Bears

Moon: This game is more than just another game

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Moon: This game is more than just another game

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Posted: 12:01 a.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin Ron Rivera will not be on the playing field Sunday but make no mistake: He will be a key figure in the game between the Bears and his Carolina Panthers.

Rivera was let go after the 2006 season despite the Bears reaching the Super Bowl. Exact reasons are always difficult to discern -- he and Lovie Smith had increasing differences over schemes; Smith grew tired of Rivera in an annual hunt for a head-coaching job; Rivera was becoming too much of a media darling for a defense that ultimately was Smiths purview.

Where the truth ultimately lies doesnt matter at all at this point. And it does not diminish the regard in which he is still held by his former players.

He was the ultimate players coach, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. You could talk to him about anything.

He wasnt a bitch coach he didnt bitch at you. He would relay his message to you but not where it was demeaning to you. And you definitely got his message.

Rivera has been successful at every stop in his NFL career. He was a member of the 1985 Bears, a second-round pick in the 1984 draft. When he moved into coaching, he was a success with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003), the Bears (2004-2006) and the San Diego Chargers (linebackers coach first, then defensive coordinator). Taking over the woeful Panthers, he already has achieved one-half the victory total for Carolinas full 2010 season.

Lance Briggs was moved from strong-side to weak-side linebacker after Smith and Rivera arrived in 2004, a change that opened the career path for Briggs.

For me, Ron Rivera was just someone who would tell me how difficult it is to make a play, but at the same time, if I can make that play 'we'll shut this play down and you will help our team to win this game,' Briggs said. He had a way of explaining things to a player, to inspire him, and it also let me know that he was there.

He'll tell you, 'That's not an easy play for anybody to make, but if you can make that play, you will shut this play down.' For me, that helps in a lot of ways. I've gone through life with a lot of coaches who say, 'Just do it this way because I told you to do it.' Everybody kind of felt the same way about him."

The feelings are mutual. And this game is more than just another game.

Personally, it means a lot, because its Chicago, Rivera said. Its a great city and the citys been very good to me. The organizations been outstanding. Its kind of a homecoming. I was there for 17 years and its been outstanding.

And Ive told the players, Hey, Chicagos a great city and its been good to me. Im looking forward to coming back and being at Soldier Field.

Run-checking

The Panthers are with the Bears among the bottom-feeders at rushing the football, averaging just 3.3 yards per rush vs. the Bears 3.2.

Ironically, teams can win without being a dominant rushing team. The Detroit Lions average 2.8 yards per carry and are 3-0. San Francisco has gotten to 2-1 despite stumbling along at 2.5 yards per rush. And the Tennessee Titans, with franchise back Chris Johnson, also is at 2-1 despite a 2.4-yard average.

One big difference, however: The Lions have averaged 28 rushes per game, the 49ers 28 and the Titans 22. The Bears average 17.

We have to run and we will, offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. Thats one thing we can do: we can run the football. Well get that right. I have confidence in our ability to run the ball.

The big fella(s)

One of Urlachers assignments often was to spy a mobile quarterback, which he did with a Michael Vick and others. Those also included Minnesota Viking Daunte Culpepper, who was a size-match for Urlacher and then some.

Cam Newton is perhaps a better all-around athlete than Culpepper but he doesn't engender the kind of impact, literally, that Culpepper did.

Hes not like Daunte Culpepper, Urlacher said. Hes not that big. Daunte was big, thick. I dont see Cam as being thick. But theyre all big. Peyton Manning is 6-6, theyre all tall. Its not a big deal.

Were pretty tall, too.

Walter-watching

The firestorm has not abated around Jeff Pearlmans new biography of Walter Payton, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, as chronicled by ProFootballTalk.com (http:tinyurl.com4yadbww).

Former Payton agent and attorney Bud Holmes declared via TMZ that Payton was not hooked on drugs, did not abuse drugs or use illegal drugs. Holmes is quoted in the book as saying Payton was pounding his body with medication.

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.