Bears

Bears prepare for Jets, wonder if they're true 'closers'

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Bears prepare for Jets, wonder if they're true 'closers'

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
10:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
Few weeks of the 2010 season have passed without at least one question being raised or answered by the Bears performance. Its just been that kind of year.

So the question going into Sundays meeting with the New York Jets (10-4) is there:

Are the Bears true closers yet?

The elite teams in the NFL typically seize true opportunities when they are before them. The Bears have flirted with elite status at times, only to slip back and leave themselves open to doubt, sometimes within their own locker room.

That the Bears (10-4) are a good, even very good, team they have never doubted. But elite has been another matter.

So among the usual tactical questions going into a game is the one as to whether the Bears can finish off a good opponent when the stakes are a step toward a vitally important goal such as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and earn a bye through the first round of the postseason.

Things have been a little lighter, obviously, since we played on Monday night and this has been a short week, said linebacker Lance Briggs. For us, weve got to keep getting better. Weve got a lot of fight for the rest of the season and into the playoffs so this game is very important to us just securing things in the playoffs.

To take that step toward being the kind of closer that wins championships means taking several specific smaller steps.

Get on the Mark

Mark Sanchez is expected to start for the Jets despite some shaky practice days because of an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. That could be good news for the Bears, who have gotten some of the best coverage play from their secondary in decades.

Three Bears defensive backs Chris Harris, D.J. Moore, Charles Tillman have 4 interceptions. No other team in the NFL has three DBs with 4 and no Bears team since the 1983-86 teams have had three with that kind of production.

On the other side is Sanchez not throwing a touchdown pass in his last 106 attempts and none in his last three games, two of them losses in which the Jets managed just 9 total points.

Before the last two games before the Pittsburgh game, I wouldve said Im making better decisions., using my legs a little more, sliding a lot better, getting rid of the ball, getting to my check-downs a lot faster, Sanchez said. But those two weeks we didnt play very well, I reverted back to some of those poor decisions, not having two hands on the ball and just got sloppy with my fundamentals.

The Bears have two edge rushers in Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers who are 6-6 and 6-7, respectively, and both with 8 sacks. No team has more than the Bears 21 sacks over the last seven games, six of them wins, and that may be enough to help Sanchez get sloppy again with his fundamentals.
New identity?

The problem is in the run game. The last three opponents each have gained more rushing yards and the last four averaged more per carry than the Bears, a disturbing trend for a team that had allowed 100 rushing yards in just two of the previous six games.

What has changed, however, is any belief that the Bears will go only as far as their defense takes them.

I disagree with that, linebacker Brian Urlacher said. Were known as a defensive team, but our offense scored 40 points last week. I know special teams scored seven of them, but it still goes to the offense.

I disagree with that. I think were a good team, all-around. The offense has been there for us the last eight or nine weeks. Theyve been playing better. Once they figured out the offense, and how to run stuff, theyve been playing well.

They carried us in the Philly game. Detroit; we didnt play well. They carried us. There have been a few games here lately where we needed them and they came through for us

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.

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

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USA Today

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

Roquan Smith’s season is over. 

During his Monday morning press conference, Matt Nagy announced that Smith did in fact tear a pectoral muscle and will be placed on injured reserve. 

“[It’s] unfortunate for him,” Nagy added. “He’s really putting together a good year. But he’ll bounce back and that’s that.” 

Not only did Smith’s injury come at the worst possible time for the Bears – two of their last three games are against NFC North rivals on the road – but the injury ends what was the best extended run of play in the second-year linebacker’s career. He'll undergo surgery to fix the muscle, and the timeline for his return is still unclear. 

“I really thought you felt him – especially here in the last several games – really turning it on, really playing fast,” Nagy said. “He’s always had that – every play that he gets, every game that he plays, for the rest of his career, he’s only gonna get better and better in my opinion.”

Comparing his two seasons on paper would suggest that Smith regressed after a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's remarkable that he may still finish the season as the team leader in tackles, not to mention the fact that he was on pace to eclipse last season's stats. He would have needed a few more big games, but going into Thursday night, Smith had logged double-digit tackles in four of his last five starts, including a career-high (16) in their Thanksgiving win just a week before. He finishes 2019 with 100 tackles, two sacks and one interception in 12 games played.

“One thing you can say about Roquan is he will run sideline to sideline,” Akiem Hicks added. “I mean, he just has a pair of wheels on him that just won't stop. That's one of the things that separates him is he can get anywhere you need him to be, whether it's coverage or chasing a running back in the flats. It's pretty impressive.”

Nagy and the Bears talked at length on Monday about the ‘ebb and flow’ of an NFL season, especially as it pertains to younger players. He was quick to dismiss the idea that the mysterious-now-bordering-on-infamous personal absence, which caused Smith to miss Week 4’s win over Minnesota, in any way negatively affected how the organization views Smith’s year-to-year progress. His toughness has never been questioned – Prince Amukamara admitted that he was pretty confident Smith tore the muscle several plays before he came out – and coaches have been pleased with how he stepped up as a leader, especially in Danny Trevathan’s absence. 

“Well last year, coming in missing training camp and then being a rookie with an experienced defense – that can be challenging and he did a good job,” Nagy said. “Then coming into this year, you could sense his personality – you could see it extend a little bit more. You could see the relationships he had with those guys. You could see Danny Trevathan really take him under his wing and that was very important. So he's a guy that's really been growing …” 

And now the Bears head into the three straight weeks of playoff games that aren’t playoff games with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis as their starting inside linebacker duo. It’s a far cry from what the envisioned in Bourbonnais, but Kwiatkoski has earned himself more money every week, and as his top-grade performance against the Cowboys showed, KPL is no slouch either. Pierre-Louis is in line to make only the second start of his six-year career when the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday. 

“Once again, it’s just going back to knowing your ‘Why,’” Pierre-Louis said. “Why you grind each week, why you do the drills, why you go through the reps in practice. It’s times like this when you lean on your brothers. Ro’s down right now, and he’s going to need us for moral support…

“We have the right pieces. I just have to make sure that I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.” 

WATCH: Matt Nagy mic'd up during Bears' win over Cowboys

WATCH: Matt Nagy mic'd up during Bears' win over Cowboys

Bears coach Matt Nagy has maintained a steady and calm demeanor throughout the 2019 season, one which has fallen short of expectations in Chicago and around the NFL. But his team's current three-game winning streak has kept postseason hopes alive, even if just barely. 

And while Nagy may fill postgame press conferences with a bunch of cliches and coach-speak, his on-field personality is a better reflection of the former quarterback he actually is. 

Nagy was mic'd up for the Bears' Week 14 win over the Cowboys and it's easy to see why he's been able to keep this team together despite such a trying season. Other locker rooms might have fractured under the pressure that comes along with failure. Not Chicago's. And it's in large part due to the culture Nagy's created.

Here's a sneak peek into what's led to Nagy's 19-10 record through nearly two seasons on the job:

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