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Pregame Warmup

4 things to watch in Bears-Rams game

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The Bears (4-5) will look to win their second straight game Sunday night when they visit the Rams (5-4) in Los Angeles. Here are four storylines to monitor in the game:

(1) Will the Bears record back-to-back victories and improve their chances of salvaging their season?

The Bears have been very streaky in two seasons under coach Matt Nagy, and they hope that trend continues after beating the Lions last Sunday at Soldier Field.

In Nagy’s first season last year, the Bears had winning streaks of three, four and five games en route to capturing the NFC North championship with a 12-4 record.

This year after a season-opening loss to the Packers, they won three straight and then dropped four in a row before snapping their skid against the Lions. The Bears hope their victory over Detroit is the start of another winning streak that catapults them back into the playoff race.

Coincidentally, the Rams are in a similar position as the Bears—in third place in their division, dealing with injuries after being relatively healthy last season and trying to jump-start an offense that has not performed up to expectations.

The Bears play winnable games the next two weeks against the Giants (2-8) at home and versus the Lions (3-5-1) in Detroit on Thanksgiving. But those contests may not matter if they don’t record a victory Sunday night in Los Angeles.

(2) Will the Bears offense build off its performance against the Lions while eliminating the mistakes that stalled drives?

After recording season-lows with 173 yards and 10 first downs in a disappointing loss to the Eagles Nov. 3 in Philadelphia, the Bears produced touchdowns on three straight drives—all on Mitchell Trubisky passes—in last Sunday’s win over the Lions.

But all nine of the offense’s other possessions in the game ended with punts, including seven three-and-outs. The unit left plenty of room for improvement, converting just 2-of-12 third-down opportunities, allowing five sacks and mustering 226 total yards against a Lions defense that ranked 31st in the NFL, permitting an average of 424 yards per game.

The Bears will be challenged by a Rams defense that features tackle Aaron Donald, linebackers Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safety Eric Weddle.

The Bears rushed for 194 yards in a 15-6 win over the Rams last season. A repeat performance will be difficult given that top running back David Montgomery will be a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury Wednesday in practice. If he’s unable to play, the Bears could lean on first-year pro Ryan Nall and/or versatile receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to help share the workload in the backfield with Tarik Cohen.

(3) Will Trubisky continue to show improvement like he did in last Sunday’s win over the Lions?

The Bears quarterback passed for just 173 yards against Detroit, but he threw three touchdown passes, didn’t commit a turnover and posted a 131.0 passer rating that was the third highest of his career. Nagy lauded Trubisky for a pinpoint 33-yard completion to Allen Robinson that the Bears coach described as the quarterback’s best throw of the game.

The Bears had been held to 25 yards on 15 plays on their first four possessions against the Lions before Trubisky engineered a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the first half. Operating a hurry-up attack, the quarterback completed 7 of 8 passes for 66 yards including an 18-yard TD pass to tight end Ben Braunecker. Trubisky likes the up-tempo attack and seems to perform better in those situations.

“For me and I think for the other guys on offense, it’s not as much thinking,” Trubisky said. “The plays are a little bit simpler, we don’t have as much motion, the defense is usually a little bit more vanilla. They don’t usually bring as exotic of looks, so we just go out, we’re playing fast, everybody’s in their spots, everybody knows their job and we’re not thinking. We’re just going out there, doing what comes natural, following our instincts and we’re just playing fast.”

(4) After losing another key starter, will the Bears defense be able to contain the Rams offense?

The Bears will take the field Sunday night in Los Angeles without two of their top defensive players and team leaders. Tackle Akiem Hicks remains sidelined with an elbow injury he sustained Oct. 6 against the Raiders and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan won’t play after he also suffered an elbow injury last Sunday against the Lions.

The good news for the defense is that Trevathan’s replacement, Nick Kwiatkoski, performed exceptionally well when called upon versus Detroit. The fourth-year pro registered nine tackles, his first career interception, one sack and one tackle-for-loss. Kwiatkoski is expected to start Sunday night against the Rams.

“When you lose a guy like Danny in the middle, that leadership part, you lose a little bit,” Nagy said. “But then you have ‘Kwit’ come in and do such a great job. He was all over the field. That was really neat to see.”

Like the Bears, the Rams have been hit by the injury bug this year after a relatively healthy 2018 season. Last Sunday in a loss to the Steelers, center Brian Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury. Right tackle Rob Havenstein will also miss Sunday night’s game after hurting his knee in Pittsburgh. The Rams will also be without receiver Brandin Cooks, who will miss his second straight game since suffering his second concussion of the season.

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