3TFO: Rams @ Bears, Week 3
Michael Renner | 2012/09/21

A pair of 1-1 teams clash this Sunday at Soldier Field as the St. Louis Rams take on the Chicago Bears. Both teams come into the game with injuries at key positions that have huge implications. Matt Forte is most likely not going to play this Sunday and the Bears have a completely different look without him. On the other side, the Rams’ offensive line is a shadow of what it started the season as.

That being said, the two defenses look to be at full strength and this game could very well be a low-scoring affair. The Bears are fresh off of roughing up Aaron Rodgers in a losing effort against the Packers, while the Rams have proven themselves capable of forcing good quarterbacks into making mistakes. Here what I’ll be watching for:

Michael Bush Replacing Matt Forte

The second half of the Bears’ Week 2 game made it obvious that Michael Bush is not Forte. No statistic says that better than their respective rankings in the Breakaway Percentage Signature Stat. In 2011, Forte ranked first (47.2% of his yards coming on runs of 15 yards or more) and Bush ranked nineteenth among starting running backs. The same Oakland line that blocked for Bush also allowed Darren McFadden (in his shortened season) to have a number even higher than Forte’s. What these stats say is that the Bears lose almost all of their big play ability with Forte out. This will allow the Rams to play more for the pass as they won’t fear the ground game home run. Bush still provides value with his receiving ability, but the question becomes whether or not the disparity between Forte and Bush will cost the Bears points? Whatever the answer may be, I am certain the offense won’t be the same.

Rams Offensive Line vs. Bears Defensive Line

The injuries are starting to pile up on St. Louis’ offensive line. The Rams have placed guard Rokevious Watkins on the IR and tackle Rodger Saffold is now out at least a month with a sprained MCL. All of this on top of losing center Scott Wells for what may be the season. The silver lining in it all might be that Watkins and Saffold weren’t off to the best starts this year, both grading out negatively so far. That means that starting at left tackle will be Jets castaway Wayne Hunter. Hunter, unfortunately, is known for his inconsistent play and some extremely bad games, though he put up an acceptable effort filling in for Saffold in the Rams’ Week 2 win against the Redskins, allowing only one hit in 31 drop-backs but being penalized twice.

It is quite amazing that the unit as a whole is still playing at the level they are and that it hasn’t completely crumbled. That could change this week as they are set to take on Chicago’s front four. Julius Peppers has consistently been one of the best 4-3 ends throughout his career. He has played 72 of his 100 snaps at right end this season but has generally been more productive on the left. With perennial turnstile Barry Richardson at right tackle maybe that percentage will change in Week 3. On the other side, Israel Idonije is quietly having a solid season as well, particularly in the run game. This one could get ugly if the multiple backups on the Rams line all play like backups.

Which Quarterback Can Limit Mistakes?

Sam Bradford has seen improvement in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. The same cannot be said for Jay Cutler and Mike Tice. For Cutler and the Bears’ offense, Week 1 the latter part of the game was a dream and Week 2 was a nightmare. Whether that is a reflection of the Bears’ offense or the Packers’ defense remains to be seen. What is obvious, though, is that Cutler needs to limit his mistakes and just get rid of the ball quicker. His time before pass jumped up 0.3 seconds from Week 1 to Week 2 and the results weren’t pretty. Cutler will be going against a much improved secondary with the additions of Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan has picked off a pass in each game and is our second rated overall corner (+5.2) with only 53 yards conceded and quarterbacks only having a rating of 43.2 on throws into his coverage.

As good as the Rams’ secondary has been, Bradford may see an even tougher unit with the Bears, including the league’s highest-rated corner in Tim Jennings (+5.6) who has picked off three passes on the year and was our Secret Superstar for Chicago entering the season. Bradford has only thrown one interception so far, but tossed 21 in 26 career games prior to this season. The biggest improvement in his game this year has been his downfield accuracy; in 2011, Bradford was one of the worst at pushing the ball down the field. Last year, on throws of 10 yards or more, he completed only 38% of his passes. This year that number has jumped to 61% and the effect on the offense is evident. Bradford has a challenge ahead of him with the Bears two-high safety looks, and he will likely have to work the short passing game to have success.