On the surface, the Bears' 6-4 record and lofty standing in the NFC North bode favorably going against the less-experienced, 4-6 Rams on Sunday in St. Louis.
But the artificial surface at the Edward Jones Dome could become an equalizer and call into question the overall team speed of the aging, beat-up Bears versus the younger, quicker Rams.
The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL with an average age of 24.98 years. Of their 27 players with less than two years experience, 11 are rookies. All seven of the Rams draft picks this year made the roster.
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VOTE: Who ya got ... Bears or Rams?
Who wins in St. Louis on Sunday?
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Bears win close (1035 responses)
Rams win close (230 responses)
Rams win big (60 responses)
Tie (14 responses)
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Halas Hall, Washington Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045, USA
Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Mix in the pumped up indoor stadium noise favoring the home team and the Bears will need to keep their heads on a swivel if the likes of Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Zac Stacy gain traction quickly.
"The quarterback (Kellen Clemens) is very capable," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "They have excellent skill players; they distribute the ball well. Their offensive line is excellent, and they have multiple running backs. … It's going to be a huge challenge for us."
Austin, a wide receiver and punt returner, was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and NFL Rookie of the Week after scoring three touchdowns at Indianapolis on Nov. 10. Austin had a 98-yard punt return and scoring catches of 57 and 81 yards against the Colts.
"The thing that nobody gets is how many returns he has had called back," Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. "There was a touchdown on a 50-yarder, I believe, against Dallas and there were several others during the year. He's explosive."
DeCamillis is not convinced Austin has a special teams advantage on the turf.
"A good returner is better in the (rainy and muddy) elements that were in Soldier Field (Sunday), and he is going to be used more (in those conditions) than he is in the dome," DeCamillis said.
The Rams have the potential to pick apart the Bears' struggling defense with the run, pass or kick return.
Stacy, a 5-foot-8, 224-pound running back out of Vanderbilt, is one of just six rookies to rush for 100 yards in a game this season. Stacy and the Packers' Eddie Lacy are the only rookies who have done it twice.
"He bounces off of tackles. We have to wrap him up," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He's a relentless runner; he's very impressive. We got a good look at him (on film) and he's a little bit like (the Ravens' Ray) Rice probably in some regards. He churns those legs and keeps on moving."
The Rams' speed is not limited to offense or special teams.
"The Rams are a very fast defense, especially on turf," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "The two defensive ends (Robert Quinn and Chris Long) are very quick off the ball. They time your snap count, so we have to do a good job of changing the count and being ready to get off in a hurry. Big test for us."