Chicago Bears: Most Critical Matchups vs. St. Louis Rams
In the loss this past Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, however, they looked like a sub-par team that's not even ready to keep up in the division.
So what needs to happen this weekend against the St. Louis Rams for the Bears to keep at least a share of first place in the division? There are a few key matchups that fans should be looking for this weekend, the matchups that will win the game for the Bears, or lose it for them if they aren't addressed.
Matchup No. 1: Chilo Rachal vs. Kendall Langford
When Chilo Rachal got the start this week over Chris Spencer, it didn't really come as a shock to the football world, especially to fans of the Chicago Bears.
Spencer was certainly sub-par last week against the Green Bay Packers, and to say that offensive coordinator Mike Tice was furious with the play of his line would be an understatement.
It was clear that a change needed to come to the left side of the line, and it isn't that surprising that Tice left current starting left tackle J'Marcus Webb in the starting lineup for Sunday's game. Tice has been high on Webb since training camp began, and it doesn't seem likely that Webb will be pulled from the starting job before Sunday.
Putting in a veteran next to Webb helps to protect Cutler's blind side; last week the Packers attacked that side all day, and it showed.
Now that the Bears have legitimate help between Webb and Garza, the big question is, how well will Rachal perform?
The man he is going up against, Kendall Langford, is not a standout player by any means. He has yet to record a sack this season, and has only one tackle so far this season.
However, with the way the offensive line played against the Packers, there is no room for slacking. If Rachal can perform, the job at LT is his, and the Bears will be well on their way to winning this game.
Matchup No. 2: Tim Jennings vs. Wide Receivers
Tim Jennings has been a stud so far this season for the Chicago Bears.
In the Bears' opener, Jennings had two amazing interceptions, one where he wasn't even looking towards the quarterback.
In the loss to the Packers, Jennings had yet another interception, putting him at three INTs in just two games. Also in those two games, Jennings recorded nine tackles, six of them on his own.
That is no small feat for a man standing at just 5'8".
This week, Jennings is going to have to play lockdown defense, no matter if he is up against Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Brian Quick or anyone else. In order for the offense to work, the defense is going to have to keep Sam Bradford off of the field, and they are also going to have to get takeaways from the Rams, something they did quite well against the Indianapolis Colts on September 9.
If Tim Jennings has another great game and plays well at corner, it is another matchup won for Chicago and another step closer to victory for the Bears.
Matchup No. 3: Julius Peppers vs. Barry Richardson
Another year, another dominant start for Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
Peppers has two sacks and five solo tackles through two games this season for the Bears, and is yet again a dominating force on the defensive line—a line that is key to winning games in Chicago.
When the line gets pressure, bad things happen for the offense. This was shown last season, when the defensive line rattled Detroit Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, forcing him to turn the ball over four times during the game.
We also saw this in the preseason, when RGIII of the Washington Redskins tried outrunning Israel Idonije and was sacked, fumbling the football. Peppers came from the opposite side of the line to scoop up the ball and give it back to Jay Cutler and the Bears offense.
When Peppers is on his game, disrupting plays, it makes it easier for good things to happen for Chicago, like a misplaced ball landing in the hands of Charles Tillman or Tim Jennings.
The Peppers/Richardson matchup is going to be critical because if Peppers does not get pressure, Sam Bradford can make big plays happen with time in the pocket. It is absolutely crucial that Peppers disrupts as many plays as possible and makes it easier for the rest of his defense to follow suit.
Matchup No. 4: Hester vs. Special Teams
Last week, Devin Hester was absolutely atrocious in the return game. With a whopping average of four yards per punt return, Hester will need to step his game up this week by a lot.
The reason that Hester has been so valuable to this team is because he provides the spark that the Bears need to win.
Way back in his rookie season (which was in 2006) Hester ran two kickoffs back all the way for touchdowns and helped his team to a 42-27 win in St. Louis.
This year, the team needs Hester to perform more than ever. Giving Jay Cutler and the Bears offense better starting field position would be huge for the team, especially without starting running back Matt Forte playing on Sunday.
If Devin Hester can get just one return for a touchdown, or even return the ball 20-30 yards every time, it would be absolutely huge. Not only would he help Chicago get better field position, he would help the Bears win the game as well.
Matchup No. 5: Jay Cutler vs. Himself
Last week, Chicago Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler wasn't happy with his teammates' performance, and he let them know that.
Cutler was seen screaming at his teammates during last Thursday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, and he was even seen "bumping into" starting left tackle J'Marcus Webb.
In an interview this week with ESPN 1000 in Chicago, the QB had this to say about his incident with Webb: "As far as me yelling at him and trying to get him going in the game, I don't regret that. I shouldn't have bumped him, I'll stick to that."
Okay, so at least he's sorry for shoving his teammates around. However, if he continues screaming and yelling at them, sooner or later he's going to lose their respect, and when that happens to a quarterback, it's all over for him and that team.
Cutler's biggest, most daunting task is not whether or not he can make good passes or get the ball to Brandon Marshall—it is whether or not he can keep himself under control, whether things are going good or bad.
Cutler's attitude is not only key for the upcoming game against the St. Louis Rams, but for the rest of the season and beyond. Cutler needs to improve his attitude before it ruins the rest of the season for himself, his teammates and the organization.
If Cutler can keep his cool and not blow a gasket every time something goes wrong, then the Chicago Bears will be just fine.