When the Bears take on the Rams on Sunday, keep an eye out for the following matchups:
Bears LB Roquan Smith vs Rams RB Todd Gurley
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has had a solid start to his NFL career, emerging as a top young linebacker in the league. Smith has had the advantage of learning from a trio of linebackers with league experience in Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd. Smith had another sound outing last Sunday against the Giants, tallying 10 tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle performance of the season. His ability to read running backs and stay patient has allowed him to help a Bears defense that's second in the league in fewest rush yards allowed per game.
Smith and the Bears defense will face their toughest opponent yet when it comes to limiting the run game. Rams running back Todd Gurley leads the league in total rushing yards, rush yards per game and rushing touchdowns. Gurley is also tops in the league with total touchdowns with 19 (15 rushing, 4 receiving). Gurley is coming off a dominant performance against the Lions in which he tallied 132 rush yards, the most he's put up since Week 6. He also scored twice, marking the fifth game this year in which he's had multiple touchdowns. Much like the Bears' Tarik Cohen, Gurley's ability to juke defenders and catch the ball out of the backfield make him a dangerous dual-threat player that will pose a unique challenge for Smith on Sunday night.
Bears LB Khalil Mack*vs Rams QB Jared Goff*
Sunday night's primetime matchup will pin one of the league's most exciting defensive playmakers opposite one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack has been everything the organization hoped he'd be when they traded for him before the start of the season. The 6-3, 252-pound defender has been a quarterback's worst nightmare, recording a team-high nine sacks. Mack added another sack last week against the Giants and recorded two quarterback hits.
Mack will attempt to keep the same pressure on the quarterback against the Rams' Jared Goff. After a breakout season last year that garnered a Pro Bowl selection, Goff has followed it up with even better numbers this season. The third-year quarterback is sixth in the league in touchdown passes with 27 and ranks tied for second in the NFL in yards per pass thrown, averaging 9.1. The number that jumps out the most from Goff, though, is his four game-winning drives, tied for the most in the league.
Mack was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in September. Goff took home Offensive Player of the Month honors for the conference in September. But the calendar has flipped twice since then, and early season stats don't matter down the stretch. If Mack can get to Goff early enough for the Bears to jump out ahead early, it'll put even more pressure on the young quarterback to try to muster up another late-game comeback.
Bears RB Tarik Cohen*vs Rams safety John Johnson III*
If opposing defenses weren't aware before last week, Bears running back Tarik Cohen reminded them that they can't just cover him like a back. Cohen did it all against the Giants, recording a career-high 186 scrimmage yards on eight carries and 12 receptions. He also threw for a touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Cohen continues to demonstrate his versatility out of the backfield and ability to get downfield for big gains through the air. Three of his 12 catches against the Giants went for at least 23 yards.
Given Cohen's ability to make a difference outside of the running game, he's become just as much of a problem for defensive secondaries as defensive linemen. Rams safety John Johnson III will try to contain the speedy back Sunday night. Among safeties in the league, Johnson ranks fifth with 85 tackles this season, and sixth in pass deflections with eight. The second-year defender has also tallied three interceptions this season. Johnson's sound speed and ability to track the ball has been a big piece of the Rams secondary. As a whole though, while the Rams' 11 wins is tops in the league, they haven't done it by completely shutting down opposing teams' offensive productions. Most of their games have been high-scoring shootouts. The Rams rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards and rushing yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 367.3 yards per contest. If Cohen can continue the trend of opposing players being able to tack on yard against Johnson and the Los Angeles defense, advantage Bears.