In Chicago’s Week 2 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the offensive line allowed seven sacks on quarterback Jay Cutler, who also threw four interceptions. The Bears’ offense was never able to get into a rhythm and struggled mightily against the Packers’ outside linebackers in their base 3-4 defense.
Sunday at Soldier Field will mark the Bears’ first game of the season against a more traditional 4-3 defense. The Indianapolis Colts and the Packers both played a variation of a 3-4 defense (Colts a hybrid 3-4/Packers more traditional 3-4), and in the past, the Bears have had a tendency to be more effective when playing 4-3 defenses.
The St. Louis Rams have been abysmal over the last five seasons going 15-65 during that stretch, averaging the sixth pick in NFL draft over that stretch. Of those five picks, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford is the only offensive player remaining, and the only defensive players remaining are former No. 2 overall selection Chris Long from 2008 and 2011′s 14th overall selection defensive end Robert Quinn.
Long and Quinn are the cornerstones of a defensive line that the Rams think will be a strength for them moving forward. Heading into last season, Long was considered by many to be a bust. He was considered an average to slightly above average pass-rusher, but many felt he never lived up to the hype of a second overall pick.
Long had his best season last year, collecting 13 sacks, which led to him signing a four-year contract extension before training camp. His play has improved since he moved to left defensive end in 2010 after longtime Ram Leonard Little was not re-signed. Long has good size and deceptive speed, but he typically relies on his bull-rush to beat his opponent. The matchup of Long against Gabe Carimi may end up being the matchup of the game.
On the other side of the line, Quinn is off to a good start in his second season. Through two games this year, he already has two sacks and six tackles. Quinn had a nice rookie season last year, finishing with five sacks.
Quinn will pose yet another threat to left tackle J’Marcus Webb with his good speed and quick first step. He has a relentless motor and could eventually just wear Webb out. The Bears will likely try and give Webb some help this week following last week’s disaster against Green Bay, but there will be times that Webb will have to play Quinn straight up.
Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has been a presence since he was drafted by the Rams in the second round of the 2009 draft. The Rams were pleased with his skills and recently signed him to a five-year contract extension (via ESPN LA). Laurinaitis has been a tackling machine, leading the Rams in tackles in each of his three years in the league. He is great in defending the run and works well getting from sideline to sideline. He is not the best in pass defense, but his speed and quickness helps with what he lacks in technique.
Running the ball up the middle will be tough with Laurinaitis, and the Bears would likely have more success working the ball to the outside against average outside linebackers Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Rocky McIntosh. If Michael Bush struggles in the running game, do not be surprised to see Armando Allen and possibly even Kahlil Bell to get a few touches.
When Jeff Fisher took over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, one of his first orders of business was to get former Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan played for Fisher from 2006 through the 2010 season.
Finnegan is known as an agitator, riling up some of the game’s most subdued receivers like Andre Johnson. He plays tough, physical football and has no problem getting into a receiver’s face. He will likely have a lot of matchups against Brandon Marshall, and Marshall will need to use his 6’4″ frame against Finnegan’s smaller 5’10″ frame.
Aligned opposite of Finnegan will be rookie Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins was once a highly touted prospect from Florida before off-the-field issues forced the Gators to kick him off the team, and he played his senior year at North Alabama University. Many felt that he was a risk in the second round, but Fisher felt confident in what hr could bring to the table. Jenkins already has an interception this year and is quickly making himself and Finnegan one of the better cornerback duos in the league.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.