Sunday Night Football Preview: Which of These Struggling Offenses Will Get Going?
After several consecutive weeks of high-scoring offenses doing battle on Sunday Night Football, Week 11 brings us two sputtering attacks as the Chicago Bears hit the road to face the Los Angeles Rams in a crucial game for both teams.
The Rams are 6.0-point favorites at home, and the public sees that as too big of a number, as 56% of the bets coming in on the spread are backing Chicago to cover. The sharps look to be on the Bears, as well, as 65% of the money is coming in on Chicago's side of the spread. The Rams (-290) are being avoided on the moneyline in addition to the spread, with 75% of the moneyline bets and 71% of the money being placed on the Bears at +245. It should come as no surprise to see the under on the 40.0-point total getting hammered, with 74% of the bets and 70% of the money on the under
With public sentiment on the side of a low-scoring affair that the Bears have a shot at winning outright, let's see if our projections envision a different outcome in this NFC clash.
Passing Game Preview
The Bears enter Week 11 with the 28th-ranked passing offense, producing -0.01 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Mitchell Trubisky has struggled mightily this season and has clearly regressed, and the Bears' offense has suffered as a result. Trubisky's only "positive" games this season, according to NEP, included Week 2 on the road versus the Denver Broncos, when he passed for 120 yards, Week 3 against the 28th-ranked Washington pass defense, when he threw for 231 yards and three touchdowns, and last week against a Detroit Lions, when Trubisky recorded 173 yards and three touchdowns.
This has become a very low-volume passing attack, and in the games where the Bears have been forced to throw often, Trubisky has produced some truly awful performances. Trubisky only managed 228 yards passing in his Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, a game in which he threw 45 passes, and in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints, he needed 54 attempts to reach just 251 yards. With only 13 rushing attempts on the year, Trubisky doesn't even use his athleticism to create first downs much any longer.
With tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen already ruled out, the Bears will be down to third-string tight end Ben Braunecker and will likely need to rely more on their receivers in three-wide sets. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller have actually been their three most efficient targets in the passing game, as the Bears have forced a high volume of inefficient targets to their running backs and tight ends this year. All of the Bears' pass-catchers have fairly mediocre catch rates, a testament to Trubisky's inaccuracy. But giving him easier-to-complete options in the passing game doesn't seem to be helping, so maybe it's time to let him stretch the field a little more in an attempt to take advantage of their three best playmakers in the receiving corps.
Defensively, the Rams rank as 19th best pass defense this season, allowing 0.13 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. However, most of the damage that the Rams have allowed through the air comes from Weeks 4 and 5, when Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston torched them for back-to-back four-touchdown games. They have otherwise held every starting quarterback they have faced to no better than 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back, and LA added Jalen Ramsey to the secondary in Week 7.
The defense has recorded 13 sacks over the last three weeks and is relatively healthy in a matchup that they should have no problem handling. If the offense can do its part and jump out to a lead, Aaron Donald and company may be able to wreak havoc on this struggling Bears passing attack.
Los Angeles has been better than the Bears in the passing game, but the Rams are a far cry from their past offensive glory. The Rams own the 19th-ranked passing offense this year, producing 0.08 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. Jared Goff has had some decent performances this season, but a couple of disastrous performances against good defenses stand out and cause legitimate reason for concern against this excellent Bears D.
In Week 6, Goff faced the San Francisco 49ers at home and produced -0.55 Passing NEP per drop back in a game in which he only threw for 78 yards total. Last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, Goff recorded -0.44 Passing NEP per drop back and threw two interceptions in a rough loss. Goff looks like a quarterback who can succeed against weak defenses but will struggle in the tough matchups.
Cooper Kupp remains Goff's most heavily targeted and most efficient option, leading the team with 91 targets and 0.78 Reception NEP per target. Deep threat Brandin Cooks will miss yet another game with a concussion, leaving Robert Woods as the clear number-two option in the passing game. Josh Reynolds fills in as the number three receiver and sees an extremely high number of snaps without Cooks, though he hasn't yet become a factor in 2019, with only eight reception on the season. The Rams have diverted passes away from the running backs this year, as Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson have combined for only 37 targets in the passing game, while tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee have teamed up for 84 targets. When you look at the numbers, it does make sense, as Gurley has registered a disappointing 0.11 Reception NEP per target and a team-low 47% Reception Success Rate.
Chicago's defense remains as fearsome as ever, ranking fifth in the league with 0.00 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back allowed in 2019. The Bears have allowed only one 300-yard passer (Case Keenum!) on the year, and only Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater have thrown for more than one passing touchdown against this unit. Chicago will be without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and linebacker Danny Trevathan, but otherwise will be at full strength and should pose a serious challenge to Goff and the Rams' passing attack. Outside of allowing big weeks to elite talents like Zach Ertz, Michael Thomas, and Stefon Diggs, this defense has locked down most opposing pass-catchers.
Rushing Game Preview
The run game, the area where the Bears would like to excel, has actually been worse than the pass offense this year. Chicago ranks as the league's third-worst rushing attack with -0.11 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry in 2019. Further throwing their outlook for this matchup into doubt is the health of rookie running back David Montgomery, who rolled an ankle in practice this week and looks to be a game-time decision.
After recently releasing veteran running back Mike Davis, the Bears could be down to pass-catching option Tarik Cohen and undrafted rookie Ryan Nall. Cohen has produced -0.20 Rushing NEP per carry on 29 attempts this year, so the Bears may actually be better off giving Cordarrelle Patterson a few rushing attempts, as his 0.00 Rushing NEP per carry on 12 attempts is better than Cohen's production on the ground, though the sample size with Patterson is a small one. I would expect the Bears to let Montgomery play if at all possible, but a limited Montgomery would be a major problem considering the lack of options around him.
The Rams' strength has been their run defense, ranking sixth in the league with -0.08 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP allowed per carry this season. This spells trouble for a struggling Bears offense that would like to establish the run. The Rams really shut down the rushing attack of the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, and outside of a Week 1 explosion from Christian McCaffrey this Rams unit has not allowed a breakout performance from an opposing running back.
Offensively, Los Angeles enters Sunday night with the league's 22nd-ranked rushing offense, producing a disappointing -0.03 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. Despite a lackluster year from Todd Gurley in the passing game, he remains their best option on the ground with 0.01 Rushing NEP per carry on 104 attempts. Malcolm Brown has produced -0.02 Rushing NEP per carry on 42 attempts, while rookie Darrell Henderson has disappointed with -0.15 Rushing NEP per carry on 33 tries, proving that the struggles of this rushing attack run far deeper than Gurley.
The offensive line is the likely culprit, as this unit is now missing starters at center, guard, and tackle, and is nowhere near the front five that helped produce elite rushing performances from years past. This is likely the new normal for the Rams, and without an elite rushing attack, the whole offense suffers.
Chicago ranks eighth in the league allowing -0.06 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry, so this doesn't look like a get-right spot for the Rams' ground game. Outside of solid games from Josh Jacobs and Latavius Murray, the game log of opposing running backs against this Bears defense is littered with negative Rushing NEP performances. Expect a decent game from Gurley due to volume, but this likely won't be the matchup that swings the game for the Rams.
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