The Bears new-look interior line — with Cody Whitehair back at center, flanked by James Daniels at left guard and Rashaad Coward at right guard — has a game under its belt after last week’s victory over the Lions. But the degree-of-difficulty also goes up against Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Donald, who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks last season, is off that pace this season — he has six sacks in nine games. But he’s still been a force — with a league-leading 14 tackles-for-loss and two forced fumbles. Like Akiem Hicks of the Bears, even when he doesn’t make the play, he impacts the play.
The Bears, with Whitehair and center and Bryan Witzmann and the rookie Daniels at guard, neutralized Donald as well as anybody in last year’s match-up at Soldier Field. Donald had two tackles and only one quarterback hit.
“He’s quick off the ball,” Whitehair said. “He plays with good hands. So I think the biggest thing is being able to get your hands on him faster than he can you and being able to control him.”
Rams quarterback Jared Goff was well on his way to elite status last season — fifth in the NFL in passer rating (109.9, 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions) heading into the Bears showdown at Soldier Field.
But he hasn’t been the same quarterback since the Bears shut him down — no touchdowns, four interceptions and a career-worst 19.1 passer rating in a 15-6 loss. Including that game, Goff has an 80.8 rating in his last 13 games. He is 28th in passer rating this season — 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and an 82.7 rating.
“He’s dealing with a bunch of moving parts on the offensive line, which does not help,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “So he’s dealing with a lot of stuff. But he’s a talented, talented guy. He can spin the ball He can make all the throws. He’s got talented guys around him.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has been outstanding in pinch-hit roles this season — a sack and forced fumble as a last-minute replacement for Roquan Smith against the Vikings; and a sack and interception as a first-quarter replacement for Danny Trevathan last week against the Lions.
With Trevathan out indefinitely, Kwiatkoski is the full-time starter at inside linebacker. Trevathan’s leadership role as the defensive play-caller leaves a huge void. It’s up to Kwiatkoski to fill it.
With defensive end Akiem Hicks, right guard Kyle Long, Trevathan and tight end Trey Burton out, the Bears are as short-handed as they’ve been in the Matt Nagy era. Running back David Montgomery is questionable and likely will not be 100 percent even if he can play against the Rams. So health and depth is a precarious situation for the Bears in this game.