocking to get Jordan Howard 101 yards. They did this with James Daniels at left guard and Whitehair at center. Now it's Whitehair and Mustipher combining inside on Donald's side of the line, but it's more of a team approach to stopping Donald because one player alone can't. The next two games they allowed Donald 2 1/2 sacks, five quarterback hits, seven tackles and a pass tipped. If any Bears lineman could handle Donald's explosive quickness, strength and array of pass moves it's Whitehair, who is the best all-around Bears lineman. However, Donald doesn't stay in one place. He'll line up on different sides to take advantage of matchups. They might even get him matched up on tackles Jason Peters or Germain Ifedi at times, or on Daniels now at right guard. If Whitehair can't handle Donald, though, there would be no need to move him up and down the line.
Bears WR Allen Robinson vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Rarely in an NFL season is Robinson mismatched against anyone but Ramsey has owned him the last two years since coming over to the Rams after the two were teammates at one time in Jacksonville. The eight catches for 85 yards Robinson has had against Ramsey are somewhat deceiving. Robinson had 48 yards on two catches in the second half of the last game after the Bears were falling hopelessly behind. He had six catches for 37 yards in the first six quarters of these matchups. They haven't been able to get him the ball downfield against Ramsey. Ramsey, who had an interception against the Bears last year, is the best in the business and has both the speed and quick-twitch abilities to stay with athletic receivers like Robinson or someone with sub-4.4 speed like Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin.
Bears DB Duke Shelley vs. Rams WR Robert Woods
Woods has made 86 or more receptions each of the last three seasons and facing up against an inexperienced slot cornerback like Shelley, is an invitation for the big play. Woods was held in check by the Bears last year but the Rams hurt them by bringing Cooper Kupp into the slot instead against Buster Skrine. Shelley gives up four inches of height against a crafty route runner who can hurt zone coverage, like the Bears enjoy using. The Bears actually haven't confirmed Shelley is their starting slot cornerback even though he played with the first team throughout training camp and preseason. The other options might be former Ram Marqui Christian or DeAndre Houston-Carson.
Bears DL Bilal Nichols vs. Rams C Brian Allen
Considering the ankle injury to nose tackle Eddie Goldman, it's more likely Bilal Nichols would receiver first-team reps at nose instead of rookie Khyiris Tonga. When Goldman opted out, the Bears had their most success last year when Nichols played the position. It wasn't his strength, but Nichols has come on strong as a player overall and going against Allen could be a break the Bears defensive front needs. Allen, a fourth-year player, has started only nine games in his career and those were in 2019. He had a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 45.4 and 67.7 run-blocking grade, so it wasn't a smashing debut. The Rams' line overall is loaded but the center is easily the most unproven spot if not the weak link because Allen didn't play a down last year, although he was on the roster. Blitzing up the middle might be a wise choice for the Bears because of the indecision it can cause an inexperienced player. The Rams could have moved standout guard Austin Corbett to the position when center Austin Blythe took less money to leave for Kansas City in free agency and they'll try to see if they can get the type of good fortune with Allen that the Bears got from Sam Mustipher when they dipped into their practice squad for a starter.
Bears ILB Roquan Smith vs. Rams RB Darrell Henderson
Henderson was part of a 1-2 rushing attack and the Rams would like to duplicate this approach with recent acquisition Sony Michel. However, it's been less than a month that Michel came on board and he has never been much of a receiver. Henderson was supposed to be able to do this but hasn't. Henderson has 771 career yards in two years and Michel averaged 771 yards a year for New England for three seasons. Both are speed/strength runners who have done enough to be threats behind a strong line. Smith has become both a tackling machine and a fast, attacking player who covers well and blitzes. He made it onto the All-Pro team last year with a season deserving of Pro Bowl nomination, although he didn't receive it. Speed and explosiveness are always apparent in Smith's game, if not violence. Smith has taken over control of the defense on the field, as well. It's his defense now when it used to be Danny Trevathan's. As his control of it on the field has increased, so has the effectiveness of his play.
Bears WR Marquise Goodwin vs. Rams CB David Long
This should read whoever the Bears bring into the slot vs. Long. The Bears have placed an emphasis on getting versatility from receivers so they all can play any position this season, though it's Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson who are best at it. Goodwin's speed alone is a threat to the Rams deep. Long is a player who had just 73 pass coverage snaps last year in his second season and is in much the same situation Duke Shelley was with the Bears when camp started. The Rams think he can cover but a 45.4 Pro Football Focus grade last year for those 73 plays and passer ratings against of 117.5 in 2019 and 154.2 in 2020 when he played suggest he has work to do and is a player the Bears could exploit. It could be Damiere Byrd doing the exploiting, as well as Goodwin, Robinson or Mooney. Or against zone coverage the tight ends could be attacking Long's area.