Only six players on the Bears’ roster know what it’s like to participate in a playoff game, and no one on the current team has ever played in a postseason game for the Bears, who haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2010 season.
But Sunday night’s game at Soldier Field against the Rams will have a playoff feel and could be a preview of a postseason meeting between the teams. The visitors are an NFL-best 11-1 and clinched the NFC West last week. The 8-4 Bears stumbled in New Jersey against the Giants but retained their position atop the NFC North because every other team in the division was defeated, as well.
“But we don’t ever want to be in that position again,” said Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara, who played on the Giants’ Super Bowl-winning 2011 team as a rookie. “We know that we’re in the driver’s seat, and if we take care of business, everything should work out the way we want it to.”
The Bears can’t wait to make amends for their effort against the Giants, but they couldn’t have picked a much tougher opponent than the Rams, whose offense is second only to the Chiefs’.
“They’re a great team – they’re a great playoff team – and we know that this is going to be that type of atmosphere, and we’re excited about it,” Amukamara said. “They’re explosive. They have a great running game, and because the running game is so great, the passing game is great also. (Quarterback) Jared Goff is playing like an MVP candidate. He’s night and day where he was his rookie year, and they also have a young coach (32-year-old Sean McVay) who’s doing a great job and knows how to handle their players.”
Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, was unimpressive as a rookie, losing all seven of his starts and compiling a 63.6 passer rating. But he was brilliant in his first year with McVay, throwing 28 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a 100.5 passer rating and a league-best 12.9 yards a completion. He’s even better this year, averaging 13.7 yards a completion with a 109.9 passer rating, 27 touchdown tosses and seven picks.
But Amukamara is correct when he says that the run game – more specifically, Todd Gurley – is the basis for the Rams’ explosiveness. The 10th overall pick in 2015 suffered through a brutal sophomore slump in Goff’s rookie year, but he’s back with a vengeance.
Gurley had a league-best 2,093 yards from scrimmage last year, including 1,305 rushing yards. He leads the NFL again this year with 1,649 scrimmage yards and is No. 1 with 1,175 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs and 19 total TDs.
The Bears’ offense should have an easier time with a Rams defense that is good but not great, despite a star-studded cast. That includes NFL sacks leader Aaron Donald and five-time Pro Bowl pick Ndamukong Suh on the line, and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib in the secondary.
Peters has 21 interceptions in only his fourth season. Talib has been to the Pro Bowl five times, but he played only 26 snaps last week on a planned pitch count in his first game back since a Week 3 ankle injury.
Bears running back Tarik Cohen, who’s coming off a 12-catch, 156-yard game that also included throwing a 1-yard TD pass as time expired to send the game into overtime, said that he doesn’t have to worry about Donald, whose 16.5 sacks are four more than anyone else in the league.
“I’m not an O-lineman,” the 5-foot-6, 181-pound Cohen pointed out. “So I really don’t get to go against him every play. I’ll probably see him some of [the time], but I probably won’t see him a lot.”
For Cohen’s sake and for the Bears’, the less they see of Donald the better.