St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, left, makes a catch in front of Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis on his way to a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
RICK MORRISSEY: Rams, 17-16
RICK TELANDER: Rams, 28-26
DAN McGRATH: Bears, 31-30
HUB ARKUSH: Rams, 26-23
ADAM L. JAHNS: Bears, 23-17
MARK POTASH: Rams, 27-24
PATRICK FINLEY: Bears, 24-23
WEEK 12 BEARS AT RAMS Time:
BEARS AT RAMS
Time:Noon Sunday at Edward Jones Dome.
Line: Pick ’em.
Total: 45 1/2.
TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
In tough sledding against a good Ravens defense, the Bears still managed 104 yards on 26 carries, with Matt Forte gaining 83 yards on 18 carries. They should be better indoors against a Rams defense that ranks 18th against the run (115 ypg) and 20th in rushing yards per attempt. The last time they were indoors, the Bears rushed for 131 yards on 16 carries at Ford Field against a Lions defense that ranks fifth in the NFL against the run. The Rams are stout in the middle with DT Michael Brockers, but pass-rushing DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long also defend the run well.
IN THE AIR
This might be a big hit-or-miss day for Josh McCown. The Rams have a fast defense well-suited to the conditions at the Edward Jones Dome, with DEs Quinn (12 sacks) and Long (six sacks) and LB James Laurinaitis (two interceptions, two sacks) leading the way. On the other hand, the Bears are third in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. If they protect McCown, he could have a field day against a Rams pass defense that ranks 25th in passing yards allowed per attempt. WR Brandon Marshall was quiet against the Ravens (4-42, no TDs). He usually doesn’t stay quiet for very long.
Josh McCown has been error-free in place of Jay Cutler (no interceptions or fumbles). Even his five sacks have been for a total of only 12 yards. Rams DE Robert Quinn has 12 sacks and five forced fumbles. It’s imperative that McCown ‘‘stay clean’’ against a team that can be had but builds momentum easily in the Edward Jones Dome.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Any NFL team with a running back will challenge the Bears’ defense, which is ranked 31st against the run (134 ypg). Last week, Ray Rice became the sixth player to rush for 100 or more yards against the Bears’ defense. But after a 47-yard run on his first carry, the Bears held Rice to 84 yards on 24 carries ‘‘It’s not like we’re getting driven off the ball,’’ DL Corey Wootton said. ‘‘The biggest thing we have to do is stay in our gaps. That’s all it comes down to.’’ Rams RB Zac Stacy leads all NFL rookies with 537 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry, three touchdowns). His long run this season is 32 yards.
IN THE AIR
‘‘What do you know about Kellen Clemens?’’ sounds like a trick question, but the Rams’ replacement for Sam Bradford had a 140.6 passer rating (9-for-16, 247 yards, two TDs, zero INTs) in a 38-8 rout of the Colts two weeks ago — though his biggest plays came after the Rams had taken a 21-0 lead. ‘‘He’s very capable,’’ Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ‘‘He seems to have very good command of what they’re trying to do. He knows where to go with the football.’’ On the other hand, Clemens’ passer rating when the game is within two touchdowns is 65.5, with seven sacks in 71 attempts.
Bears DE Julius Peppers had 12 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss against the Ravens last week, but he has struggled to dominate in back-to-back weeks. Rams left tackle Jake Long is ranked sixth among offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus but has allowed five sacks, one more than he allowed last season with the Dolphins
The attrition of an injury-riddled season has made special teams a weekly challenge for the Bears, and it will be no different against the Rams. Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion, and Rams rookie Tavon Austin is a dangerous threat as a punt returner. Austin returned one punt 98 yards for a touchdown and has had returns of 84 and 49 yards nullified by penalties. ‘‘He’s explosive. It’s going to be a real test for us,’’ Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. Devin Hester is a similar threat and is due for a long return. But Rams punter Johnny Hekker leads the NFL in net punting (43.5 yards).
The Bears are the better team, but the Rams are the fresher team, coming off a bye week. When the Bears were in this situation two weeks ago against the Lions, the difference showed, as the Lions won both lines of scrimmage in a 21-19 victory at Soldier Field. The Bears, though, also were coming off a short week after having played the Packers on ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’ This time, they’ve had a regular week of practice and have altered their practice regimen at least slightly to try to avoid a similar fate. But the Rams’ fresh legs on a fast track at the Edward Jones Dome is a concern.