Bears

Bears In-Foe: 'How much do you like me now?' Not as much

Bears In-Foe: 'How much do you like me now?' Not as much

The "How much do you like me now?" quote by Kirk Cousins after trouncing Green Bay a month ago was the latest end-of-game declaration by the Washington quarterback that went viral (see:"You like that?! You LIKE that!!," circa 2015).  It came on the sidelines to general manager Scot McCloughan as the team moved to 6-3-1 and Cousins kept stacking up numbers in his bid for a long-term contract after getting franchise-tagged for $20 million this season.

While Cousins had another 300-yard passing game Monday night and didn't necessarily hurt his cause (he'd get $24 million if tagged again this offseason), the Redskins were held below 23 points for just the fourth time, and had their worst offensive output in a 26-15 home defeat to the Carolina Panthers. Suddenly, Washington fell from holding the second NFC Wild Card spot, to eighth, and needs help to get into the postseason for a second consecutive season. Will they be devastated, or angry "elves" on Christmas Eve?

Here's the good news for them: Despite the quick turnaround for Saturday's game at Soldier Field, they have have four days off, not the three they had in having to go on the road to Dallas on Thanksgiving after that Sunday night win over the Packers. They're also not playing on Monday night, where they've now lost 16 of their last 17. And they're playing the Bears, whom they've beaten six straight times, including a 24-21 win on the lakefront a year ago.

Cousins has done his part to earn his payday, and there's no way management can let him go. He's second in the NFL in passing yards, third in completions, fourth in attempts, fifth in completion percentage, sixth in passer rating, and a partridge in a pear tree. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is 23-to-10, even though he was picked off and also fumbled on the opening snap of the second half Monday night (sound familiar to Sunday's Bears game?). One of the league's better offensive lines (which survived four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams' recent four-game suspension for missing a drug test), couldn't get anything going on the ground (13 rushes, 29 yards, with Cousins leading the way via 11 yards on two carries). They were just 2-of-12 on third down (where they still rank fourth in the league). Their 335 net yards were 70 below their third-ranked NFL average. Cousins has been sacked just 18 times.

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That ground game is 18th, as undrafted free agent Robert "Fat Rob" Kelley has rushed for almost 600 yards, though just eight of them came vs. the Panthers, on only nine carries.  He burst on the scene in that Green Bay win, with 137 yards on 24 carries after second-year back Matt Jones (460 yards at the time), went down with a knee injury. Chris Thompson offers a change of pace (331 yards rushing, and 42 receptions for 295 yards).

More than Washington's fleet receiving corps, Jordan Reed has done the most damage in his two career games against the Bears (18 targets, 18 catches for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns). The undersized (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) tight end has been a nightmare for other teams, too, when he's been healthy.  He's missed 18 games in his four-year career, including three this season as he now battles through a third-degree separation of a shoulder. He had just one catch last night before being ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch at Carolina's Kurt Coleman. That came as the offense had finally gotten inside the Panthers' 10-yard line. That left Reed with 61 receptions this season, five for scores.

McCloughan used his first-round draft pick last April on wideout Josh Doctson of TCU, knowing 30-year-olds' DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon will become free agents this offseason. But Doctson had just two catches before an achilles injury that wouldn't go away finally landed him on injured reserve two months ago. That after water bug Jamison Crowder delivered 59 catches a year ago — only Amari Cooper had more receptions among 2015 rookies than the fourth-rounder from Duke. Crowder has surpassed that with 64 grabs (828 yards) and seven touchdowns, to go with Garcon's 71 (851 yards) and the injury-hampered Jackson's 49 (857 yards for a fourth-ranked 17.5-yard average, and four TD's). 

So, yes, the Bears defensive backfield will have its hands full Saturday, looking to rebound from the way Sunday's loss ended.

With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

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With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

As encouraging as some elements of the 2017 season was for the Bears defense, it wasn’t enough. Ranking in the top 10 in fewest points and yards allowed left linchpins like lineman Akiem Hicks setting “top five” as a declared goal.

With what has happened within the last 13 days – from the first preseason game vs. Baltimore through the long-anticipated arrival of Roquan Smith – the Bears have had arguably seen a handful of developments that could put “elite” within reach of a defense intent on being just that.

The developments have been the play of linebackers Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving, and now topped off by the Smith addition. The reasons are obvious – a linebacker-dependent defense (as all 3-4’s inherently are) has moved to the brink of realizing impact from not one, not two, but possibly three.

None is being given a leading role in an already good defense. But what they all represent are high-speed additions in a sport where speed rules and rivals pad-level in importance. Fitts and Irving have flashed off the edges, and Smith was the No. 8 pick of the draft for his speed in getting to targets, followed of course what he does to them when he gets there.

How any change occurs remains to play out, and Vic Fangio has used rotations in his front seven’s. One scenario could be Smith easing in as part of nickel packages, where the Bears have used a 4-2 front and would have Smith and Danny Trevathan as their ILB’s. Likewise, Fitts and Irving present edge options in that package as well as in base 3-4.

Perspective, please

Understand: No criticism of any sort is directed at either of the incumbents. No knock on Nick Kwiatkoski, who has in two seasons and this training camp established himself as an NFL inside linebacker. Nor is it a diss of Sam Acho, who is a physical edge presence with some pass-rush pop. The Bears need both, REALLY need both. 

But the 1983 Bears ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed with Al Harris as part of a linebacker corps that included Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson. Jim Finks drafted Wilber Marshall in the 1984 first round and Ron Rivera in the second. Harris remained the starter but the Bears also jumped to third in points allowed with Marshall and first the two years after that.

Elite.

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton said years later that Marshall – nicknamed “Pit Bull”by teammates – was the single best individual player on that elite defense, and the player that took things to another level entirely. And as Marshall told Hall of Fame NFL writer Rick “Goose” Gosselin, who created the special-teams ranking system used by every NFL team and now hosts "Talk of Fame Radio:”

"They had Mike [Singletary] sitting on the sidelines when I’m playing middle linebacker on third down. So I wasn’t just a rush guy, like the guys on the end that you see them go 90 percent of the time."

Sounding like a bill of particulars for Smith.

Best guess that Smith – wearing the No. 58 that Marshall wore – will have a new level of impact for a defense that just added a piece with a chance to earn the designation of “elite.”

Fitts and Irving are younger, faster options on the edge. Fitts is bigger and faster (4.69 sec. 40) than Irving, but one can never be too rich, too thin or have too many edge rushers.

And Smith, who had 6.5 sacks last season at Georgia (his only credited sacks in three seasons there), projects to be the fastest Bears linebacker with a documented 4.51-sec. time in the 40 – faster than Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and…well, you get the point.

And speed is the route to “elite.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh, Mark Gonzales and Leon Rogers join David Kaplan on the panel.

Roquan Smith’s holdout is over. How much pressure is on him now that the first round pick is finally in the fold?

Plus, the panel discusses how Joe Maddon can use grand slam hero David Bote down the stretch and if Tiger Woods is a lock to win a major in 2019.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: