For all of their pass-rushing prowess and menace, the St. Louis Rams are middle-of-the-pack at stopping pass offenses, including where it matters: inside its 20-yard line.
Indeed, if there is one area both the Rams and Bears are breathtakingly average, it is inside the red zone, where both are mid-50 percent on both scoring allowing and scoring touchdowns.
The one able to end possessions with seven points rather than three is the more likely to finish Sunday with a win.
One of oddities in the loss to Detroit was the personnel packages used on the two failed two-point conversion attempts, neither of which made use of what is one of the elite (and big) receiving groups in the NFL.
In the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bears had a first-and-goal at the Baltimore six. They ran six plays, including two throws each to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, and failed to get into the end zone even with the Ravens giving them a do-over set of downs with a third-down holding penalty.
“In that last game, we didn’t get points in the red zone that first trip down there,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “Thankfully, we got the win, but that proved crucial at the end of the game. Those were things that really eat at me because at the end of the day, you want to find a way to get in the end zone. You’ve got to get your team in the end zone and you can’t go down there and take three all the time.”
The fact that the Bears escaped with an overtime victory did not obscure the reality that they are far from elite in the area where elite times close deals. The Bears have a core group of Jeffery, Marshall and Martellus Bennett designed less for taking the top off defenses with speed, but rather owning situations where size and the ability to be physical matter.
The Bears dedicated extra practice attention to fixing their red-zone issues.
“We’ve got to do a better job of throwing back-shoulder fades and doing the things that we’ve been able to do during the season,” said coach Marc Trestman. “So we made a point, not only in fades, but all the different routes we run in the red zone to try to prepare. We did a lot of one-on-one in the red zone and in the tight red zone as well just to practice it.”
What to look for: The Bears have had nine passing plays of 20 yards or longer with McCown, nearly the same big-play rate as the stronger-armed Jay Cutler. McCown’s average gain per pass attempt (7.47 yards) is higher than Cutler’s (7.20), an indication of the offensive scheme’s ability to create opportunities downfield.
The Rams do not have the secondary to match up with Bennett, Jeffery and Marshall and the big-play potential with the threesome may be enough to break open a potentially very close defense-based game.