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Bears vs. Rams — What to Watch 4

The Bears’ offensive line has to neutralize Aaron Donald and the Rams’ front seven. Will Andy Dalton be an upgrade over Nick Foles? After a light preseason, Week 1 is an unknown for both teams.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won his third Defensive Player of the Year Award in the last four seasons in 2020.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won his third Defensive Player of the Year Award in the last four seasons in 2020.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Key matchup

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the most dominant defensive player in the game. The 30-year-old Donald, drafted by the Rams one pick before the Bears selected cornerback Kyle Fuller in 2014, has made the All-Pro team in six consecutive seasons and won his third Defensive Player of the Year award in the last four seasons last year, when he had 13œ sacks.

‘‘He’s the type of player [where] you have to know where he’s at at all times and arguably the best defensive player in the league,’’ Bears quarterback Andy Dalton said. ‘‘He can change a game, and we understand that. So we’ve got to give him his respect because he’s a great player. We definitely need to know where he’s at.’’

The mobile Donald picks his spots all along the line in search of a weak link, so the Bears’ entire offensive line figures to match up against him at some point. He picked on guards Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward in the Rams’ 24-10 victory last season against the Bears. The Bears are much stronger at guard this season with James Daniels and Cody Whitehair, so Ifedi at right tackle might face an early test.

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Against the Rams’ defense the last three seasons, the Bears’ offense has scored 13, seven and three points, averaged 4.5, 3.6 and 4.6 yards per play and had quarterback ratings of 33.3 (Mitch Trubisky in 2018), 62.3 (Trubisky and Chase Daniel in 2019) and 66.8 (Nick Foles in 2020). The top individual performance was by running back Jordan Howard, who gained 101 yards on 19 carries in 2018, but he was deemed a bad fit for coach Matt Nagy’s offense.

Player to watch

Any starting quarterback is used to scrutiny, but Dalton will be under the gun more than ever with rookie Justin Fields waiting for his opportunity. Dalton is expected to be an upgrade from Foles, who struggled against the Rams last season, so this game will be a good early measurement of that decision.

When Dalton last faced the Rams — with the Bengals in 2019 in London — he was sacked five times but still was 32-for-52 for 329 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and an 86.1 passer rating without injured receiver A.J. Green. But the offense produced only 10 points in a 24-10 loss.

X-factor

The Rams had the No. 1 defense in the NFL last season (though coordinator Brandon Staley left to become the coach of the Chargers and was replaced by Raheem Morris). The offense added quarterback Matthew Stafford. But neither the offensive nor defensive starters played in the preseason, so rust might be a factor early.

Bears starters played sparingly in the preseason, and the offense didn’t play a snap as a unit. So the Bears will be challenged there, as well.