A stifling defense led the Bears to a 15-6 win over the Rams Sunday night in a battle of first-place teams at Soldier Field. Here are three things that stood out in the game:
(1) With its most dominant performance of the season, the Bears defense didn't just contain one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, it completely shut it down.
The Rams arrived in Chicago averaging 34.9 points per game and sporting an NFL-best 11-1 record; they headed back to Los Angeles Sunday night after failing to score a touchdown in a humbling 15-6 loss. The Bears defense held the Rams to two field goals while producing four interceptions and a safety. Jared Goff posted a career-low 19.1 passer rating and NFL leading rusher Todd Gurley was limited to 28 yards on 11 carries.
"Defensively, I thought our guys were relentless across the board," coach Matt Nagy said Monday. "We always talk about green grass on offense, being able to have a pocket to throw, and I felt our defensive line did a great job of collapsing the pocket and not giving Jared any green grass in there to step into his throws. That's where it all starts.
"The second part of that would be in coverage. I thought our DBs did a really good job at anticipating throws, breaking on throws, and when they had a chance to get the pass breakups, they did that, and of course got [four] interceptions, too. That was such a huge part of the game for us. I appreciate that with the defense there."
On the ground, the Bears held Gurley in check by filling his cutback lanes. "I thought we did a good job of containing that," Nagy said. "He had one or two where he cut back a little bit. But we were there in groups. It was gang tackling. I felt like we were playing fast. I felt that the whole entire game, and then watching it on tape you saw that."
(2) With the defense playing lights out and their passing game faltering, the Bears turned to Jordan Howard and their running attack in the second half.
Jordan Howard rushed for 69 of his game-high 101 yards on 12 carries in the final two quarters. He had gains of 14 yards on the Bears' lone touchdown drive and 21 yards that picked up a key first down and helped flip the field before a fourth-quarter punt.
"Offensively, I thought [we were] a little bit out of rhythm at times, and that's all of us included," Nagy said. "That was a time for us where we felt like being able to hand the ball off and do some different things in the run game would help us out.
"The opportunities that we had doing that, I thought our guys executed it well. I thought the offensive line in particular, that was a huge challenge for them. They stepped up to it. That defensive line is stout now. They're quick, they're stout, they have great players, great scheme and so I give a lot of credit to coach [Harry] Hiestand and that offensive line, and of course the running backs, the tight ends, etc.
"And then special teams. I thought that game last night became a game of field position just knowing that there weren't a lot of touchdowns being scored. It was important to make sure that offensively you protect the football, give our defense a chance to pin their ears back a little bit once we had that lead, and that's what we did."
In his return after missing two games with a right shoulder injury, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled with accuracy at times. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 110 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a career-low 33.3 passer rating.
"It has nothing to do with rust," Nagy said. "Both defenses had their own unique ways of making things happen. You'd like to have pinpoint accuracy on every throw, and there were some that he was slightly off. But that's my job, too, to make sure that I'm putting him in good positions with the play calls that I have."
(3) Nagy continues to show complete faith in his players when it comes to calling creative gadget plays in crucial situations.
A week later, Nagy called a play dubbed "Santa's Sleigh" on third-and-goal from the 2 with the Bears clinging to an 8-6 third-quarter lead. The unusual formation featured four defensive linemen and culminated in eligible offensive lineman Bradley Sowell catching a 2-yard TD pass from Trubisky that gave the Bears a two-score lead.
The Bears didn't run the play in practice until last Friday, two days before the game. "It wasn't in the incubator too long," Nagy said. "We felt like the time was right and the guys executed it just right. It was a great catch, great throw, good hard run sell and, shoot, I was impressed."
Fun plays like that and others Nagy has called this season give the opposing defense a look they most likely haven't prepared for. "As a defensive coordinator or as a quality control coach, when you're up in the booth and you're trying to tell the d-coordinator that those four numbers are coming in, I don't know if they necessarily prepare for that," Nagy said. "You've got to be able to make sure it's something that you feel can be worthwhile and not foolish. There's that balance there.
"The other part of it, too, is our guys love it. They enjoy it. They have fun. [The plays are] working. Maybe we'll stay away from them for a few weeks and come back to it later."
Bears photographer Jacob Funk selected his best photos from Sunday night's game against the Rams at Soldier Field.