The Bears will look to improve to 6-1 when they visit the Los Angeles Rams Monday night at SoFi Stadium. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will the Bears defense continue to excel?
A dominant defense has fueled the Bears' rise into first place in the NFC North and may be coming off its best game, generating a season-high three takeaways and four sacks in last Sunday's 23-16 road win over the Panthers. The unit entered Week 7 ranked seventh in the NFL in points and yards, as well as first in red-zone touchdown percentage and second in third-down efficiency.
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The Bears have allowed just one touchdown in each of their last three games while holding the Colts (19), Buccaneers (19) and Panthers (16) to their lowest point totals of the season. They hope to continue that trend Monday night in Los Angeles against a Rams offense that's led by quarterback Jared Goff, who has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,570 yards with 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 101.4 passer rating that ranks 11th in the NFL.
This will be the third straight year the Bears have played the Rams. In 2018, the Bears recorded a 15-6 win at Soldier Field, not allowing a touchdown and holding Goff to a career-low 19.1 passer rating in part because he threw a career-high four interceptions. In 2019, the Bears lost 17-7 in Los Angeles but permitted Goff to pass for just 173 yards with no TDs and one interception.
"One thing about the Rams is they have a lot of weapons on offense," said nose tackle Bilal Nichols. "They have a great QB in Goff. They have a nice line up front. They have some receivers. They've got explosive playmakers. And they're very good at what they do. After playing them the last couple years, we're familiar with that. So we just know that we have to come out here and play the way that we've been playing the last couple weeks. We've got to play Chicago defense. We have to be physical. We have to fly around. And we have to put pressure on everybody on their offense."
(2) Will the Bears offense build on some of the positives from last Sunday's win in Carolina and play even better against the Rams?
The offense showed some progress versus the Panthers, scoring on three of four first-half possessions and converting a season-high 50 percent of its third-down plays (7 of 14) to sustain drives. But even with that improvement, the unit is still struggling to get into the end zone.
The unit has scored just five touchdowns in its last three games after producing nine TDs in its first three contests. A main reason for that no doubt has been a step up in competition, with recent games against the NFL's No. 1 and No. 3 ranked defenses in the Colts and Buccaneers, respectively. But things won't get much easier versus a Rams defense that ranks fourth in the league.
The Bears are 27th in the NFL in scoring and 28th in total yards in large part because they've been unable to produce big plays. Their longest completion this season is Nick Foles' 37-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson II in a Week 3 win over the Falcons. And their longest run by a running back is David Montgomery's 23-yarder in a Week 2 victory over the Giants.
"If we create some explosive plays, I think you'll see a totally different offense," said Robinson. "I feel like the thing missing right now is explosives."
Set to make his fourth straight start since replacing Mitchell Trubisky, Foles has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 878 yards with six touchdowns, four interceptions and an 80.4 passer rating. Acquired by the Bears in a trade with the Jaguars in March, Foles is still gaining familiarity with the scheme and cohesiveness with his new teammates after all offseason practices and the entire preseason were cancelled due to COVID-19.
"I knew when I made the decision, it wasn't going to be like a magic wand where [Foles] just all of a sudden comes in and lights it up or does this or does that," said coach Matt Nagy. "That wasn't going to happen. It's going to take a little bit of time. The good thing is that we're winning. The good thing is that we understand we've got to get better."
(3) Will a Bears running game that has stalled in recent weeks revert to the form it showed early in the season?
After rushing for 149, 135 and 130 yards in their first three games this year, the Bears have been limited to 28, 35 and 63 yards on the ground in their last three contests. The recent decline, seemingly, is due in part to facing the NFL's first- and third-ranked run defenses in the Buccaneers and Colts, respectively, during that span.
A more productive rushing attack against the Rams would keep the Bears from becoming too one-dimensional and likely increase the effectiveness of play-action fakes. The Bears run game seemed to make some strides in the second half last Sunday against the Panthers, as David Montgomery gained 39 yards on 11 carries after being held to 13 yards on seven attempts in the first half.
"I did feel progress," said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. "There are quite a few games where the run game gains momentum as it goes. I think a lot of it probably has to do with when you have professional NFL offensive linemen and backs, they come to the sideline and they're able to talk through with their coaches, 'Here's how they're playing us, here's how they're playing these blocks.' Between series, you're able to kind of work those adjustments.
"I think guys get a feel for the particular people that they are playing against, they are blocking; that happens, too. I know we have talked about it before; our poise and communication on the sideline is good. So I'll-in an optimistic way-give credit to the job that we are doing working together to get it fixed.
"I think we definitely felt some spurts there where we gained momentum, so that probably had to do with it. Will that momentum carry over? Big picture, yes, but we will be lining up against a whole new group of guys this week, so we are going to have to kind of start doing it again."
(4) Will the Bears be able to contain Rams five-time All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald?
The two-time NFL defensive player of the year is a dominant player against both the run and the pass.
"This is a guy where every time you put on the tape, you can see where he's at," Nagy said. "Your eyes go right to him. You know he's a heck of a player. The burst that he has off the line of scrimmage at the snap, it can be a simple run play, and he just anticipates before you snap the ball and he just shoots the A or B gap, and next thing you know, he's taking the handoff."
Donald entered Week 7 leading the NFL with 7.5 sacks.
"We are talking about a fantastic, great football player," Lazor said. "So it takes everybody. It takes a plan by the whole offense and [for] a whole number of different people [to] get their hands on him at different times."
After being limited to two tackles and no sacks or tackles-for-loss in the Rams' loss to the Bears in 2018, Donald registered four tackles, two sacks and two tackles-for-loss in last year's rematch.
"I think you just have to get on him early before he gets going," said center Cody Whitehair, "obviously play physical with him and try to shut him down, and that's going to be our game plan. He can be a game-wrecker and you've got to account for him in every way you can."