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First-and-10: Bears can’t avoid Roquan explanation forever

Sooner rather than later, Bears fans deserve to know why Smith isn’t playing.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith prepares for the snap against the Packers in September. Smith tore a pectoral muscle against the Cowboys on Thursday and will miss the rest of the season.
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, a late scratch against the Vikings for “personal reasons,” was at Halas Hall on Tuesday but did not speak with reporters. His availability for Sunday’s game against the Raiders in London is unknown.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Roquan Smith’s unexplained absence presents a classic modern-day sports conflict: Roquan’s right to privacy vs. Bears fans right to know why one of the best players on the team isn’t on the field.

Both sides have merit. That coach Matt Nagy, normally among the most forthright head coaches in the NFL, is absolutely tight-lipped on the Roquan situation is a clear indication this is a deeply personal matter. If Smith merely broke a team rule, chances are Nagy would indicate that to us.

Then again, Bears fans shouldn’t be left totally in the dark. Their investment of emotion, time and money in the team gives them a right to at least a general explanation for the absence of a key player. The Bears’ public relations playbook historically has been written in crayon, but even they have to know that while the player’s privacy comes first, you still have to throw a little respect the fans’ way.

Be that as it may, the Bears deserve a little space to let the dust settle. But if Roquan doesn’t play against the Raiders on Sunday, the Bears eventually will have some explaining to do. With all due respect to Smith, it’s their duty and the fans’ right.

2. Roquan’s presence at Halas Hall — he even made a brief appearance in the locker room during a media session Tuesday before Bears media relations staffers sent him back — indicated the situation is manageable. Teammates reactions indicated that as well.

Asked if he was concerned about Smith, linebacker Danny Trevathan said with a chuckle, “Probably not as concerned as you guys, because y’all keep asking questions. I’m just here to work and have my guy back.”

3. Every good defense or offense thinks their backups would be starters elsewhere in the league. That often turns out to be wishful thinking. But Nick Kwiatkoski’s performance in place of Smith was as real as it gets.

Kwiatkoski, a fourth-round draft pick from West Virginia in 2016 who started seven games as a rookie and six games in 2017, is firmly entrenched as Smith’s back-up. He played a starring role against the Vikings — a team-high nine tackles, a sack and forced fumble and two tackles-for-loss.

It was the best performance by a Bears linebacker in a fill-in role since Jamar Williams had 19 tackles and two pass breakups in place of Lance Briggs in a 17-9 victory over the Rams in 2009 — and maybe better.

4. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was burned when he played reserve safety Deon Bush for a series against the Packers in the opener. But the idea of developing depth is paying off. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis played 25 snaps against the Vikings and had four tackles.

Pierre-Louis is a six-year veteran who played on the Seahawks’ defense in 2014 that was the best in the NFL. The Legion of Boom played with an edge that few teams could match. Pierre-Louis sees that same kind of attitude with the Bears.

“You hit the nail on the head with attitude,” he said. “There’s an attitude to this defense where you know no matter what they’re going to bring a certain type of football. I’m not going to say one [defense] is better than the other. I’ll just say that I’m witnessing something I’ve already seen.”

5. The Bears are not going to start Chase Daniel at quarterback when Mitch Trubisky is healthy, and should not. The Bears’ Super Bowl hopes for this season are predicated on Trubisky developing with this offense. That means, being better in Week 12 or 13 than he was in Week 1 or Week 2. And that can’t happen if he’s not playing. Don’t go there.

6. The Bears’ defense not only plays at high level, but rises to the occasion when it has to. With the 16-6 victory over the Vikings, the Bears are now 5-1 (.833) over in the last two seasons when they score fewer than 17 points — the only loss was to the Packers 10-3 in this year’s opener.

No other team is over .500. In fact, the rest of the NFL is 24-177 (.119) when scoring fewer than 17 points.

7. Unsung stat: The Bears committed seven penalties for 50 yards in the first half against the Vikings. They had no penalties in the second half.

8. The London game is always a challenge because of the travel, time change and teams being out of their routine and element. But under Nagy, the Bears are pretty good at clearing hurdles. Since last season, they are now 2-0 on Monday Night Football; 2-0 following Monday Night Football; 4-1 after a loss; 6-2 in September; 6-2 in the NFC North; and 7-3 on the road.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: While the Bears’ running game featuring rookie David Montgomery struggles to find its footing, Eagles running back Jordan Howard scored three touchdowns, including a tie-breaking two-yard run early in the fourth quarter of a 34-27 upset victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.

Howard also scored on a one-yard rush and a 20-yard pass reception. He rushed for 87 yards on 15 carries (5.8 avg.) had three receptions for 28 yards. After four games, he has rushed for 186 yards on 40 carries (4.7 avg.) and three touchdowns.

Howard has scored as many touchdowns in one game against the Packers with the Eagles as he had in six games against the Packers with the Bears.

It’s the second consecutive week the McCown winner has been a player who was traded because he was a bad fit for the Bears’ offense. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who was traded by the Bears in 2011 because he wasn’t necessary in Mike Martz’s offense, won it last week. That was a trade the Bears regret, or should. The Howard trade still figures to pan out in the Bears’ favor. But that’s hardly a sure thing at this point.

10. Bear-ometer: 9-7 — vs. Raiders in London (W); vs. Saints (W); vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (L); vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).