Bears

Bears have rare chance for 'elite' D

650018.png

Bears have rare chance for 'elite' D

During the NFL Scouting Combine last month, former NFL safety and current National Football Post columnist Matt Bowen visited with CSNChicago.com in the wake of coach Lovie Smiths press session.

Bowen had heard Smith discuss (to a limited point) what the Bears wanted for next season. What he also heard, in between the lines of the requisite we want to get better everywhere, was a stronger emphasis on upgrading the pass rush beyond the everywhere group.

Bowens conclusion at the time was that a course of action should be to look in free agency for the impact wide receiver the offense craves, where the Bears would be getting a proven pro vs. a far less certain rookie who cant be projected to have top-shelf numbers this first year. Then the Bears should be all over an edge rusher in the draft, which has a number of them.

And Bowen is going one step further in NFP with a statement that the Bears should be after Houston Texans end Mario Williams as a chance to pair with Julius Peppers for a truly rare combination of elite rushers in a defense built on just that.

Beyond the obvious of simply pointing to a really good player and saying, get him, the Williams scenario is a shot at something the Bears havent come close to since Richard Dent was at one end and Dan Hampton at the other.

Dent himself once said that all elite defenses have three true pass-rush threats, whether specific individuals or in a combo pack (like with a Ray Lewis). Dent-Hampton-McMichael. Eller-Marshall-Page (Minnesota). Greene-Greenwood-White (Pittsburgh). Davis-Jordan-Aldridge (Green Bay). Jones-Martin-White (Dallas).

The Colonels Rule of Three can be argued, but not what Williams could mean opposite Peppers. As noted previously, Williams has never won anything with the under-achieving Texans. But with Peppers and Henry MeltonAmobi Okoye, the Bears have the building foundation for a very, very good defense. Very.

Forget about the age theme with the defense. Charles Woodson is older than Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman or Brian Urlacher. So is Ray Lewis.

The issue isnt whether the defense is too old. Its whether its good enough up front, which is why Smith rightly has pass rush as the high priority he does.

Getting Reggie White was a rare fortuitous chance that the Packers grabbed. So is a chance to pair Peppers with someone his equal or better as a pass rusher.

Whether if that someone is Williams or a first-round draft choice, a double-digit edge rusher added to what the Bears already have in place is arguably as much a golden opportunity as may come again in quite some time.

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

10-20tarikcohen.jpg
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

10-20nickkwiatkoski.jpg
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.