COMMENTARY | On Sunday, September 21, the St. Louis Rams will face the Chicago Bears in hopes of winning their first road game of the season. A victory in Chicago would equal last season's win total.
Here are three keys to the game for the Rams:
Get to Jay Cutler
There's no question that the Bears' Jay Cutler is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when his offensive line is blocking for him. However, the question is whether or not his teammates will be able to protect him against a Rams defensive line featuring defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
St. Louis has only two sacks thus far in 2012, but they have yet to play an offensive line with as many problems as the Bears have. Chicago has given up nine sacks in two games, with seven of those sacks coming against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3. Under constant pressure, Cutler threw four interceptions in the Bears' 23-10 loss to their arch-rivals.
The Rams' pass rush is less dynamic than the Packers' pass rush, but that shouldn't matter. St. Louis has enough playmakers on the defensive line to put pressure on Cutler.
Stop Michael Bush
The Bears will take the field without star running back Matt Forte, who twisted his ankle in Week 2. Fortunately for Chicago, the team signed the underrated Michael Bush during the 2012 offseason.
Forte is a dual-threat who moves well on the edges and catches a ton of balls out of the backfield. The Bears will definitely miss him. Yet Bush is more than capable of leading the Chicago running game this weekend. He is a power back whose tough, physical style can wear down opposing defenses by halftime. If the Bears can get him the ball early and often against the Rams' depleted defensive line, they are going to win this game. St. Louis will struggle to stop Chicago with run-stopper Michael Brockers out of action with a high ankle sprain.
Losing Forte definitely hurts the Bears. His presence on the field keeps aggressive defenses honest when they're tempted to blitz the weak Chicago offensive line. However, the Bears are in good hands with Bush in the lineup. Stopping him will be one of the biggest challenges that the Rams face this Sunday.
Protect Sam Bradford
On Friday, September 21, the Rams listed star running back Steven Jackson as questionable for the Bears game with a groin injury. Seventh round draft pick Daryl Richardson will get the start if Jackson is unable to go.
The St. Louis offensive line is a mess. The team must find a way to protect Sam Bradford with Rodger Saffold out for at least a month and fellow tackle Wayne Hunter questionable for Week 3. Part of the problem would be solved by establishing the running game. While Jackson is better suited for the task, Richardson has been impressive thus far. He registered 15 carries for 83 against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 for a 5.5 yards-per-carry average. Richardson's performance came on the heels of a solid preseason during which he impressed both the coaching staff and the fan base. He'll likely need to do it again if the Rams are going to pull off the upset.
In the passing game, look for St. Louis to use a lot of quick hitches and slants against the Bears. That will help Bradford beat the Chicago pass rush. With this game plan in mind, I'm expecting Danny Amendola to have another great game. Bradford's favorite target caught 15 passes last weekend and should get plenty of opportunities at Soldier Field.
The Rams will keep this game close, but I don't like their chances of winning on the road if Jackson doesn't play. Furthermore, the St. Louis defense has yet to prove that they can contain opposing running backs. The Bears will be too difficult to stop if the Rams fail to shut down Bush.
Final Prediction: Chicago Bears 24 St. Louis Rams 16