Bears vs. Ravens — What to Watch 4
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the most dangerous running threat in the NFL today. The short-handed Bears defense — without Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks — will have to be extremely disciplined yet aggressive to contain him.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the most dangerous running threat in the NFL.
‘‘I played him earlier in his career, when his legs were probably more dangerous than his arm,’’ Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said. ‘‘But now it’s even more dangerous because when he’s scrambling, he’s not scrambling to take off running; he’s scrambling looking to throw the ball downfield. That’s the component in his game that he’s taken the next step. That’s why they’re a dangerous team right now.’’
Jackson is on pace for a third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season (639 yards in nine games after rushing for 1,005 last season and 1,206 in 2019). But he’s also averaging 271.9 passing yards — well above his previous high of 208.5 in 2019, when he was named the NFL’s most valuable player.
Jackson can’t be defended by one player. But the Bears have a good starting point in linebacker Roquan Smith, whose speed, quickness and anticipation make him one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.
Still, the onus will be on the Bears’ defense to be disciplined and aggressive. This defense is capable of both, but it’s a tough groove to find.
‘‘The best thing you can do is swarm,’’ Gipson said. ‘‘When you’ve got guys like that with the ball in his hand, numbers [are] important. If you can swarm the ball, you’ve got a good chance. You look at Miami [on Nov. 11], Miami was all over him. They were draped over him, man. They swarmed him, and that’s why they were able to have success.’’
One game as a ‘‘trend’’ is a bit of a stretch, but the Bears, ranked last in the NFL in total offense going in, gained 414 yards against a Steelers defense that is allowing 349 yards a game (11th-best in the NFL). That was as good a performance against an upper-half defense that the Bears have had under coach Matt Nagy.
The Ravens are 24th in total defense (371.6 yards per game) after finishing seventh, fourth and first in that category the previous three seasons and 22nd in scoring defense (24.1 points per game) after finishing second, third and second the previous three seasons.
Player to watch
Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields has taken significant steps forward in his last two games (103 rushing yards against the 49ers and 297 passing yards and a crunch-time touchdown drive for the lead against the Steelers). Rookie development is rarely linear, but Fields is at a point where there is excitement to see what he does next.
The Bears are coming off a bye, after which they’re 0-3 under Nagy. (The Ravens are on long rest, too, having played on Thursday night in Week 10.) The Bears also have injury issues. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack (foot) and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (ankle) are out, and receiver Allen Robinson (hamstring) and safety Eddie Jackson (hamstring) are questionable.