Sunday’s game in Chicago between the Los Angeles Rams (11-1) and Chicago Bears (8-4) not only matches two of the top teams in the NFC but features two of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks and two game-changing defenders.
The quarterback matchup is likely to pit the Rams’ Jared Goff against the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky, assuming Trubisky plays. He has missed the past two games with a right shoulder injury, but all signs point to him returning this weekend.
“Arm feels good,” Trubisky said Wednesday. “I just got to show coach that I can play. I’m feeling good about where I’m at. As long as I can show them that I can go out there every day and make all the throws and be the player that they know I am, I feel confident that I’ll be able to go.”
Trubisky went through a full practice Wednesday.
“I feel strong that he will play, but I’ve got to see more,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “I feel good about it. I hope so. I’m anxious to get him out there and see him throw the ball around in practice with the guys, and then be able to evaluate him off that.”
Only a setback late in the week would prevent Trubisky from playing, and his importance was illustrated on Sunday when the Bears had a five-game winning streak halted by the New York Giants 30-27. Chase Daniel started in Trubisky’s place, and he threw two interceptions and was sacked five times.
Trubisky’s return would match him against Goff, who was Trubisky’s roommate in Newport Beach, Calif., for part of the offseason.
The two quarterbacks have developed in similar ways. Both struggled as rookies but improved dramatically in their second seasons with the hiring of a new young head coach who is the team’s play-caller — Trubisky with Nagy and Goff with Sean McVay.
Goff has thrown 15 touchdown passes with just two interceptions over the past six games, and he has helped the Rams clinch the NFC West title for the second year in row with four games still to be played.
“It’s a great feeling,” Goff said of winning the division crown. “I think it was kind of definitely different than last year. It was a bit more expected this year. It happened earlier on in the year and this is something that we put as a check mark early on in the year, and are able to mark that off now and it feels good.”
With the help of running back Todd Gurley II, who leads the league in rushing with 1,175 yards, the Rams rank second in the league in both total offense and scoring offense, averaging 34.9 points per game.
The Bears’ strength is on the defensive side, ranking fourth in the league in both total defense and scoring defense, yielding just 20.1 points per game despite giving up 30 to the Giants.
The Bears have recorded 37 sacks, tied for fifth best in the league, with outside linebacker Khalil Mack leading the way with nine, including one against the Giants last Sunday.
“Yeah, he’s a great player,” McVay said of Mack. “He’s a great football player. Any time that you’re a (pass rusher) that can disrupt the game in a variety of ways, you’ve got to always be mindful of where he’s at, where he’s aligned and making sure that you’ve got to plan accordingly for him.
“Fortunately, we feel good about the matchup we have with our left tackle, but in a lot of ways, you always give a lot of respect to those special edge rushers. Certainly, Khalil fits that bill.”
Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein will be the Rams’ tackles charged with controlling Mack.
Meanwhile, the Rams have a defensive lineman who is just as dangerous in tackle Aaron Donald, who leads the league in sacks with 16.5.
“Everybody has to come focused and prepared, get ready to throw hands because he’s going to hit you in the mouth if you don’t hit him,” Bears right tackle Bobby Massie said.
The Bears gave up a season-high five sacks against the Giants, and they figure to double-team Donald much of the time.
“I mean, he can be a game-changer,” Massie said. “Obviously if you’ve seen him, if you don’t get four sets of hands on him at times he’s going to destroy the offense. So you’ve just got to be prepared, be ready.”
Bears rookie left guard James Daniels will be the primary blocker on the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, but he will get lots of help.