THOUSAND OAKS — If the Rams want an immediate measure of the expected improvement in their offense, they’ve drawn the perfect opponent for the season opener.
The peculiarities of NFL scheduling have the Rams, of the NFC West, facing the Chicago Bears, from the NFC North, for the fourth year in a row on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams won the past two meetings, both at home. But the defense and special teams handled the heroics in those games. The offense left a little to be desired.
If they’re more potent with quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver DeSean Jackson than they were with Jared Goff and a less dynamic passing game, they can prove it by improving on the 17-7 victory over the Bears in 2019 and the 24-10 win in 2020.
Playing the same non-division team four years in a row doesn’t change much about game preparation, Rams coach Sean McVay said as he dove into the week’s practices Monday.
“I think, if anything, it gives you greater appreciation for what you’re going against,” McVay said.
For a coach, Week 1 against the Bears will be no more a measuring stick than, say, Week 8 against the Houston Texans.
But early impressions matter. McVay is one of those coaches who divides seasons into four segments, using the first four games to see what needs to fixed and the next four to fix it.
This year, the Rams are likely to have a good idea where they stand among Super Bowl contenders after the first five weeks of games against the Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks (combined record last season: 50-30).
The Bears (8-8) could be tricky to scout on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Like the Rams (10-6), they’ve changed quarterbacks and defensive coordinators.
With former Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton declared the Bears’ starter over 11th overall draft pick Justin Fields, the Rams should at least have a known quantity to prepare for.
“Andy’s a winning quarterback in this league, does a great job,” McVay said of Dalton, whose teams are 74-66-2 in his starts in the regular season but 0-4 in the playoffs.
But the Rams don’t want to get caught off-guard if Fields, a duel-threat star at Ohio State, ends up in the game.
“It would be naive for us not to prepare for them to be able to utilize him in some form or fashion,” McVay said. “You see the ways that Justin made a lot of plays going back to his career at Ohio State (and) what he showed in the preseason. I think you’ve got to be ready for either/or.”
In Week 7 last year, the Rams beat the then 5-1 Bears on a Monday night at SoFi Stadium. Goff had a solid game, throwing touchdown passes to wide receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Gerald Everett; none of the three is still with the Rams. Johnny Hekker was the real star, putting all five of his punts inside the 10-yard line.
Edge rusher Leonard Floyd had two of the Rams’ four sacks and safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Jalen Ramsey had interceptions against Nick Foles.
“We’ve got to get locked in,” Rams nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day said Monday. “It’s going to be a really great test for a first game. I’m excited to get after it. I’m tired of practicing against our own guys.”
On defense, the Bears still have three-time All-Pro Khalil Mack on the edge. But they released one-time All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller last March to free up salary cap space. Fuller signed with the Denver Broncos, coached by Vic Fangio, the Bears’ former defensive coordinator.
The Bears are on their third defensive coordinator in four years in Sean Desai, 38, who was a Fangio assistant when Chicago allowed an NFL-low 17.7 points per game in 2018. That was the year the Bears became the first defense to solve McVay’s offense, beating the Rams, 15-6, at Soldier Field. The Bears’ defensive staff included Brandon Staley, last year’s Rams defensive coordinator, now the Chargers’ coach.
“They’ve still got great players, and I’ve heard great things about Sean Desai,” McVay said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Eight months after the Rams’ playoff loss at Green Bay, they finally have another opponent to talk about.
The conversation goes: But enough about us. What will the Bears show us about us?
McVay said defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson is “on track to be able to go” against the Bears on Sunday, but “we’ll take it a day at a time with him.” Robinson has been out of practice since Aug. 26, when McVay said he’d have a “procedure” on a knee. … Also “on track” for Sunday’s game, McVay said, is running back Sony Michel, who is learning the playbook after being acquired from New England in the Aug. 25 trade. McVay said he’ll know more about Michel’s status later in the week. …
Defensive coordinator Joe DeCamillis and wide receivers coach Eric Yarber returned to practice after missing a week because of COVID-19. Center Coleman Shelton and outside linebacker Coleman Shelton remained on the COVID-19 reserve list. The Rams had no positive tests for COVID-19 on Monday, a relief for the team following a three-day break from practice. “I have total trust in our players, but you just never know because of some of the ways that guys have gotten COVID (despite) doing all the right things,” McVay said. “Fortunately we came out clean.” …
The Rams began the week as 7½-point favorites over the Bears. As of Monday, the only point spread bigger than that for the first two weeks of the season was the Packers minus-10 against the Detroit Lions – and Jared Goff – in Week 2. … As in 2018, the Rams and Bears are playing because the NFC West and NFC North face each other this season. In 2019 and 2020, the Rams and Bears met because they had identical places in the division standings the previous year.