Rams-Bears: What we learned

Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- It probably took longer than it would have liked, but St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar thinks the team has finally carved out an identity.
"We've been looking for that winning formula all season and I think we found it," he said in a joyous locker room Sunday.
Running at will and making big plays on defense, St. Louis played its spoiler role to the hilt with a 42-21 win over the Chicago Bears before a sellout crowd at the Edward Jones Dome.
Backup running back Benny Cunningham, who replaced fellow rookie Zac Stacy (concussion) in the second half, rushed for 109 yards on 13 carries. Cunningham's 9-yard run with 3:05 left in the game stopped a Chicago rally and gave the Rams (5-6) a 35-21 lead.
Exactly 60 seconds later, defensive end Robert Quinn administered the killing blow. He sacked Bears quarterback Josh McCown, stripped the ball, recovered it and rumbled 31 yards to cap the scoring in a lengthy, wacky contest.
"We had difficulty getting to him because he got rid of the ball quickly, but when it counted, Robert made the big play," St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said.
It was the second straight win for the Rams, who were touted by some as a sleeper pick to make the playoffs but reside in last place in the brutally-tough NFC West. However, they routed the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts 38-8 on Nov. 10 and came out flying after their bye week.
Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin got things started on the day's third play, taking a reverse 65 yards for a 7-0 lead 1:30 into the game. It was a continuation of his work against the Colts, who saw him score three touchdowns -- all on plays longer than 55 yards.
It also started another bad day for Chicago's run defense, which came into the game ranked a dismal 31st in the NFL. The Bears (6-5) gave up 258 yards on 29 carries, allowing nine rushes of 10 yards or more.
"That was our offensive line taking over," Cunningham said.
First-year Chicago coach Marc Trestman said, "We've got to find a better way to stop the run more consistently. Guys are in the right place in practice, but it's not happening in the games. We've got to get it done."
Austin's big play ignited a 21-point first quarter for St. Louis. Stacy, who rushed for 87 yards on 12 attempts, barged in from the 1 for a 14-0 lead at the 12:36 mark. That came four plays after Bears running back Matt Forte lost a fumble to linebacker James Laurinaitis at the 7.
Following McCown's 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett, the Rams went 80 yards for their third score of the quarter. Quarterback Kellen Clemens finished the drive off with a 6-yard scoring strike to tight end Jared Cook.
The Rams never ceded control, although the Bears outgained them 424-406 in offensive yards, rolling up 30 first downs and keeping the ball for 36:09. But the Bears hurt themselves with 10 penalties for 84 yards and executed poorly inside the 10-yard line.
Dunbar's stop of running back Michael Bush on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 8:16 left in the third quarter denied Chicago points at the end of a drive which ate up nearly seven minutes.
Bush cut the deficit to 27-21 on a 1-yard plunge with 7:15 left in the game, but the Bears needed eight plays to score on goal-to-goal situations in that drive. The Rams gave them two first downs via penalty and Chicago had a touchdown pass nullified for a hold.
"Penalties hurt us across the board -- real estate, first downs and touchdowns," Trestman said.
McCown went 36 of 47 for 352 yards with two touchdown passes, throwing his first interception of the year with less than two minutes left in the game. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall bagged 10 receptions for 117 yards with a touchdown.
Despite the defeat, the Bears remained in a first-place tie with the Detroit Lions, a 24-21 loser to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the NFC North.

What the Bears said
"We probably ate up three minutes at the goal line in the fourth quarter. We scored, but we used up a lot of time and that hurt us." -- Coach Marc Trestman on his team's struggles to score in goal-to-goal situations during the second half Sunday.

What the Rams said
"It's definitely coming together for us now and sooner or later; we'll definitely be a great team." -- Wide receiver Tavon Austin on St. Louis winning its last two games by a combined score of 80-29.

What we learned about the Bears
1. Quarterback Josh McCown cannot be blamed for this loss. Making good decisions against a big-league pass rush, McCown completed 36 of 47 passes for 352 yards with two touchdowns. McCown got rid of the ball quickly and played at a winning level again. His passer rating is an impressive 100.8 in 147 attempts, more than 12 points higher than starter Jay Cutler. With McCown playing well, Chicago does not have to rush Cutler back from injury.
2. The run defense is awful. Entering Sunday ranked 31st, the Bears allowed a ridiculous 8.9 yards per carry in 29 attempts, and three of those were kneeldowns in the game's final two minutes to run out the clock. Injuries to defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea have not helped, but the front four gets blown off the ball too much and the entire unit is not tackling well enough. Either this gets fixed or Chicago misses the playoffs.

What we learned about the Rams
1. The offensive line appears to have cohered. Once one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, St. Louis is now averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground, thanks to gashing Chicago for 258 yards on Sunday. Former left tackle Rodger Saffold moved to right guard with starter Harvey Dahl on the shelf, and has given the O-line a lift, while right tackle Joe Barksdale has offered consistent play. If this line keeps blocking like this, quarterback Kellen Clemens will continue to get quality play-action opportunities deep down the field.
2. Special teams coverage was outstanding. They bottled up Bears kick returner Devin Hester, not allowing him a kickoff return of more than 26 yards and stopping him for no gain on one punt return. Also, Chicago committed two penalties on kick returns and another on a punt return, nullifying a 61-yard touchdown for Hester. It is that type of hidden yardage which gave the Rams a needed advantage.

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