3 things to watch in Bears-Rams matchup

BY foxsports • November 22, 2013

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams surprised the NFL two weeks ago when they took a three-game losing streak into Indianapolis and dominated the Colts.

The Rams had last weekend off because of the bye week and now host a Bears team that beat Baltimore in overtime last week for its third win in five games.

There's already been a lot written about the matchup of Rams defensive end Chris Long against his younger brother, Bears rookie right guard Kyle Long -- like this story -- and it will be one of the primary story lines on Sunday.

But here are three other things to keep an eye on this Sunday when the Rams (4-6) host Da Bears (6-4) at Edward Jones Dome:

The Bears enter this matchup ranking 31st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (133.9 per game) and are expected to be without injured defensive tackles Stephen Paea (toe) and Jay Ratliff (groin).

The Rams are averaging 99.4 yards rushing per game for the season, which ranks 22nd in the league, but have 805 yards rushing in their last six games and are averaging 31.3 carries and 4.28 yards per carry over that stretch.

Beginning with the Week 5 game against Jacksonville, St. Louis ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts per game (31.3), sixth in rushing yards per game (134.2) and is eighth in rushing yards (805) despite four teams higher having played one more game.

Rookie running back Zac Stacy has been the catalyst.

He ranks third in the NFL over that time in rushing yards per game (88.8), trailing only Washington's Alfred Morris (103.7) and Green Bay's Eddie Lacy (92.1). He ranks fifth during that time with 533 yards rushing, trailing only Lacy (645), Morris (622), Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (617) and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (541).

The Rams are going to keep feeding the fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt and he could be poised for a big game against the Bears.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is officially "doubtful" for the Rams on Sunday with an eye injury that kept him from practicing on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

That's bad news for the St. Louis secondary, which faces one of its toughest tests of the season against the Bears.

Second-year cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson will be tasked with slowing down Chicago's dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.  

Marshall is sixth in the NFL with 64 catches, tied for sixth with eight touchdown receptions and ranks 11th with 828 receiving yards. Jeffery, in his second season, is 14th in receiving yards (818) and tied for 21st with 54 receptions.

It's probably worth noting here that Jeffery was the No. 45 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, 12 picks after the Rams selected wide receiver Brian Quick and six spots after St. Louis picked Jenkins.

The Bears' passing game also has more weapons than just Marshall and Jeffery on the perimeter. Running back Matt Forte has 49 catches for 374 yards and tight end Martellus Bennett has 42 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns.

Bennett has more catches and more receiving yards this season than any Rams player.

The Rams will have their hands full. St. Louis is allowing 258.1 passing yards per game and is coming off a season-high 421 passing yards allowed against Indianapolis.

Devin Hester has proven over his eight years with the Bears that he is one of the greatest punt/kick returners in the history of the NFL.

Rams rookie Tavon Austin showed last game that he has a bright future as one of the league's top young punt/kick returners.

Every time they touch the ball, both guys are capable of putting the "special" in special teams, the kind of players that leave fans holding their breath whenever a return begins to develop.

Hester, as a rookie in 2006, returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. He goes into Sunday's game with 18 return touchdowns in his career. His 13 punt return touchdowns are the most in league history, three more the next highest mark, and his five kickoff return touchdowns are tied for eighth.

Austin announced his presence with authority against the Colts when he picked up a punt off the bounce near the goal line and returned it 98 yards for his first NFL return touchdown.

That return, which was the third-longest in NFL history, actually tied Hester's longest kickoff return. Hester had a 98-yard kickoff return in 2011 and his longest punt return is 89 yards, which he's done twice.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.