Bears

Mullin: Great QBs make everyone on field a 'weapon'

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Mullin: Great QBs make everyone on field a 'weapon'

Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011
Posted: 3:36 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Continuing an investigation...

A colleaguecompetitor who will remain nameless (so our bosses dont chirp about us fraternizing with enemies (yes, people can compete flat-out and have some good chat along the way) and I shared some thoughts from time to time. Like now.

The subject was this weapons thing and how the Bears havent given Jay Cutler any. Well, we noted that that in 2008, Denver Cutler was the exalted Pro Bowl quarterback with weapons that included receivers Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokely and Tony Scheffler, and running backs Peyton Hillis, Michael Pittman and Selvin Young, all of whom averaged more than 4 yards per carry. The Broncos scored 370 points and finished 8-8 with some input from a bad defense.

That same season, Chicago Kyle OrtonRex Grossman had Rashied Davis, new-receiver Devin Hester, unhealthy Brandon Lloyd (five starts) and old Marty Booker to throw to. The Bears were 9-7 and scored 375 with Josh Beekman starting at left guard and John St. Clair at left tackle.

Weapons are nice. Great quarterbacks make everyone a weapon.

Salty Peppers?

Probably not. But Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, generally regarded as a gentleman and class act on the field, was micd up during the Green Bay game and you can catch him on NFL Networks Sound FX at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Peppers had some conversations with officials as well as players so it should be good listening.

Looking a little deeper...

A lack of investment in the offensive line is cited as the primary source of problems for Cutler, based on the assumption that the bombardment hes been too often under has made him a scared quarterback with declining skills. That doesnt work, for reasons beyond the fact that the Bears invested a first-round draft choice in a tackle, tried to re-sign an aging veteran center for one year at 4 million and then arguably overpaid for a former start as the potential answer.

The bigger reason is that Cutler is without question one of the NFLs toughest quarterbacks. But he is being given something of a pass in part because of the 52 sacks he took last season. Never a good thing, and Cutlers passer ratings in fact improved after mid-season when the offensive line stabilized and playcallinggame-planning changed for the better.

But just for sake of comparison, Aaron Rodgers was sacked 50 times in 2009 and posted a passer rating of 103.2 for the year, best for any of his three full seasons. Cutlers mark last season was 86.3, right about in line with his career level around 84.

When Cutler was sacked 35 times in 2009, he threw 26 interceptions in a forgettable year under Ron Turner, and he had the lowest passer rating (76.8) of his career.

The point is not to serve as an apologist for either the offensive line or the organization. But to simply cite protection issues and a receiver group of modest abilities is to look at a snapshot and miss the overall.

On the plus side...

Cutler is off to a start unlike just about any other in Bears quarterback franchise history, at least for yardage. Through three games Cutler is averaging 286 passing yards per game, vs. the next-highest Bears total for a season, 240 by Erik Kramer in 1995.

On the fence...

The 1-2 start has given Cutler a .500 record (34-34 regular season, 1-1 playoffs) as a starting NFL quarterback...

On the run...

The Green Bay Packers held running back Matt Forte to 82 total yards on Sunday, notable perhaps because for his career, Forte is averaging 100.7 yards through 51 games. Only Walter Payton (111.9) averaged more yards per Bears game for his career... Since coming into the league in 2008, only Chris JohnsonTennessee, Adrian PetersonMinnesota and Maurice Jones-DrewJacksonville have netted more yards, and only Baltimore running back Ray Rice (1,709) has more receiving yards than Fortes 1,727.

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.