Last season, the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams’ Week 14 matchup was flexed to Sunday night. The Rams were 11-1 and had a chance to lock up a first-round bye. Jared Goff had played like a quarterback worthy of his eventual $134 million extension, with $110 million guaranteed. Todd Gurley was the best running back in football and Sean McVay, only in his second year as a head coach, was amidst a masterpiece season of offense.
For the Bears, it was the first meaningful December game since 2013.
Matt Nagy was on the verge of a Coach of the Year Award and hope still remained in Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears defense was phenomenal, still energized by the Khalil Mack trade and leaders in nearly every statistical category. At 8-4, they had the opportunity, on a national stage, to prove their legitimacy to the football world.
With both a city and a Soldier Field crowd abuzz, the Bears defense shut down the Rams offense, picking off Goff four times and allowing only 28 rushing yards to Gurley. Despite Trubisky’s struggles (16-30, 110 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions), the Bears knocked off the NFL’s top dog. Suddenly, they were not only a playoff threat, but a Super Bowl contender. And the entire NFL was put on notice.
This week in Los Angeles, both of these teams are in very different spots than they were last year.
The Bears are reeling at 4-5, with a stagnant offense that is worse than last season. The defense is no longer the best in the league and can’t be relied on to single-handedly win games as they could last year. Nagy is under intense scrutiny on a weekly basis and, most importantly, the Bears are decidedly in quarterback limbo.
The Rams, likewise, also have worrying issues at quarterback. Goff’s record-setting extension has yet to kick in and is already in question. The offensive line, one of the league’s best a season ago, had already taken a major step back before injuries to center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein against the Steelers. Mystery surrounds Gurley’s knee and long term viability, and the Rams are on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture.
How did we end up here?
The quarterbacking seems to be the obvious culprit.
The Bears defense dominating that night mostly overshadowed Trubisky’s poor performance, but if their model of the defense making up for poor quarterback play was enough to beat a team like the Rams, then it could be enough to win the Super Bowl. As has been proven this season, however, it was not a model with year-to-year sustainability. And while the defense is still a top-five group in defensive DVOA, the offense, which is ranked 26th by the same statistic, has been unable to make up for the step back.
Nothing has clicked for Trubisky, who has actively become worse since last season, and it’s resulted in little to no offensive identity. The uber-talented Allen Robinson has been the lone bright spot, but players such as Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen and Anthony Miller have either not improved or have taken a step back from what they did last season. David Montgomery has not been the running back that was expected, and Nagy’s playcalling has left more than enough room for debate at times.
It’s entirely possible that these issues are systemic in the quarterback, and in part the offensive line. Trubisky’s unreliable play limits how Nagy can scheme players open and prevents any rhythmic playcalling. The offensive line has been particularly a weak spot, which may contribute to Montgomery’s 3.6 yards per carry. They also are last in the league in second-level yards at 0.71. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that the Bears sit at 4-5 and third place in the NFC North.
The Rams, of course, made it all the way to Super Bowl 53, where they were absolutely dismantled by the New England Patriots. The echoing worry of Goff’s 16.4 quarterback rating reverberated throughout this whole offseason and came to fruition on the field. His 3.1 touchdown percentage is 32nd in the NFL and his 11:9 touchdown-interception ratio is startling. He comes off a ghastly performance against the Steelers in which he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns. After departures from John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold, the cohesiveness along the offensive line has not been nearly as dominant as last year.
Though the Rams defense has improved (tied with the Bears in defensive DVOA), their slip in offense from number two in offensive DVOA to 21st has cost them to the point of a 5-4 record. Sitting behind the 8-1 49ers and 8-2 Seahawks in the NFC West, it would take a big-time collapse from the Vikings and a sudden hot streak from their offense for them to leapfrog Minnesota for the second Wild Card Spot.
What appeared as a possible game of the year before the season has become a game of two teams scrambling for answers.
The Bears are lucky in that they haven’t handed Trubisky a second contract and can at least change quarterbacks on the fly this offseason. The Rams are locked into Goff, as well as Aaron Donald, Gurley and Brandin Cooks, who are all locked into hefty contracts. Jalen Ramsey, whose fifth-year option has a $13.7 million cap number, will soon join that list when he is extended.
Both of these teams all went in on their quarterback, and both of these teams may be amidst the realities of going in on the wrong quarterback.