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Chargers Game Preview: Bears vs. Chargers, Week 8

Austin Ekeler and the Chargers face the Bears this Sunday at Solider Field.
Austin Ekeler and the Chargers face the Bears this Sunday at Solider Field.

Storylines

The Passing Game

The Chargers hold a substantial advantage over the Bears through the air this season, with Philip Rivers ranking fourth in passing yards per game.

The Chargers lead the NFL in passing first down percentage, while the Bears rank 25th in opponents’ passing first down percentage.

Chicago, by contrast, ranks 28th in passing yards per game. After throwing 24 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last season with a passer rating of 95.4, third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky has just five passing touchdowns in five games thus far. Furthermore, his adjusted passer rating has dropped from 71.0 last season to 34.2 in 2019.

Regardless, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn offered several compliments for Trubisky.

“He might have been a little rusty (last week against New Orleans), but we know he can play,” Lynn said. “Look at what he did last season. He turned that thing around and went 12-4 as their starting quarterback. I really liked him in college at North Carolina. He’s got a heck of a skill set.”

While the Bolts have been much better through the air than the Bears this season, aiding Chicago is the fact that L.A.’s opponents boast the highest completion percentage in the league.

Running the Ball

Both head coaches spoke about the importance of running the ball more efficiently Sunday, something with which each team has struggled.

“(The running game) will be important.” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "For us, there obviously have been well made of struggles, (and) they're real."

Lynn said that the Bolts need to be more balanced offensively and that responsibility does not fall just on the running backs, but rather the entire offense.

“When you’re balanced, you can control the tempo of the game and do so many other things offensively,” Lynn said. “We have to start running the ball more efficiently.”

Rivers added that he thinks his team is at its best when their offense is balanced.

“I think it’s about scoring...If that means (we need to) run better and more, then, heck yeah (we should run),” Rivers said.

Over each team’s last three games, the Chargers rank last in rushing yards per game and yards per carry, while the Bears are 31st and 29th, respectively, in those categories.

Both teams have also been running the ball sparingly. Over their past three games, just 27.9 percent of the Bolts’ plays have been on the ground, which ranks last in the NFL during this stretch. The Bears rank 30th in rushing play percentage over their previous three games, including posting their fewest carries in a game in franchise history last Sunday against the Saints.

Last season, Jordan Howard, now with the Eagles, ranked sixth in the NFL in carries as a member of the Bears. Chicago will have to find someone it trusts to run the ball, and head coach Matt Nagy has not committed to the run with either David Montgomery or Tarik Cohen.

As for the Chargers, running back Melvin Gordon looks to find his rhythm in his fourth game of the season. Nagy identified the Pro Bowl running back as “a big spark for those guys.” Last week against the Titans, Gordon found the end zone for the first time this year. 

Running back Austin Ekeler, who has been a menace as a pass catcher this season, started off the year with a string of strong rushing performances, but he has amassed just 28 yards rushing on 13 carries over his last three contests.

Gordon and Ekeler will be facing a Bears front that has allowed its opponents just 3.6 yards per carry, tied for fourth in the NFL.

If the weather is inclement in Chicago this weekend, the teams could be forced to rely on the running game more.

“It’ll be cool and could be wet, who knows?” Rivers said about the conditions he expects to play in Sunday.

The Turnover Battle

The Bears have been one of the league’s better teams in terms of winning the turnover battle, while the Bolts have struggled in this area.

Nagy spoke about the often decisive nature of turnovers, describing them as “always huge” and “momentum-changers.”

“When you protect the football, you’re usually gonna have a chance to win,” Nagy said. “When you don’t...you’re usually gonna have a difficult time winning.”

Nagy added that his Bears are 3-0 this season when they’ve won the turnover battle.

Chicago has a turnover differential of plus-four, which is tied for fifth in the league, while Los Angeles is tied for 26th at minus-four. Last week, however, the Bears were minus-two in the turnover department, losing two fumbles and not forcing a single turnover.

Converting on Third Down

The Chargers rank third this season in third-down conversion percentage, while the Bears are a distant 26th. Which team is better at converting on third downs at Soldier Field could play a determinant role in Sunday’s outcome.

Time of Possession

In Chicago’s six games, it has only held the edge in time of possession once. Last week, the Saints had the ball for nearly 15 minutes longer than the Bears did. In Chicago’s previous game, it had possession for nearly 9.5 minutes less than the Raiders.

Conversely, the Chargers have held the edge in time of possession against their opponents five of seven times this season.

While time of possession doesn’t directly correlate with wins, coaches often point to the importance of possessing the ball longer than their opponents do.

Last season, Chicago ranked third in time of possession last season, but it’s tied for 22nd this season.

Take an inside look as the Chargers took the Hoag Performance Center field to begin preparations for the Week 8 trip to the Windy City.

Bears Players and Matchups to Watch

Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry vs. Bears Secondary

The Bears’ starting secondary, which Lynn described as being “loaded with first-rounders and Pro-Bowl-type players,” will have its hands full on Sunday with wide receiver Keenan Allen, tight end Hunter Henry and running back Austin Ekeler.

“There a lot of threats with their offense,” Nagy said. “(Keenan Allen) is a special receiver that does special things.”

Allen ranks fourth in targets, and he still places sixth in yards receiving, even after averaging just 40 yards receiving in his last four contests.

Nagy added that Allen and Mike Williams collectively “present a lot of mismatches and matchup problems for you on defense, because of their size, athleticism and ball skills.”

After returning from a knee injury, Hunter Henry has averaged 98.5 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns over the past two contests. In three games, he ranks first among tight ends and fifth overall in receiving yards per game.

Ekeler, whom Nagy referred to as “quite the weapon,” leads all NFL running backs with four touchdowns receiving. 

“With Ekeler, you just see him everywhere,” Nagy said.

The only other non-wide receiver with as many touchdowns receiving as Ekeler this season is Falcons tight end Austin Hooper.

In Ekeler and Allen, the Chargers possess the only pair of teammates that rank in the top 10 in catches this season

Khalil Mack vs. Chargers O-line

Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Khalil Mack is tied for the league lead with four forced fumbles. Although Mack hasn’t had a sack in either of his past two games, he has 4.5 sacks and four tackles for loss this season, and he recorded eight tackles against the Saints last Sunday. Rivers said that what makes Mack elite is his ability to both rush the passer and play the run.

“Every week that we go into games, teams are gonna have a plan for him,” Nagy said of Mack.

Rivers revealed that the Bolts are indeed game planning for Mack.

“You definitely want to know where he is every snap,” Rivers said. “He’s an every-down player, and he can change the game.”

Rivers emphasized that managing Mack’s whereabouts on the field will be key for the Chargers.

Nagy said that the Bears feel “really, really fortunate to have (Mack) on our side of the ball,” adding that the focus that Mack draws from opposing teams “enables other players on our defense to make plays.”

These other players Nagy referenced include linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is tied for most in the NFL in solo tackles per game, and defensive tackle Nick Williams, who already has four sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss this season. Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris has also stepped up with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, and linebacker Roquan Smith was a player that Lynn singled out by name Wednesday for his exemplary performance this season.

The Chargers offensive line will get a boost with the return of two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung to game action.

After coming back to practice last Thursday after recovering from a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, Okung will be in the lineup, but Lynn said it is unclear how much he will play. 

“It’ll be great to have Russ back out there, and we’re excited,” Rivers said. “He brings more than just on the field. (His) being in the huddle and the whole deal will be a positive.”

The O-line had been missing four-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey already, and Forrest Lamp, who had been filling in at left guard, injured his ankle last week and will now miss the remainder of the season. Lynn said that he would be comfortable playing both Scott Quessenberry and Ryan Groy at either center or guard, given the pair’s versatility. For now, Lynn said Quessenberry will start at center.

“I’ve actually had quite a few reps with Scott (at center) over the past few weeks, and he’ll step in and do a nice job,” Rivers said.

While this young group will be tasked with protecting Rivers against a fearsome pass rush, Rivers sees comfort in the familiar, as he mentioned that his projected starting O-line for Sunday will be the same group as it was for much of last season, with the exception of Pouncey’s absence at center.

Allen Robinson vs. Chargers Secondary

Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson led Chicago in yards receiving and targets last season and is performing even better this year. The 26-year-old Penn State product ranks second among receivers in first downs per game this season with 4.5, and has already made six 20-plus receiving yard plays.

Nagy said that Robinson found his groove toward the end of last season after recovering from an ACL injury.

“He took that (strong play) into the offseason [and] training camp, and he’s really come out strong for us,” Nagy said. “He’s playing really, really good football, and his confidence level is strong.”

The Chargers secondary, led by cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, will certainly be paying attention to Robinson Sunday.

Broadcast Information

Sunday Oct. 27, at 10:00 a.m. PT

  • Soldier Field
  • TV: Fox - Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (analyst), Shannon Spake (sideline)
  • Radio (English): KFI-AM 640 - Matt “Money” Smith (play-by-play), Daniel Jeremiah (analyst) and Shannon Farren (sideline)
  • Radio (Spanish): KFWB-AM 980 - Mario Solis (play-by-play) and Jorge Villanueva (analyst)
  • APP: Chargers Mobile (iOS), Yahoo Sports (Android)

Chargers Watch Party

This week, the official Bolts Watch Party will be at Dave & Buster’s in Arcadia! For more information on this watch party, along with the others that will be held across Southern California, click here.

All-Time Series

The Bears hold a 7-5 advantage all-time against the Chargers and have won six of the past seven meetings.

Chicago has emerged victorious in four of five against the Bolts at Soldier Field, with the last Chargers win in the series coming in 2007. The Chargers won the first three matchups against the Bears, including the first meeting in 1970 at Soldier Field, a 20-7 victory for the Bolts

Bears' Last Time Out

The Bears dropped to 3-3 last Sunday after a 36-25 home loss to the New Orleans Saints. Chicago trailed 36-10 with 4:33 remaining in the game before scoring the final 15 points. In the loss, Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson racked up 87 yards receiving and a touchdown, tying his career high with 10 receptions. He also established a career high with 16 targets. Linebacker Danny Trevathan led the Bears with 10 tackles.

For the Saints, running back Latavius Murray ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, and wide receiver Michael Thomas caught nine Teddy Bridgewater passes for 131 yards. Chicago was limited to just 17 yards rushing on 7 carries.

Injuries

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