NFL Week 14 matchups: Are Khalil Mack, Bears ready to push Rams?

If last week was a wake-up call, Sunday night might be the gut check.

The Chicago Bears are closing in on their first NFC North title since 2010, thanks in large part to the NFL's third-ranked defense. But the group is on notice after a 30-27 overtime loss to the New York Giants snapped a five-game winning streak.

Facing off against the Los Angeles Rams' second-ranked offense is its own challenge. The game, however, will be something of a proving ground for Chicago's defense as it prepares to face the league's elite units in the postseason. The Bears haven't squared off against a top-15 offense since Week 7 and are just 1-2 against those teams this season.

Perhaps the most critical battle for Chicago will be generating pressure on Jared Goff, who has taken advantage of superlative protection and thrown for 3,754 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. Khalil Mack, who might be in the conversation for defensive player of the year if not for Aaron Donald's remarkable campaign, will look to build on his nine sacks and five forced fumbles so far this year by continuing to create havoc. But while the Rams will surely provide additional resources to blocking both Mack and Akiem Hicks, offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein have been among the league's best bookends. 


Goff, however, is coming off a 17-of-33 passing performance against the Detroit Lions and might not be able to count on Todd Gurley to bail him out again. The Bears rank third in yards allowed per carry with just 3.7 and have only allowed one back, the Miami Dolphins' Frank Gore in Week 6, to crack the 100-yard mark. Goff will also have to be cautious against a group that leads the NFL with 21 interceptions and 30 total takeaways, though star safety Eddie Jackson has been hampered by a shin injury.

Here are four other matchups that will define Week 14 in the NFL:

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Ravens CB Jimmy Smith

Covering tight ends has been one of the few sore spots for Baltimore's top-ranked defense, and their matchup against the league's best at the position comes at somewhat of an inopportune time. Safety Tony Jefferson is doubtful with an ankle injury, while top cornerback Marlon Humphrey is questionable with a groin injury. While safety Eric Weddle and others might see significant action against Kelce, Smith could find himself matched up against the tight end often given how frequently Kansas City splits the three-time Pro Bowl selection out wide.

After posting 22 catches for 295 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games, Kelce represents not only the biggest threat to Baltimore's defense but also Patrick Mahomes' foremost weapon for combating the pass rush. The Ravens rank third in blitz frequency at 36.9 percent and have given up just a 76.6 passer rating when doing so. But Kelce can alleviate some pressure by dominating at the catch point with his 6-6, 250-pound frame.

Cowboys WR Amari Cooper vs. Eagles CB Rasul Douglas

Cooper took somewhat of a backseat to running back Ezekiel Elliott in the Cowboys' Week 10 win over the Eagles but still finished with six catches for 75 yards. In the rematch, the wide receiver is poised to make an even bigger splash. With 256 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, he has emerged as the unquestionable go-to target for Dak Prescott, who has completed 72.8 percent of his passes in the five games Cooper has played.

Douglas' presence is paramount for an Eagles secondary that in Week 12 was without four of its top five cornerbacks. With Jalen Mills out, Philadelphia will have to rely on Douglas and Sidney Jones to hold their own against Cooper. But Philadelphia has given up the second-most yards to opposing wide receivers (averaging 192 per game) of any team, ahead of only the Saints — whom Cooper burned for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Dolphins' secondary

Brady is just 7-9 all-time in Miami against the Dolphins, who have claimed four of the last five matchups at home. But recent history might be little comfort for Adam Gase's team. Cornerback Xavien Howard, who intercepted Brady twice in last year's win over New England and has four picks in his last two games, has been ruled out with a knee injury. 

With its pass rush struggling to generate pressure and ranking 29th with just 20 sacks, Miami might have a particular problem dealing with Howard's absence. The Patriots can continue to emphasize their running game after 375 yards on the ground in the last two games, but the passing attack could be what breaks the Dolphins' defense. Josh Gordon will require special attention from safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, while Julian Edelman has a favorable outlook against a defense that has not fared well on third downs (41.3 percent conversion rate).

Seahawks G Jordan Simmons vs. Vikings DTs Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson

As just one of three teams with more rushing attempts (380) than passes (326), Seattle is one of the league's greatest offensive outliers, especially given the team's ability to unearth big plays through the air. While the formula has worked so far, the current level of efficiency has been dependent on a substantial turnaround from the offensive line. The Seahawks will need to provide a consistent push up front to keep the ground game on track and the offense out of too many obvious passing downs.

Simmons is expected to once again step into a starting role with D.J. Fluker expected to be sidelined by a hamstring strain. He has played in just four NFL games with one start but fared well against the Rams, helping pave the way for the team to rush for 273 yards on the day. Minnesota, however, has one of the league's most formidable collection of interior defensive linemen with Joseph, Richardson and Tom Johnson. The latter two are both former Seahawks players and took exception to how their time with the team ended. 

Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

Source: Read Full Article