CHICAGO – It’s becoming a familiar story for the Bears defense.
When linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis heard his name called Thursday at Soldier Field, there was no time to think. There’s no thinking in those moments. Just play.
Pierre-Louis stepped in for injured Roquan Smith in the first quarter and played most of the Bears’ 31-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.
The same thing happened with linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski last month when starter Danny Trevathan left a game against the Lions with an elbow injury.
“Kevin’s a guy, he’s been around the league, he knows,” Kwiatkoski said. “He knows that can happen. He’s been in that situation before. He’s a guy that comes to work every day preparing like he’s going to play.”
Smith left Thursday's game on the first possession with a pectoral injury. He did not return. His status moving forward is unknown.
“It could be a big loss because the way Roquan has been playing the last couple weeks, flying around and making plays and you just love that confidence that he's bringing to the defense,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "So the depth that [general manager Ryan Pace] and his guys have created on this roster allows a guy like Kevin Pierre-Louis to step up and make plays.”
Kwiatkoski said he spoke with Smith after the game and that the Bears’ 2018 first-round draft pick was “in good spirits.”
Pierre-Louis finished his day with five tackles, one tackle for loss and one QB hurry. He’s a sixth-year pro who, as Kwiatkoski said, has been around long enough to know how these things work.
NFL backups are paid high salaries to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. If it doesn’t go well, it can be a thankless job. The Bears backup inside linebackers have done it exceptionally well.
“This defense works for everybody, all 11 guys on the field, the guys on the sideline,” Pierre-Louis said. “Whenever somebody comes in, we all have each other’s back and that’s what happened today.”
The Bears cruised for much of Thursday’s game, but allowed two late touchdowns to make the score closer than it felt. At one point, the Bears defense stopped Dallas on nine straight third-down attempts.
The Bears also used backup cornerback Kevin Toliver, who played in place of injured Prince Amukamara (out with a hamstring injury). Toliver, a second-year player who went undrafted in 2018, was tasked with stopping the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
“Like [defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano] said, it’s nameless faces,” Toliver said. “I just went out there and played like he wasn’t nobody. Just playing my technique and making good plays.”
Though the Bears were mum this week, Toliver said he knew he would play as early as Sunday. Add defensive lineman Akiem Hicks to that list and the Bears were down four starters. It sure didn't seem like it Thursday.
Pierre-Louis credited the Bears' preparation. For the linebackers, a big part of that is Trevathan, who remains involved in the film room.
“It’s big having a veteran guy like that, having that football mind helping you break down film,” Kwiatkoski said. “Even on the sideline, today, other games. ‘What are you seeing?’ It’s like having another coach there almost.”