As the Bears reach another low under coach John Fox, we take the withering vestiges of hope for the future to Los Angeles, where the resurgent Rams — who were at or below the Bears’ level a year ago — are now a legitimate top-10 team with serious postseason aspirations behind second-year quarterback Jared Goff.
Unlike many “If they can do it, why can’t the Bears?” scenarios, this one has merit. At this time last year, the Rams had a promising defense led by tackle Aaron Donald and were awkwardly turning to the rookie Goff — the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft. He did little to convince anyone he was the quarterback of the future, going 0-7 with a 63.6 passer rating (five touchdowns, seven interceptions) as the Rams finished 4-12.
But look at him now. After throwing four touchdown passes for a 146.8 rating in a 51-17 rout of the Raiders in Week 9, Goff threw three touchdown passes for a 125.4 rating in a 33-7 rout of the Texans on Sunday. His completion percentage is up from 54.6 as a rookie to 61.2 this season. He has 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions for a 101.5 rating in 2017.
And the Rams’ defense has benefited from having the wind at its back against offenses that are under pressure to keep up with Goff. The Rams were ninth in yards allowed but 23rd in points allowed (24.6) last season — a damning negative differential for any defense. This year, they’ve virtually flipped that — 15th in yards allowed but fourth in points allowed (18.0).
Of course, there is a catch. The Rams accelerated their rebuild by firing coach Jeff Fisher and hiring 30-year-old Sean McVay to tutor Goff. They acquired two excellent receivers in Sammy Watkins (21 receptions, 372 yards, 17.7 average, four touchdowns) and Robert Woods (39-622, 15.9, four touchdowns). And they drafted Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp (who played for Fox and the Bears’ staff at the Senior Bowl). Kupp has 32 receptions for 417 yards (13.0 average) and three touchdowns.
So while Bears general manager Ryan Pace has used the Saints as a model to build the Bears, it’ll be interesting to see if he uses the Rams as a model to take the next step. It’s his move.
2. It’s just the Bears’ luck that two of their best offensive plays this season have ended disastrously. An excellent throw by Mitch Trubisky that should have been a touchdown against the Saints was instead an incompletion with a horrifying injury to tight end Zach Miller. Now, a rare well-conceived, well-executed screen pass could go down as a symbol of Fox’s futile and failed tenure.
Against the Packers on Sunday, Benny Cunningham dove for the pylon for an apparent touchdown, but officials ruled he had stepped out of bounds at the 2. Fox challenged the call, leading to the determination that Cunningham had instead lost control of the ball just before hitting the pylon, resulting in a fumble and a touchback instead of a touchdown.
While that debacle appears to be the right call in real time, the question is the same as with the Miller catch: If officials ruled Cunningham was out of bounds before reaching the end zone, where’s the incontrovertible evidence he was in bounds before losing possession of the ball?
3. The indictments of the Bears’ offense are adding up. The Bears had negative rushes on their first three carries Sunday (Jordan Howard lost one yard, one yard and three yards to set up an immediate third-and-14) and five for the game against a defense ranked 15th in rushing yards per carry. They not only lead the NFL with 45 negative rushes this season, but they have seven more than the next team.
4. Meanwhile, the Packers — without starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and with starting RB Aaron Jones and backup Ty Montgomery leaving injured — averaged 4.3 yards per carry (with two negative plays) against a Bears defense that ranked 13th in rushing yards per carry.
The biggest indictment of the Bears’ defense was in the fourth quarter, when the Bears cut the Packers’ lead to 16-13 and 23-16. With third-string running back Jamaal Williams, the Packers rushed for 51 yards on 12 carries (4.3 average) on the two drives after Bears scores. That, above all else, indicated the better-coached team won.
5. Montgomery’s 37-yard touchdown run continued the former wide receiver’s knack for burning the Bears. Montgomery, who rushed for 54 yards on six carries before leaving with a rib injury, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry in four games against the Bears — and 3.8 yards per carry against the rest of the NFL.
Montgomery, in fact, has five rushes for 25 yards or more in his career, all against the Bears, for 61, 37, 36, 30 and 26 yards. He has only one other carry for more than 20 yards, a 24-yard gain against the Colts last season.
6. This sure looks like a red flag: The Bears were called for 11 penalties in the first half out of the bye, with four of them declined. If that 11 seems high, it is. The league average is 3.8 in the first half after a bye; 14 of 22 teams have had three or fewer.
7. What’s the deal with that? “Lack of focus,” Trubisky said. “It seemed uncharacteristic of us because we were locked in and ready to go. I guess we weren’t focused [early]. We’re going to analyze that because we know it’s one of our weaknesses. We’re only hurting ourselves. It’s nothing they’re doing schematically. Everyone has to lock in, do our jobs and get better.”
8. Calvin Ridley Watch: The 6-1, 190-pound Alabama junior had five receptions for 171 yards — including a 31-yard catch on third-and-15 to set up the winning touchdown — in the Crimson Tide’s 31-24 victory over No. 18 Mississippi State. Ridley has 49 receptions for 755 yards (15.4 average) and two touchdowns this season.
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Robbie Gould kicked a 43-yard field goal and four PATs and had touchbacks on 5 of 6 kickoffs as the 49ers beat the Giants 31-21 for their first victory of the season.
Gould is 19-for-21 (.905) on field goals this season and 29-for-31 (.935) since being cut by the Bears before Week 1 last season. Bears kicker Connor Barth is 10-for-14 (.714) this season and 28-for-37 (.757) in Gould’s place.
10. Bear-ometer: 4-12 — vs. Lions (L); at Eagles (L); vs. 49ers (L); at Bengals (L); at Lions (L); vs. Browns (W); at Vikings (L).
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.