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The Rick Dennison model: Rushing attack with low interceptions

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The Rick Dennison model: Rushing attack with low interceptions

Another name that has emerged as a Bears head coaching candidate is Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Many are quick to link time spent with Jay Cutler in Denver as the primary reason Dennison could be tabbed as Lovie Smith's successor, but there is more to it than that.
To be an NFL head coach, you should have knowledge of both sides of the ball. Its one reason Smith was relieved of his duties as head coach. Offensive failures cannot continue, according to Phil Emery, and I dont think Bears fans would appreciate any drop-off in defensive production, either.
Dennison is an interesting candidate because he played linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-1990, with his then teammate, Gary Kubiak. But his coaching career has focused mostly on the offensive side of the ball since 1995. Dennison did serve as the Denver's special teams coach from 1997-2000, when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls. It gives Dennison knowledge of roster development both offensively and defensively, but its been primarily an offensive focus -- which is normally not the case with former players who coach to crossover.
Related: Why Bruce Arians could be the right call
Regardless, Dennison has had tremendous success as an offensive coordinator in Denver, and since joining Houston in 2010. His mission statement of running the football, combined with gameplans to deliver them has been more than effective. In 2011, Houston set a franchise record with 2,448 rushing yards (153 yards per game) and 546 rushing attempts, second most in the NFL. In a pass-happy league, Dennison accomplished this goal with three different quarterbacks last year, who threw a franchise low nine interceptions while making the playoffs. Dennisons encore in 2012 was a ranking of fourth in the NFL in rushing (140.3 ypg) while the Texans now travel to New England this weekend for a Divisional Round matchup with the Patriots.
Dennisons philosophy is run and play-action pass, which is directly influenced from his coaching tree. Kubiak and Dennison are direct disciples of their mentor, former Denver Broncos and current Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. It seems, however, the teacher is still schooling his pupils, as Shanahans Redskins led the NFL this year in rushing, averaging more than 160 yards per game.
Dennison is an ideal fit for the Bears because he will implement the same offense Cutler has been most successful running in the NFL. Keep in mind, Cutler was drafted in Denver to run this specific offense. It suits his skills well. Also keep in mind, Dennison and Cutler were in charge of the NFLs second-ranked offense during their time together in Denver.
More: Dennison has the "Cutler connection"
The only thing I struggle with is whether a grind-it-out, time-of-possession offense can win against fast-break Green Bay in the division. The Texans did not break through to the playoffs until Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was injured and could not play. As a matter of fact, Houston had never beaten Indianapolis since the franchise's inception until last year. Indianapolis owned the Texans in the AFC South Division, much like many feel Green Bay owns the Bears in the NFC North. For good measure, Green Bay hammered the Texans this year, 42-24, in a game that was more a rout than the score indicated. Aaron Rodgers threw for six touchdown passes in the win.
Cutler has been introduced to more four- and five-wide receiver offenses during his time with the Bears, which Dennison may incorporate but that is not his base. Playing catch-up is a problem with this style of offense, which may not be in the Bears cards unless Rodgers gets hurt like Manning did.

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

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.