For Bears, familiar foes team up in Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

Many across the NFL are curious to see what Stafford, Rams marriage brings

LAKE FOREST – Matt Nagy remembers exactly where he was when he learned the Los Angeles Rams had traded for Matthew Stafford in January.

He was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with his wife. Nagy was a little shy in sharing that when asked about it Thursday. Ironically, Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay reportedly celebrated with a dinner in Cabo that same night.

Nagy said it was a coincidence. He was not invited to dinner with Stafford and McVay.

“No, I went to dinner with my wife,” Nagy said with a laugh.

The Bears will square off against Stafford, McVay and the Rams on Sunday night in the season opener at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Both Stafford and the Rams are familiar opponents for the Bears, but seeing them together is going to be a new wrinkle.

The Bears are facing the Rams for the fourth consecutive year. They, of course, saw Stafford twice a year with the Detroit Lions over the past 12 years.

First-year Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said the situation has forced them to watch tape on the Rams and the Lions leading up to this week’s game. That’s one of the biggest challenges of Week 1 every year when coaches and players change teams.

Watching all that tape takes time, but the Bears have had nothing but time on their hands the past six months.

“The McVay system is going to be the system, and they’re going to have a lot of new wrinkles with Matt,” Desai said. “I guess [the question] is how they incorporate Matt into that. But Matt’s a stud. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league. He’s been one of the top quarterbacks in this league and, obviously, he’s going with one of the top offensive minds in the league.”

The Rams sent two first-round draft picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Jared Goff to Detroit in exchange for the 33-year-old Stafford. It makes the Rams, already a contender in recent years, one of the most interesting teams in the NFC in 2021.

The Rams already used presnap motion and motion at the snap as well as any team in the league to create leverage and mismatches. Adding a capable passer such as Stafford makes it even more challenging to defend.

“You’ve got to have your eyes trained and understand what you see and not play too fast,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said.

The good thing for the Bears is they’ve seen it a lot. Their own offense uses motion frequently, and they’ve seen the Rams each of the past three seasons.

“Repetition against that type of stuff works,” Gipson said. “Because last year, I think that’s the way that they slow a lot of these fast defenses down. If you want to slow guys like Khalil [Mack] and [Robert] Quinn, and these guys off the edge, and [Akiem] Hicks, get to messing with the safeties and the linebackers’ eyes, that’s the perfect thing to do.”

Stafford has always been a smart quarterback. The problem in Detroit was the pieces around him. With Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and DeSean Jackson catching passes in Los Angeles, that will be less of an issue. Expect to see them go after Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor, who has earned a starting spot despite having only one career regular season start to his name.

The Bears are counting on Desai to play a little bit of chess himself to counter McVay. The good thing is, he has been practicing.

“I’ve got some good practice at chess because I play with my kids,” Desai said. “So that’s been a benefit for me. But that’s always part of the game, right? ... Now as a play-caller, you’ve got to continually stay on top of it. And I think that’s a strength of mine and we’re going to test it out on game day.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.