The day he arrived in Bourbonnais for training camp, Bears star Khalil Mack predicted Roquan Smith would be an All-Pro linebacker this season. It’s probably too late for Smith to claim one of those spots, but he’s playing at that level lately.
Smith was a powerhouse in the Bears’ 24-20 victory against the Lions on Thursday, playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps for a second consecutive week and putting up a game the NFL hasn’t seen in six years: 15 tackles, two sacks.
Not only was the production impressive, the aesthetics were, too. He looked fast from the Lions’ opening play, when he darted to the line, tracked Bo Scarbrough the whole way and stuffed him.
“Just watching the tape yesterday, he’s flying around,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You can just see that it really seems like his confidence is there, his instincts are there and he’s playing fast.”
Smith did some of his best work at the end, when the Lions were fighting for a game-winning touchdown and reached the Bears’ 26-yard line before Eddie Jackson ended the drive with an interception.
Smith committed a costly penalty while chasing down Ty Johnson on a screen pass with a late tackle well out of bounds, but he made a great effort just to catch Johnson, and it appeared that Johnson stepped on Smith’s left foot as they went toward the sideline.
More important, though, he rebounded strongly.
Smith halted the Lions’ momentum on the next play by stopping tight end T.J. Hockenson immediately after a one-yard catch.
Then, on third-and-nine, Smith blitzed up the middle and got to quarterback David Blough in less than two seconds for a 13-yard sack — credit Nick Kwiatkoski with an assist because he drew the attention of the chipping running back. That’s the elite skill Smith brings: uncommon speed at inside linebacker.
Here are some other observations after studying the film on the Bears’ victory:
The Bears hadn’t looked this good to start a game all season. Every play worked perfectly, they got at least five yards on every first down, committed no penalties and got significant contributions from three skill players.
Rookie running back David Montgomery’s first carry was a toss right, and he picked up five yards thanks mainly to precise blocks by right tackle Cornelius Lucas and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. Montgomery followed with a 14-yard draw play in which he instantly identified a path to the right opened by left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair and right guard Rashaad Coward.
Montgomery, by the way, did not have a negative carry in 16 attempts. In fact, the Bears’ only lost yardage came on a sack and a kneel-down at the end.
Mitch Trubisky was 4-for-4 for 31 yards on that drive and was sharp throughout. He had great timing on a five-yard pass to Robinson, hit Tarik Cohen in stride for seven and came back to Robinson with a crisp screen that yielded nine yards. The 10-yard touchdown pass to Robinson was good enough that it gave Robinson time to turn and lunge for the end zone before the defenders could react.
Three smart touchdowns
Trubisky’s second and third touchdown passes were even better, both coming with the third option on the play.
With the Bears down 17-10 late in the third quarter, the pocket collapsed quickly, and the Lions had solid coverage. Trubisky quickly spotted tight end Jesper Horsted behind two defenders and delivered a beauty over his shoulder.
“Mitch made a good read,” Horsted said. “And I just beat my guy.”
On the game-winner to Montgomery with 2:17 left, Trubisky got good protection and cycled through his receivers until Montgomery popped loose just past a crowd at the line of scrimmage. It was one of the most decisive throws he has made this season.
Still waiting on Cohen
As the Bears keep looking for answers to unlock their offense, Cohen could be the difference-maker. Nagy, Cohen and Trubisky have talked about it for weeks, but they just can’t get him going.
Keep in mind, this guy led the team in yards from scrimmage last season and averaged 6.9 yards per touch. This season, he’s at 5.7 per catch and 3.2 per rush.
He had three runs for nine yards and four catches for 26 yards in the first half against the Lions but didn’t get a carry or target the rest of the game.
On his four receptions, the only time he got the ball with room to do something was on a third-and-eight early in the first quarter. Trubisky threw it to him a yard past the line of scrimmage, and Cohen had no shot at getting enough for a first down.
The Lions blanketed him on the other three catches, including an amazing one-hander by Cohen in which safety Tavon Wilson was already wrapping him up as the ball arrived.