Bears

Bears Grades: High marks across the board

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Bears Grades: High marks across the board

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 5:30 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
A 30-12 win over the winningest team in the 2010 NFC couldve been even more lopsided for a Bears team that rates high marks in nearly every area.

QUARTERBACK A

Jay Cutler both managed the game and attacked the Falcons, completing 22-of-32 passes for 312 yards and 2 TDs despite pressure that sacked him five times and hit him on six other occasions, once enough to shake him up. He was accurate with mid-range throws to wide receivers and also got rid of throws quickly for the most part, although two sacks might have been avoided by throwing the ball away. His passing was even better than the 107.8 rating as his one interception was a batted ball.

RUNNING BACK B

Matt Forte turned short passes into 23- and 56-yard plays, the latter a first-quarter TD with broken tackles and exquisite open-field moves, with fullback Tyler Clutts providing a solid downfield block. Forte averaged 4.3 yards per carry and led the Bears with 5 catches for 90 yards to go with 68 rushing yards. Kahlil Bell carried 10 times for just 24 yards, Chester Taylor-like numbers, but controlled the ball against tough hitting to give Forte needed rest.
RECEIVERS A-

Devin Hester turned a flanker screen into a 53-yard gain that came up a yard short of the end zone and caught two other passes. Roy Williams caught all four of the passes thrown to him, totaling 55 yards before he strained a groin while signaling a first down. Williams blocked well downfield and sustained a first-quarter drive with a 23-yard catch on third down. Johnny Knoxs downfield blocking was key on the Forte TD pass in the first quarter and Williams provided a strong downfield block on Hesters twisting catch-and-run in the third quarter.

Tight end Matt Spaeth caught both balls thrown to him, one for a 1-yard TD in the third quarter when the Bears were putting the game away. Kellen Davis caught two passes, blocked adequately but turned a defensive end loose on the hit that shook Cutler up badly.

OFFENSIVE LINE B
Jay Cutler was sacked three times in the first half, five times in all, but the line was hurt by excellent coverage that forced Cutler to hold onto the ball too long. Chris Spencer was pressed into service at right guard when Lance Louis was injured in the second quarter. JMarcus Webb was called for two holding penalties in the fourth quarter to wipe out sizeable gains. But against consistently strong pressure, the line handled the Falcons front adequately, although Atlanta posted an alarming 11 tackles for loss.
DEFENSIVE LINE A

Henry Meltons sack, supported by Israel Idonije, created a near-safety in the second quarter. Melton added a second sack in the fourth quarter and was a dominant presence with seven QB hits and two tackles for loss. Julius Peppers had a sack of Matt Ryan that turned into a fumble that was recovered and taken in for a TD by Brian Urlacher. Peppers also recovered a fumble to thwart an Atlanta drive, deflected a pass that led to a five-yard loss, forced a holding penalty on left tackle Sam Baker, and sacked Ryan on a two-point conversion. Nick Reed turned in a crucial pass defense on a third down inside the 10 to force a field goal. Amobi Okoye sacked Ryan late in the third quarter.

LINEBACKERS A

Brian Urlachers diving interception stopped one Falcons possession and was followed by the Forte TD in the first quarter. His pickup of the Matt Ryan fumble in the third quarter was even more dramatic, going in for a TD that put the Bears up 30-6 in the third quarter. The defense allowed just two field goals overall and Urlacher was initially credited with a team-high 10 tackles, one for loss, and a pass deflection. Atlanta rushed for 110 yards but 53 of that came on one carry.

SECONDARY A

Major Wrights hit and Charles Tillmans strip forced a fumble by Michael Turner. D.J. Moores blitz forced Matt Ryan to throw his first-quarter interception. Tillmans tackling was poor in spots but his third-down pass deflection was a key stop in the second quarter. Ryan threw 47 passes but the coverage contributed to the lines 5 sacks. Roddy White (8-61) and Julio Jones (5-71) are as dangerous as their billing but the secondarys overall tackling was solid and did not allow either receiver into the end zone.

SPECIAL TEAMS A

Robbie Goulds field goal from 41 yards gave the Bears their first points of the 2011 season and he added two more from in close to get some sort of points off thwarted red-zone possessions. Goulds five touchbacks forced the Falcons to operate from a long field and his second-quarter kickoff 5 yards deep was turned into excellent field position by a Corey Graham tackle at the Atlanta 15. Penalties by Graham and Craig Steltz on kickoff returns were costly in field position. Adam Podlesh averaged 48 yards gross and 46.3 net on 6 punts.

COACHING A

Play design by Mike Martz had receivers wide open in the first quarter, using mis-direction and delays. A back-side throwback should have been a TD as well but for a Cutler overthrow of a wide-open Kellen Davis. The Bears ran the ball 27 times vs. 37 pass plays but MartzCutler threw 14 passes to backs and tight ends to take advantage of defenders committed to stopping the run. Rod Marinelli had the defense prepared to handle Atlantas offensive firepower being run at the Bears in a no-huddle attack. Dave Toubs coverage teams allowed the Falcons just 3.3 yards on 3 punt returns and 16.5 yards per on the only two of seven kickoffs Gould allowed the Falcons to return.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

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USA Today

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

Mitchell Trubisky shook his head and grinned when he fielded yet another question this week about the touchdown pass Tarik Cohen threw against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Dang, you guys can’t get enough of this,” Trubisky said. “I talked about it after the game. Dowell (Loggains) was saying it was the best pass of the game. I’m like, ‘All right, geez, let him play quarterback.

“… He threw a dime ball. I love how he was fading away on it and celebrating on the 50-yard line. Zach (Miller) made a great catch. So A-plus; really impressive spiral, especially with the gloves on. Can’t count any of that out. Tarik’s a special player and it was an awesome throw.”

The point here is less about Cohen’s throw and more about the Bears finding yet another way for the rookie running back to make an impact. So far this year, Cohen has rushed 50 times, caught 26 passes, returned 14 punts and now thrown that historic touchdown. He’s been asked to block in pass protection more frequently, allowing him to be on the field more. And he’s worked with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Kendall Wright (who Cohen referred to as another receiver coach for him) to expand his route tree, leading him to be the most-targeted player (33 targets) on the Bears through six weeks. 

That may seem like a lot to put on the plate of a fourth-round draft pick from an FCS school, but it hasn’t been too much for Cohen. 

“We need Tarik to be that guy for us — the best playmaker we have,” Loggains said. “There’s no secret there. And he’s a guy who we’ll continue to use, and people are aware of him. So how creative can we get with him? How many different things can we do with him? 

“Like, we’re stretching him. Mentally, he’s stretched to the max playing all these positions — motioning out to wide receiver, playing running back and doing more in the backfield with more carries. So we have to keep stretching him and keep using him in the offense.”

Opposing defenses have keyed on Cohen since his explosive debut Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, scheming to muffle his playmaking ability. But he still managed to nearly have a walk-off 73-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, and then in Week 6, with defenses figuring they could crash down on him on sweep plays to the edge, he (literally) threw another wrinkle into how to gameplan against him. The next time the Bears run a toss sweep to Cohen, opposing safeties will have to think twice about bolting toward the line of scrimmage to stop him. 

Every time Cohen seems to hit a rookie wall, he and the Bears find a way to knock it down. The discussion a week ago about Cohen was that he was dancing too much and not cutting upfield quick enough; this week, it’s all about his perfect quarterback rating. 

“Our coaches do a good job of continuing to put him in places so he can be successful,” fellow running back Benny Cunningham said. “But ultimately I feel like he has such a genuine love of the game, I don’t see that happening (hitting the wall). Since the day he’s been here, from Day 1 to today, I’ve seen no drop-off in his desire to be successful and to help this offense.”

The Bears have known this about Cohen's mentality since they scouted and drafted him back in the spring, and his potential only blossomed after getting him into Halas Hall in May — “Early on, we knew Tarik was going to be pretty special,” coach John Fox said. But Cohen wouldn’t be able to reach that potential without the ability to handle the responsibilities of all the different tasks the Bears have asked of him so far. 

Cohen’s ability to do so many different things makes him an important player for this team, and his ability to do them with an exciting, playmaking flair has made him a fan favorite since training camp. So what’s next for the 5-foot-6 rookie?

“I think we’ve got something — I’ll punt the ball this week,” Cohen joked. “Naw, I’m playin’. I can’t put the ball for nothing, I don’t think. It’ll probably go like 20 yards.”

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists.