Amukamara Injury Adds to Bears Matchup Troubles with Dallas
Roquan Smith displayed a rarely used aspect of his game against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving with a few blitzes for two critical sacks, a career high.
Smith also had a career-high 15 tackles against Detroit, and on Thursday night against Dallas the Bears will need Smith's full array of skills whether it's trying to keep the league's top passing game in check or pursuing running back Ezekiel Elliott.
"I look at everything as a personal challenge for myself, but it's also a challenge for the defense," Smith said Monday at Halas Hall.
Since losing Danny Trevathan to an elbow injury, Smith has not only become a big play maker but a leader like Trevathan was
"He's making plays, he's directing traffic," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "With Danny out of there, he’s had to take on more of the communication stuff. Him and Nick (Kwiatkowski) are doing a great job, working together on that stuff.
"As far as playing against the run, the pass, send him on a pressure, obviously he made a huge play against the Lions down the stretch there. He's doing a great job. And he's getting better every week."
For Smith and the defense, containing Elliott will be a far greater challenge than some other running games have posed.
He's the league's sixth-leading rusher, and since the Bears lost Akiem Hicks to injured reserve their defense has been more susceptible to bigger lines and stretch runs by talented backs. The Dallas line and Elliott surely present these types of problems.
"He's a great, great back," Pagano said. "He's big. He's strong. He's got great vision. He can run. He can take it inside, bounce outside, run through you; run around you; jump over you.
"He's a threat out of the backfield as a receiver. He's good in pass pro. He's as good as they get."
The Bears have been so good at stopping the run over the past two seasons, they've become used to opponents simply giving up on the run during games. Even without Hicks, they're eighth against the run and fourth in yards allowed per rush attempt. They aren't expecting Dallas to become impatient if initially unsuccessful.
"These guys understand the value of a 4-yard run. And they don’t get away from that," Pagano said.
The pass defense might be even more overmatched than the run defense, particularly due to injury. Starting right cornerback Prince Amukamara missed Monday's practice due to a hamstring injury.
Cornerback has been a potential depth issue for the Bears all year because the backup is untested second-year player Kevin Toliver. Last year as an undrafted rookie out of LSU, Toliver played on 13 percent of the defensive snaps. This year he's been on the field for only three defensive snaps.
The Bears also could move Buster Skrine to the outside, but then they'd be leaving the important slot cornerback job in the hands of sixth-round draft pick Duke Shelley. In the past, they solved issues like this by playing slot cornerback Bryce Callahan outside, except on obvious passing downs. Then Toliver came on the field outside and Callahan moved to his regular spot.
"Whoever the next guy is, that person is ready to get up and play," coach Matt Nagy said of his defense. "Chuck has done a really good job at coming in this first year and teaching his system to these guys and then they've done a great job, in turn, of adapting to it.
Regardless of whether Amukamara is ready or not, this is going to be the start of a four-game stretch when the Bears face Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins.
"They understand it's the National Football League, and you're going to face great players week in and week out, and our focus right now is singular. It's just on Dak. He's a heck of a player, and we're going to have our hands full, not only stopping the run, but he's great in the pocket, he's great outside the pocket, he can make all the throws, all that kind of stuff."