Bears

Why the Bears are confident Nick Kwiatkoski can succeed in place of Jerrell Freeman

Why the Bears are confident Nick Kwiatkoski can succeed in place of Jerrell Freeman

The Bears would ideally go through the 2017 season without any significant injuries, but that's not the reality of a sport as violent as football. 

As the team scrambles to find replacemensts for Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, though, they can feel confident in the guy who will step in for inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. 

That shouldn’t make Freeman’s torn pectoral muscle any less disappointing, given he was voted a team captain and was the Bears’ most productive tackler (10) against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. It’s unlikely Nick Kwiatkoski will be better than Freeman, a six-year veteran with 70 career starts. 

But it’s also unlikely Kwiatkoski will be significantly worse than Freeman. He may be just as good by the end of the year. 

“He'll play a big role, and I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He came along last year as he played more and more. He's had a good camp for us this year and I have confidence in him to go in there and do a good job and nothing will change.”

Coming from Fangio, whose press conferences have a no-B.S., honest tone to them, that’s high praise. The Bears liked what they saw from Kwiatkoski last year, when he filled in for an injured Danny Trevathan for the final seven games of the season and totaled 32 tackles, two pass breakups, one sack and one forced fumble. 

“I think I feel a lot better about Nick right now than I probably I did in that Dallas game (his NFL debut) last season,” coach John Fox said. 

Kwiatkoski said he’s making decisions quicker and playing faster his second year in the league. Despite a concussion he suffered in August, Kwiatkoski participated in more of training camp this year than he did in 2016, which has helped him get ahead of the curve, too. 

“It’s a lot different this year,” Kwiatkoski said. “Just being able to do camp this year and getting the experience I did in the preseason, I definitely way ahead of the game than I did last year.”

Kwiatkoski will parachute into a front seven that limited the Falcons’ dynamic duo of running backs — Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman — to 53 yards on 20 carries in Week 1. Against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense without suspended running back Doug Martin, stopping the run will be key in the Bears’ efforts to pressure quarterback Jameis Winston and, ideally, force throws into coverage that could be picked off. 

“He’s ready,” Trevathan said. “It’s going to moving fast, but he’s a young guy who’s going to be ready.”

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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USA TODAY

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.