The Chicago Bears will make their 2023 Sunday Night Football debut on the road versus the Los Angeles Chargers, and despite being without quarterback Justin Fields for the second straight outing, there should be a lot of optimism in the navy and orange pulling off the upset victory to help finish off week eight of the NFL season.
The Bears' trip to LA will serve as their fourth and final AFC West meeting of the year, where they have gone 1-2 against the division. Outside of a blowout road loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, which was largely overshadowed by the presence of one Taylor Swift, the Bears have played some of their best football against the division, including last week's dominant win versus the Las Vegas Raiders.
To advance to a .500 record against the AFC West and earn their second consecutive win since January 2nd, 2022, the Chicago Bears must continue to improve and accomplish these three important keys to victory:
The Chicago Bears need to continue to lean on the ground attack
Throughout the first half or so of the season, it appears that the near win versus the Denver Broncos served as somewhat of a turnaround game for the Chicago Bears despite being unable to close out the contest. In the three games prior to the matchup between two then-winless teams, the Bears averaged about 101 rushing yards per game, but against the Broncos and in the three games following, that rushing average jumped to an astounding 171 yards, with only one game going under that mark.
Last season, the Bears finished the year with the league's most productive rushing attack despite winning only three games, largely due to the play of Justin Fields and the emergence of Khalil Herbert, who was then David Montgomery's primary backup. What makes the Bears rushing attack different this year, and especially over the past couple of weeks, is that none of those significant rushers from a season ago are available right now, meaning that the Bears are still getting great production from both reserve ball carriers and the offensive line.
Against the Raiders, with Herbert and rookie Roschon Johnson both sidelined, the weight of the rushing attack was put on the shoulders of D'Onta Foreman, a veteran player who made the most of his opportunity to the tune of 89 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries while adding 31 yards and a third touchdown on three receptions. Now, it appears that the Bears will have a healthy Johnson heading into Los Angeles as the back has cleared concussion protocol and participated fully in practice throughout the week.
It is unsure who will be the lead back come Sunday night, with Johnson being higher on the depth chart to start the year despite Foreman's impressive performance a week ago. Still, with the Bears looking to continue to establish their identity on the ground, both of these physical, downhill rushers will likely work into the offense, especially against a relatively weak rush defense.
Last year, the Chargers defense was ranked 27th in rushing yards allowed per game at 144, and this year, they have limited that average to roughly 100 yards per game. Still, there are a number of players along the Chargers' defensive front seven who have struggled against the running game, including both of their starting interior linebackers Kenneth Murray Jr and Eric Kendricks, who are both averaging roughly seven tackles per game (for context, T.J. Edwards is averaging over 10 tackles per game, and is one of just seven players to do so thus far).
If the Bears' offensive line can properly generate lanes for Foreman and Johnson to rush through, there may be opportunities for the running backs to get past the second or even third levels of the defense and provide some big-time plays for the offense. If the Bears wish to compete on Sunday Night, it will be paramount for the offense to stay attached to the run game, forcing the Chargers defense to think first of the rushing attack, allowing Tyson Bagent to play in more of a complementary role.