The Bears are about to meet some of the best kept secrets in the NFL.
They will face the St. Louis Rams in Week 12 and, while the sum of its parts is a pedestrian 4-6, there are some young studs on this ballclub who can do some real damage.
On paper, this looks like a team the Bears should be able to handle. That’s also what the Indianapolis Colts thought two weeks ago before the Rams stormed into Indy and blew them off the field by a 38-8 margin.
There are multiple danger signs here.
This will be just the second game the Bears have played indoors this season. Their first, in Detroit, was their worst game of the season, falling 40-32.
The Rams are the second team the Bears have faced this year coming off a bye. The Lions came into Chicago for their second meeting after their bye and knocked off the Bears 21-19.
The excitement in St. Louis starts with Tavon Austin. The Rams traded up eight spots in the first round of this year’s draft to take the 5-foot-8, 176-pound mighty mite out of West Virginia, who until the Colts game appeared to be just finding his way. In Indianapolis, he caught two passes, 57- and 81-yard touchdowns and had four punt returns for 145 yards, including a 98-yard touchdown.
Think Devin Hester, but this guy can play wide receiver too.
St. Louis features a quartet of young running backs, including Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead.
Stacy is the new No. 1 with 537 yards on 129 carries with three rushing touchdowns. All four backs catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Rams struggle at receiver, which could help for Zack Bowman, who struggled filling in for Charles Tillman last week. Chris Givens is their No. 1 with with 28 catches for 463 yards and, after Austin, who has four touchdowns, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick fill out this pedestrian group.
While the Bears were recruiting Martellus Bennett in free agency, the Rams went shopping for Jared Cook, who has 33 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns. No. 2 tight end Lance Kendricks is a factor as well with 23 catches for 172 and three touchdowns.
Like the Bears, St. Louis is in the hands of its backup quarterback, Kellen Clemens. He is 46 of 86 for 634 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, a 79.3 passer rating. He’s been OK, but nowhere near as effective as Josh McCown.
The best matchup of the game will feature 2013 free agent Jake Long, who is once again healthy and one of the best left tackles in the game, going head–to–head with Julius Peppers.
Third-year player Robert Quinn is the NFL’s breakout defensive player this year. Known as “Little Julius” at North Carolina – an ode to Peppers – before the Rams chose him with the 14th pick in the 2011 first round, Quinn already has 12 sacks and five forced fumbles.
He is complemented on the other end by Kyle Long’s big brother, Chris, the second player taken in the 2008 draft, who has 6½ sacks, one forced fumble and two recovered.
Linebackers James Laurinaitis, the 35th player chosen in the 2009 draft, and Alec Ogletree and defensive tackle Michael Brockers, both former first-round picks, and Janoris Jenkins, who the Rams took with the 39th pick in the 2012 draft, are all playmakers.
The Rams are 18th against the run, 14th against the pass and 14th in points allowed, but they’re No. 1 in the NFL in sacks and fifth in interception percentage.
This is a big/huge play defense that is getting better every week and the Bears have to hope they aren’t catching it at the wrong time.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.