Bears

Golson unleashed as Notre Dame's quarterback

945945.png

Golson unleashed as Notre Dame's quarterback

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The plan all along was to develop a redshirt freshman quarterback, all while trying to fulfill the lofty expectations annually placed on Notre Dame. That created a balance in the early and middle parts of the season, with seasoned junior Tommy Rees acting as a safety net for a greenhorn in Everett Golson.

But in the latter portion of the 2012 season, Golson has come far enough in his development to the point where there may not be a safety net. With back-to-back good games under his belt -- albeit against less-than-stellar defenses -- it appears Golson has traded in his learner's permit for a driver's license.

"I think so," Kelly responded when asked if Golson was at the point where he'd play through any struggles. "The interception he threw -- we were at a point where it was pretty clear Wake Forest was having difficulty stopping us. For us to give the ball up, those are the foolish and careless mistakes that he made early in the year. But he's so much further along, that those are ones that he comes to the sideline and says something before you say something to him, and you know he's on that right trend in terms of understanding."

When Kelly yanked Golson midway through the second quarter of Notre Dame's win over Michigan in September, it was because his first-year starter was lost and "mentally done." Golson was making mistakes, and he couldn't explain why. A month and a half later, he's become able to diagnose his poor decisions.

"I was kind of mad about a couple of throws that I could have made," Golson said after Notre Dame's 38-0 win over Wake Forest. "Talk about that interception. It was a terrible decision, really terrible decision. I kind of came to the line and looked like a rookie a little bit."

That interception referred to by Kelly and Golson, a heave toward a double-covered Robby Toma in the end zone, maybe wasn't a rookie mistake in the sense of misreading the coverage. It was a rookie mistake in the sense of failing to reign in his confidence, as before that Golson sliced apart Wake Forest's defense with incredible ease.

But outside of that interception, what Golson showed on Saturday was his ceiling as an explosive quarterback. Notre Dame has slowly opened up its playbook for Golson, putting more trust in his playmaking ability from week to week. In Notre Dame's Week 2 win over Purdue -- in which Golson was pulled for the final series -- Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin wouldn't have thought about letting their quarterback buck a pass 40 yards toward the end zone.

"He's got the ability to throw it, he can run the football, he's elusive," Kelly summed up Saturday. "I think we're seeing a guy that's growing each and every week."

The next step, now, for Golson is to win at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to send Notre Dame to the BCS Championship game. That's plenty of pressure to put on a player making only his 10th career start. But Golson has been at his best playing in other hostile environments -- his performance facing a record-setting crowd at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium helped spur Notre Dame's title run. And his experience playing in all the close games at Notre Dame Stadium, too, could come in handy if the Irish get locked in a neck-and-neck battle.

And if he can put all that together and not only avoid turnovers, but play to his potential against USC, it may be time to book your flight to Miami.

"All of it, the nine games that he's started, winning on the road, having to come in and lead our football team to a win against Pittsburgh, all of those things go in to Saturday," Kelly said. "And all those will be positives for him going into the USC game."

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

10-21ronrivera.jpg
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.