Bears

Fox Era begins for Bears with preseason win over Dolphins

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Fox Era begins for Bears with preseason win over Dolphins

It's the first preseason game, so everything is taken with a grain of salt.

But the Bears' first teams struggled to open up the preseason slate, forcing the second- and third-string units to come back for a 27-10 win over the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field in the first game under new head coach John Fox.

The No. 1 defense was gashed on the opening drive of the game, allowing a 14-play, 85-yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Jarvis Landry on fourth down.

Pernell McPhee - the biggest offseason addition to the Bears defense - helped set up the Dolphins' score with an offside penalty on third down.

Jay Cutler and the first-team offense managed to overcome a three-and-out on the first possession to put up points the second time out, but they finished with more penalties (four) than points (three).

Matt Forte didn't see any time with the first-team offense, as Jacquizz Rodgers rushed seven times for 33 yards (4.7 average). Cutler went 4-for-7 with 42 yards during his time on the field.

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Offensive coordinator Adam Gase was true to his word when he said the Bears were going to commit to the run this year as he called a perfect 50/50 split on run and pass plays (11 each) in the first half before the final drive of the half when backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen led the Bears down the field on seven straight passes. On that possession, Clausen and the Bears ultimately ran out of time even though they were inside the red zone.

Even though the first teams looked shaky for the Bears, the second and third teams turned it on in the second half, overcoming a 10-3 deficit at the break.

The defense forced turnovers on three straight Dolphins drives in the third and fourth quarters (a Sherrick McManis fumble and recovery, a John Timu interception and a Sam Acho interception) that led to 14 points for the Bears as Robbie Gould converted two field goals and Ka'Deem Carey rushed the ball in from one-yard out (with a subsequent two-point conversion).

Clausen got the lion's share of playing time at quarterback, taking over for Cutler on the third series and playing all the way into the final few minutes. He was 17-for-27 passing for 151 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

Senorise Perry closed out the scoring for the Bears with a 54-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining in the game.

Robbie Gould was a perfect 4-for-4 on the evening.

Local products Cameron Meredith (Illinois State) and Rashad Lawrence (Northwestern) were the Bears' top two receivers, as Meredith caught four passes on six targets for 47 yards and Lawrence hauled in three passes on seven targets for 25 yards.

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Jordan Howard in NFL's top-10 RBs

Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is entering an interesting season. He has just as good a chance of leading the NFL in rushing as he appears to have at losing reps to Tarik Cohen, a player some analysts feel is a better fit for coach Matt Nagy's system.

It's unfortunate that Howard isn't receiving the kind of praise a player like him deserves. He set the Bears' rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016. In 2017, he became the first running back in franchise history to start a career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Howard's production suggests he should be the feature back in Chicago's ground game. In fact, according to NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew, it's a no-brainer. He recently ranked Howard in the NFL's top-10 running backs.

7. Jordan Howard (Bears)

Even with the plethora of offensive weapons thanks to some offseason additions, the Bears' offense still must run through Howard. After rushing for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, Howard will be a key piece for first-year head coach Matt Nagy and will have to carry Chicago late in the season if the squad is going to make a playoff push.

Howard will be given every chance to prove he can thrive in Nagy's system early in the season. If he can prove reliable as a receiver, he could match Kareem Hunt's league-leading 1,327 yards last season. He'll have to be effective as a pass-catcher to keep Cohen from threatening for more touches.

Howard deserves this kind of respect for what he's done through two seasons as a pro. He may not be in the NFL's elite class just yet, but if he surpasses 1,200-plus rushing yards and threatens for 10 or more touchdowns again, it'll be an undeniable fact that Howard is a true franchise back.

 

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.

Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence. 

Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires. 

Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.