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It’s not often we get this: A late-October matchup of NFL teams with only three losses between them, each possessing one of the league’s most impactful defenders — yet both clubs aching for respect.
The 5-1 Chicago Bears visit the 4-2 Los Angeles Rams in this week’s Monday Night Football game (8:15 p.m. EDT, TSN via ESPN).
The Bears could as easily be 1-5, but a combination of air-tight defensive play late in games coupled with clutch, if intermittent, quarterbacking from either Mitchell Trubisky (in Weeks 1 and 2) or Nick Foles (since) has proved a mostly winning formula. If barely.
The Rams’ only victories have come only against the NFC East. The entire NFC East, that is: Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington and the New York Giants.
Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay said the Bears have earned their record and first-place perch in the NFC North.
“They’re best in crunch time,” McVay said. “They’re delivering on those (opportunities). You look at the way they’ve won those five games — they’ve all been one-possession games at the end and they’ve found a way to come through, whether it be a turnover, getting a stop. It’s been impressive, and it’s why they’re winning.
“It looked like they’d been playing pretty well throughout most of the games to me. So, I think they’ve made those plays at the most opportune times. Then, in a lot of instances, those moments dictate where you are in a lot of pass-type situations … They’ve especially shone in some of those known passing situations where they can kind of dictate things on their terms.”
Bears rush linebacker Khalil Mack was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2016, while in Oakland. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald snagged that honour the next two seasons.
Both are off to fabulous starts in 2020.
Donald leads the league with 7.5 sacks and leads all interior defensive linemen with nine tackles-for-loss.
Mack is tied for ninth with 4.5 sacks. He has been battling nagging ailments, including a back injury this week that has him officially listed as questionable for this game.
“The back deal is, more than anything, just soreness,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “I’m not really concerned right now.”
McVay raved about not just the abilities but work ethic of Donald and Mack.
“You’ve got to appreciate the greatness,” he said. “I think what you see consistent with both is there’s a relentless motor they play with. They don’t take plays off. You see a lot of these flash players (whose game tape makes you wonder), ‘Are you really just digging deep when you’ve got a chance to accumulate some stats? Are you playing dirty on some of the early downs as well?’
“Both of these guys do that.”
Donald, in particular, continues to play at such a high level as to compel assessments he’s among the best interior defensive linemen ever to play football. McVay said the seventh-year 29-year-old is a sure-fire candidate to win his third defensive-player-of-the-year award.
“I don’t think there’s any question, with the way that he’s played, and the way he’s influencing and affecting the game. He’s done a great job, and (I’m) looking for big things from him on Monday night as well.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020