Chicago Bears: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 12

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Chicago Bears: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 12
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The Chicago Bears are coming off a big come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Ravens, but it won't get any easier for them this week as they travel to St. Louis.

While they're just 4-6 and have allowed more points (234) than they've scored (224), the Rams are a matchup nightmare for the Bears. 

If you look at them on paper, they don't appear to be anything to worry about, but their roster is good, and they're relatively well coached.

Their last game was a 38-8 beat down of the Indianapolis Colts, followed by their bye week. Now they're going to welcome the Bears into the Edward Jones Dome, which could be a significant advantage.

As the Bears prepare for a tough road test, here's what you need to know.

 

Bears are playing for first, with an eye on the tiebreakers

A week after their chances at winning the NFC North appeared shot, the Bears are right back in the chase. 

Both they and the Lions have 6-4 records, although Detroit has the tiebreaker because it swept the Bears. The Lions are at home for four of their final six games, while the Bears will be on the road for the same amount. As we saw this week, the Lions are capable of losing to anyone. 

Detroit has a suddenly hot Tampa Bay team this week. The Bucs have won two straight after starting 0-8. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is playing very well for them, and their defense isn't as bad as you'd expect from a 2-8 team.

A Lions loss and a Bears win would give the Bears control of their own destiny.

If that doesn't happen, however, the Bears still need to win this game because they need tiebreakers for the wild-card spots.

The Bears currently trail San Francisco for the sixth playoff spot due to the 49ers' 3-3 record against NFC teams, while the Bears are 3-4. Arizona is also ahead of them with a 4-4 conference record. Right behind the Bears is Dallas, which is 5-2 against NFC foes.

They need to rack up all the NFC wins they can get in case the Lions go on a tear or are simply able to keep pace with the Bears.

 

Zac Stacy is a beast

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Over the last six games, Stacy has averaged 88.8 rushing yards per game and about 4.2 yards per carry. While the yard-per-carry average isn't great, over the course of an entire season, his per game average would add up to over 1,400 yards.

Now Stacy faces a Bears defense that ranks 31st at stopping the run.

The league ranking doesn't really justify just how bad the Bears have been. They allowed Brandon Jacobs to come off the street and run for a 100 yards a couple years after his career appeared to be over. Roy Helu looked like John Riggins, Eddie Lacy looked like Earl Campbell, Reggie Bush looked like Barry Sanders, and the 2013 version of Ray Rice looked like the Rice of 2012. 

Although he doesn't seem to be a threat to break a lot of long runs, the Rams rookie is a powerful runner. The Bears have to make sure they gang tackle him, or he could have a big day.

 

No Jay Cutler this week

Bears coach Marc Trestman didn't leave any time to speculate as he already announced, via Larry Mayer of the team's website, that the Bears would be without their starting quarterback for the third time in four games.

Cutler suffered a high ankle sprain against the Detroit Lions. At the time, Trestman elected to keep him in, but now it looks like a multiple-week injury.

Last week, Cutler was spotted at Bears practice with a hard cast on the ankle. We know he's a fast healer, but it may be in the Bears' best interest to sit him out if he's anything less than 100 percent.

One of the things we've learned this season is that Josh McCown is a more than serviceable backup. He's a game manager who protects the ball but has shown the ability to put the ball in tight spots on occasion. Perhaps his most important attribute—for this week at least—is that he's still pretty mobile despite being 34 years old.

When McCown entered the NFL in 2002, he became a third-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals, mostly because of a strong showing at the NFL combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, incredibly fast at the time. He's lost some of his athletic gifts, but he's shown the ability to get away from the pass rush at times. It's something Cutler also excels at, but if his ankle slowed him at all, it could be a problem.

 

Rams get after the quarterback

The Rams will enter the game tied for sixth in the league with 32 sacks, although three of the teams ahead of them haven't had their bye week yet.

While the Bears don't give up many sacks, this still has to be a big concern. The Bears are fifth in adjusted sack percentage on Football Outsiders, but they're 31st in pass-blocking efficiency on Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

The Rams' headliner is Chris Long—brother to the Bears' Kyle Long—but their other defensive end, Robert Quinn, leads the team with 12 sacks. With their home crowd and on turf, the Bears might be over-matched.

With McCown, the Bears have featured mostly a quick passing game. They can only succeed with that if they're able to run the ball effectively, which is possible against a Rams defense that ranks 18th in rushing yards per game. If they don't run the ball successfully, however, it could be a very long day for McCown.

Despite their aggressive pass rush, the Rams have allowed opponents to have an average rating of 93, the ninth-worst rate in the league. The 8.4 yards per attempt they allow is the second-worst rate in the league, behind only the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers, who both give up 8.5 yards per attempt. 

The key for the Bears will be to run the ball and get it out of McCown's hands quickly. If they can do both of those, they should be able to score on the Rams. That, however, is easier said than done, as Andrew Luck found out.

 

St. Louis has athletes on offense

The athleticism the Rams have on the offensive side of the ball hasn't translated to a lot of success, but it's something to be concerned about.

Heading into the offseason last year, many Bears fans wanted the team to sign Jared Cook and draft Tavon Austin. Now, they are tied for the team lead on the Rams with 33 catches and have combined for seven touchdowns. Austin is also a weapon in the return game.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), over half of the Rams' passing yards have come after the catch. They spread the ball around as five players have over 20 receptions.

They put teams in a bit of a pickle. If opponents play extra defensive backs to match up with their receivers, they can run it with Stacy. If they stay in their base defenses, they can get it out to their playmakers in hopes they'll make something happen. While they haven't had an overwhelming about of success, it's still something to watch for.

 

Kellen Clemens is still their quarterback

It seems like a lifetime ago that Clemens was competing for the starting job with the New York Jets

He started eight games in 2007 before they traded for some guy named Favre. That trade didn't work out very well for them, and Clemens never really got another shot as a starter in the NFL, until now.

Of course, it wasn't the Rams' plan. Sam Bradford was supposed to be having a "prove it" year. Then he tore his ACL. Now Clemens has a chance to show he's at least a capable backup. So far, the jury is still out.

He's started three games for the Rams but completed under 55 percent of his passes. He's thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions. For his career, he has 15 interceptions and 10 touchdowns. He's completed just 52.2 percent of his passes in his career for an average of just 6.3 yards per attempt.

Although his passer rating of 79.3 is OK for a backup, it's a bit misleading because of how he plays.

Clemens throws mostly short passes to get the aforementioned athletes involved and doesn't really scare anyone with his arm. According to his splits on ESPN, 52 percent of his passes have traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air.

There is simply no evidence that Clemens is capable of beating the Bears. Perhaps the biggest key to winning this game will be putting him in a position where he has to make big throws. If they can do that, the Bears shouldn't have a problem winning this game.

 

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