Rams-Bears matchup features battle of backup quarterbacks

News-DemocratNovember 23, 2013 

— Both the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams have gotten a boost from their backup quarterbacks.

Josh McNown is 3-0 as the Bears' starter in place of an injured Jay Cutler, while Kellen Clemens is coming off a career-high 140.6 quarterback rating in the Rams' 38-8 win over Indianapolis before the team had a bye last weekend.

"I've kind of said it all along, with every rep that I get in practice, every rep that I get in the game, I get more and more comfortable," said Clemens, who assumed a starting role after Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7.

"Hopefully, the guys are getting more comfortable with me being in there. It was a good week against Indianapolis, but you're not going to win the next game based on your performance from that week. So, we've got to get back to work and see if we can string two together."

McCown could be creating a quarterback controversy with his play in place of Cutler, who will be sidelined at least another week with a high ankle sprain.

McCown has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions this season.

"He goes through his progressions really well," Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said of McCown. "He doesn't force balls, and if the guy's not open, he'll pull the ball down and run or he'll toss the ball out of bounds."

Both Clemens and McNown have benefited from strong running games.

Zac Stacy has revitalized the Rams' rushing attack. He's rushed for 537 yards and three touchdowns.

"Zac is a pro," Clemens said. "He runs downhill, he runs behind his pads, yards after contact is significant. You can trust him in the pass game as far as protection. He knows his stuff. He's got that 'Vandy' (Vanderbilt) education with him, and he doesn't take any negative runs either."

Matt Forte has rushed for 774 yards and seven touchdowns for the Bears.

"Slash-type, cutback runner," Walton said of Forte, who has rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns in his two career games against the Rams. "He's a guy that likes to get on the perimeter. He's good in space. He reads his keys really well, but he will bounce the ball and get on the edge and he has the ability to make the first guy miss."

Rams rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin had a breakout game against the Colts, becoming the first player in NFL history with a punt return for a touchdown of 95 or more yards and two touchdown receptions of 55 or more yards.

"I don't think you anticipate numbers like that, but I knew that at some point he would have plays like that," Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "I don't think you'd expect to maybe see them all in one game."

The Bears bring an added dimension with their size at wide receiver.

Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has 64 catches for 828 yards and eight touchdowns, while Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 216) has 54 catches for 818 yards and three touchdowns.

"It's a matchup issue," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "They're very, very talented. They've got confidence. These guys can out-jump and outreach. We've got a battle on our hands, but our corner... 'Jenks' (Janoris Jenkins) is a leaper and 'Tru's (Trumaine Johnson) got length, so we'll just see how it goes."

The Bears' injury-ravaged defense has shown improvement despite missing several starters, including Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.

"The one thing that hasn't gone away from that Chicago defense is the turnovers that they're able to generate," Clemens said. "I think they're third in the league right now with 22 takeaways. That's going to give their offense opportunities, and it's something that we can't give them."

The game will pit Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long's sons against one other. Chris Long is the Rams' left defensive end, while rookie Kyle Long is the Bears' right guard.

They're not lining up directly on one other, but their paths will almost certainly cross at some point in the game.

"They're about a yard apart and there'll probably be some contact on occasion," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "It's a great thing for the family. It's a great thing for the National Football League when you get that kind of situation going on. But, when it comes down to it, kickoff, both players are doing their best to win regardless of matchup. I'm just going to ask big brother (Chris) not to get caught taunting little brother (Kyle)."

Devin Hester remains a weapon as the Bears' return man.

"He's not playing any offense, but he's still very, very dangerous," Fisher said. "Considering the fact that his role on offense has been reduced or limited, he's going to be more inclined to bringing the ball out. (He) has that desire to make plays."

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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