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2010 Malibu 1LS Mocha Steel Metallic
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My guess: the plastic cover has the intake tube attached, which the MAF is plugged into. Without the plastic cover on the engine, there's no airflow through the intake or across the MAF sensor, so the engine has no idea how to read how much air is coming in to adjust fuel trims and whatnot.
The 2.4 is oddly very sensitive to any intake changes, and will throw a CEL at alterations to the MAF position/intake tube.
If you're looking to not have to deal with the big bulky engine cover, there's a few good posts on the forum of how to assemble a new intake that doesn't use the stock cover.
 
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