Rams Formidable in Win over Bears

The Los Angeles Rams and SoFi Stadium are fast becoming the best of friends. The team put together their most complete game of the season as all three phases contributed in a 24-10 convincing win over the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. The Rams have won all three games in their three appearances in Inglewood where they continue to establish a formidable defensive identity.

"Defense was outstanding all night. They got stop after stop, big time turnovers, fourth-down stops and turnovers in the red zone," said head coach Sean McVay, satisfied with the team's sense of urgency following last week's disappointing performance against the San Francisco 49er's. "The coaches did a great job getting them ready this week, but ultimately the players came out, they performed, and they were ready to go from the jump."

The win moved the 5-2 Rams to within a half-game of the NFC West-leading 5-1 Seattle Seahawks, and tied for second place with the Arizona Cardinals. With the Niners in "last place" at 4-3, the Division is the best in the NFL in some time. This is only the fourth time in league history that a Division has had all four teams with a winning record through Week 7 of the season. Translation: the importance of home-field dominance when most stadiums in the league are devoid of fans due to the COVID pandemic will be critical to the Rams success this season.

The Rams will face another interesting situation this coming Sunday when they travel to Miami to face the Dolphins and the NFL debut of rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Miami head coach Brian Flores announced last week that Tagovailoa was replacing starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has led the team to a 3-3 and second place in the AFC East behind the 5-2 Buffalo Bills.

Fitzpatrick has thrown 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions and is currently rated fourth in the league's quarterback rankings. Tagavailoa, one of the most highly-touted quarterbacks coming out of college in recent years, had the stats at the University of Alabama to back up his reputation. He completed 69.3 percent of his passes, threw 87 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in his three years at Alabama. He also came off the bench in the second half to lead the team to the 2017 NCAA National Championship title against the University of Georgia.

The Dolphins are expected to increase their run-pass-options to compensate for Tagovailoa's athleticism and throwing ability. No longer an apparent concern, he recovered from a dislocated right hip and a posterior wall fracture he suffered against Mississippi State in November 2018. The Dolphins made Tua the fifth overall selection and the second quarterback overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Joe Burrow was the top 2020 Draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. It will certainly be baptism by fire when Tagovailoa faces Aaron Donald and the Rams defense at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday.

The 5-2 Bears had enough of the Rams defense to last a month as they failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time all season while dropping to second place in the NFC North behind the 5-1 Green Bay Packers. The key to holding the Bears at bay was the incredible kicking of Rams punter Johnny Hekker. He placed all five of his punts inside the Chicago 10-yard line.

"Johnny is the best punter in the league and he showed it tonight," said Rams quarterback Jared Goff. "He really was a weapon for us. A few of those punts obviously late in the game, but just everything he does throughout the game and obviously his punting today was a big difference." Among Hekker's highlights were a 57-yarder to the 1-yard line and a booming 63-yarder to the 6-yard line. The Bears were behind the eight ball all night long as their average drive started just beyond the 16-yard line.

The Rams pressured quarterback Nick Foles the entire game, registering four sacks, eight QB hits, and two interceptions. Forced into a hurried passing attack, Foles threw 40 passes while the Bears rushing attack, last in the league with only 84.1 total yards per game, ran for only 49 yards on 17 carries. The Bears only touchdown came courtesy of a defensive fumble forced by former Ram Robert Quinn in the fourth quarter.

Safety Taylor Rapp had a key interception off of cornerback Troy Hills tip in the end zone intended for Bears receiver Darnell Mooney with the Rams up 17-3 in the third quarter. It was Rapp's third steal of his career. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey got the 11th interception of his career to lock the game down late in the fourth quarter intended for tight end Jimmy Graham at the Bear's 41-yard line.

The Rams offense was able to mount a 24-3 lead by late in the third quarter, scoring in four of their first eight drives. Goff completed 23 0f 33 passes for 219 yards, threw two touchdown passes before the Rams ran out the clock in the fourth quarter. "I thought we did well. That defense is tough. We had to do some different things for them and make sure we were on our Q's and T's all night," said Goff. "I thought we ran the ball really well and then I thought in the pass-game, we did a good job after the catch."

The Rams balanced attack featured 34 runs for 161 total yards, with running backs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown doing much of the work. Brown had a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter to give the Rams a 17-3 lead. The Rams rank fourth in the league in rushing with 972 yards total and first in attempts with 222.

Wide receiver Josh Reynolds caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Tight end Gerald Everett caught a 12-yard pass late in the third quarter to put the game on virtual ice. However, rookie kicker Sam Sloman's 22-yard field goal in the second quarter was his last as a Los Angeles Ram. That came as a result of his 48-yard missed field goal that was blocked early in the fourth quarter.

The Rams announced on Tuesday morning that Sloman was released after having struggled through the first seven games of the season. It was likely a matter of time as the Rams signed former UCLA and NFL veteran Kai Forbath to a contract last week as insurance. Forbath has kicked for six teams since 2012, including Washington, New Orleans, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Dallas and New England. He has converted 131 of 151 field goals, with a career-long 57-yarder in 2015.

In the end, it's all about the defense and offensive balance. And the Rams have yielded only 36 total points in three games at SoFi Stadium. "I thought our defense was outstanding, from start to finish they did such a great job. Some key turnovers, some key fourth-down stops," said McVay. "I thought offensively, we did enough early on in the game to get that lead. We were just really trying to get the clock, kind of just run out that game and make sure when you're up 24-3, that we closed it out."


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