Battle Of Bears D, Rams O Brings Great Intrigue

Can a great defense control an elite offense in this NFL? We may learn Sunday.

Chris Emma
December 06, 2018 - 4:00 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- The coaching career of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, now in its 37th year, has seen far too many football fads schemed to a playbook, countless gifted playmakers and seemingly endless challenges. Nothing surprises Fangio anymore.

With that in mind, Fangio couldn't help but to notice the scoreboard from Monday Night Football on Nov. 19: Rams 54, Chiefs 51. It represented the first game in NFL history in which both teams surpassed the half-century mark. Of course, Fangio didn't like it after coaching defense his entire career. And he's also not willing to simply concede that elite offenses can score at will against even a great defense.

Fangio will find out more about that Sunday night, when his daunting Bears defense will match up against the explosive Rams offense as national intrigue plays out in primetime.

"We accept the challenge," Fangio said.

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The battle between the Bears (8-4) and Rams (11-1) will be fascinating in many regards, from young quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Jared Goff to the league's top defensive stars in Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald to the creativity on display between Bears coach Matt Nagy and Rams coach Sean McVay.

But when it comes to the NFL in 2018, with scoring at an all-time high, the battle between this Rams offense and Bears defense has a big-picture fascination. After the final whistle Sunday night, we could have a better sense to whether defense still wins championships or if these offenses are too much to contain.

Hall of Fame defensive end Dan Hampton, a star on the 1985 Bears' championship team, said last month he absolutely believes that a great defense can still lead the way to a Super Bowl title. Then again, no team in 1985 averaged more than 30 points. The Rams are one of three teams surpassing that mark this season, averaging 34.9 points, which ranks second in the NFL. The Bears rank fourth in scoring defense at 20.1 points per game.

For the Bears, this is a chance to make a statement.

"That part will be exciting," Nagy said. "There are a lot of good defenses in this league. I have so much confidence in our defense. The numbers speak for themselves and what they've done. Just seeing the amount of games that they've helped us win."

McVay is in agreement with Nagy as his Rams prepare for the best defense, at least statistically speaking, that they've faced all season.

"It's one thing to have the numbers, but then when you put the tape on, things jump off the screen," McVay said. "You see, man, this is a legitimate defense that's top tier. We certainly have to bring it to be ready to go against these guys."

Last Thursday night, a Cowboys defense that has made strides this season stunned the league by holding the Saints' offense -- which is also averaging 34.9 points per game -- at bay in a 13-10 win. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees was held in check by a Dallas pass rush that flustered him. Suddenly, one of these sensational offenses was stifled. It opened plenty of eyes in Chicago, even if those at Halas Hall won't publicly admit it.

Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, the league leader in interceptions with six, said that this game is like any other for his defense. He downplayed the notion that facing the likes of McVay, Goff and Todd Gurley is any different from what the Bears have faced in the first 12 games of the season.

The difference is in the numbers with the Rams, who have scored more than 30 points in 10 of their 12 games. Goff ranks fourth in the league in averaging 312.8 passing yards and has thrown 27 touchdowns. Gurley leads the NFL with 1,175 rushing yards 15 rushing touchdowns, and he remains a dangerous threat in the passing game too.

"They're one of the best offenses in the NFL," Bears rookie defensive lineman Bilal Nichols said. "We consider ourselves to be the best defense in the NFL. It's going to be a great test for us."

A year ago, it was the Rams rising up as the NFL surprise team. Then-rookie coach McVay lifted Los Angeles to 11 wins and a division title after the Rams won just four games the year before his arrival. This time around, it's the Bears filling the role as the league's biggest turnaround team. Chicago won only five games in 2017 but resides in first place in the NFC North in Nagy's first year in charge.

The Bears have won games in part because of a defense that often has been dominant, leading the league with 30 takeaways and six defensive touchdowns. As Nagy's offense has worked to establish itself, the play of this defense has been imperative in Chicago's success.

But with four regular-season games remaining, it has become clear that the NFC will go through either Los Angeles and the Rams or New Orleans and the Saints -- and feature the challenge of containing an explosive offense. 

Perhaps Sunday night will provide a preview of what the Bears can do come January.

"They've got really good players, really good scheme, really good play-caller," Fangio said. "It's a tough assignment, no doubt about it, as is evidence by what they've done. But we've got to show up."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​