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The Bears Followed the Rams' Blueprint, but Will They Shock the NFL?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 5, 2018

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy, left, speaks as general manager Ryan Pace looks on at a news conference during an NFL football training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Huh/Associated Press

Under a tired head coach who was essentially a lame duck (and his interim replacement), the 2016 Los Angeles Rams lost a dozen games.

Under a tired head coach who was essentially a lame duck, the 2017 Chicago Bears lost nearly a dozen games.

That four-win Rams team had a highly touted rookie quarterback in Jared Goff, but Goff wasn't ready to become an elite signal-caller.

That five-win Bears team had a highly touted rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, but Trubisky wasn't ready to become an elite signal-caller.

The 2016 Rams also lacked the weapons needed to support Goff, though they did have a hot young running back in Todd Gurley.

The 2017 Bears also lacked the weapons needed to support Trubisky, though they did have a pair of promising young running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

What did the Rams do? They hired an energetic, young offensive guru to replace their stale head coach and brought in a wise, seasoned defensive coordinator to compensate for that new head coach's lack of experience. They also invested in several talented free agents to better support their novice quarterback.

That should sound familiar to those in or near Illinois' Cook County, because it's basically what the Bears did this offseason.

Matt Nagy is their Sean McVay, and the returning Vic Fangio is their Wade Phillips. While the Rams upgraded their offense with Andrew Whitworth, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, the Bears did the same with Allen Robinson II, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton.

If the Rams went from worst to first in points scored and won 11 games and the NFC West crown, the Bears could jump from a bottom-five offense to a top-five unit and win double-digit games and the NFC North crown.

A recently as last week, the counterargument would have been that Chicago didn't have its version of 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who dominated up front for Los Angeles.

Enter 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, whom the Bears acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

"We're paying a guy $141 million, we're trying to win now," defensive end Akiem Hicks said Monday, per JJ Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago. "You're definitely behind a move like that. It's exciting to see that although we've added so many pieces such as Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel—we've added all these guys, then we've got a present on the defense. It's awesome."

With Mack and Fangio, the Bears have their Donald and Phillips, which could be a game-changer for a defense that ranked in the top 10 last season. Donald has a lot of support with the Rams, but with superb young safeties Adrian Amos Jr. and Eddie Jackson, solid cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara and the talented Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith in the front seven, Chicago could have one of the league's top defenses.

Of course, Trubisky still has to come through the way Goff did; Nagy still has to deliver the way McVay did; and Mack, Fangio and Co. still have to come together the way Donald, Phillips and Co. did. Otherwise, this Bears team will amount to nothing more than a knockoff version of the 2017 Rams. And even if all those pieces fall into place, the NFC North looks like it'll be a tougher mountain to climb than the 2017 NFC West.

But remember what everyone thought about L.A. at this point last year.

Even after those offseason changes, most power rankings had the Rams in the bottom eight. Five of six experts at CBS Sports had them winning five or fewer games. Pro Football Focus ranked them as the second-worst team. One preview—albeit from Seattle Seahawks site Field Gulls—proclaimed in July that the Rams were "doomed." That same month, a headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared, "Fear not, the Rams remain horrendous."

There's undoubtedly more optimism about the new-look Bears on Sept. 5, 2018, than there was about the new-look Rams on Sept. 5, 2017.

So don't rule anything out. Trubisky had a much better rookie season (59.4 completion percentage, 6.6 yards per attempt, 77.5 passer rating) than Goff (54.6, 5.3, 63.6), and just last year Alex Smith was the league's highest-rated passer in a breakout season under Nagy's tutelage. Neither Howard nor Cohen is Gurley, but they can provide Trubisky with more than enough balance. The offensive line might not be as steady as L.A.'s, but the receiving corps might be more dangerous and the defense might be better.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

And now Chicago has Mack.

Despite all the Bears' improvements prior to their acquisition of the 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler, few gave them a chance before the trade. But as David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune wrote on the afternoon of the deal, "Suddenly, nothing else previously published or aired about the upcoming season is relevant."

The Bears are now in the top 20 in power rankings all over, including here at B/R and at NFL.com. And that's probably because they've followed the Rams' blueprint, almost to a T. This is a copycat league for a reason, so don't be shocked if the Bears pull a 2017 Rams in 2018.

      

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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