Following in the footsteps of pal and fellow next-backer-up Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis delivered an inspired performance in the Bears' win last Thursday over the Dallas Cowboys, which was as dominant as it was stunning.
The 28-year-old sixth-year veteran, who signed a one-year, $800,000 deal in March to back up Pro Bowl alternates Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and be a special-teams stalwart, earned his most extensive playtime on 'D' as a Bear, following the departure of Smith with a season-ending pec tear after only one series and 17 defensive snaps.
Uncannily, like Kwiatkoski in the Week 4 win vs. the Vikings, when he was thrust into action with Smith a late scratch for personal reasons, Pierre-Louis channeled Smith's dynamism — with "not inside linebacker stats."
"I told the guys, I dont know if I've ever had an inside linebacker have that kind of pass-rush production. Ro [Roquan Smith] had 2 sacks [in Detroit in Week 14], but Kevin had hurries, hits and PBUs," ILB coach Mark Deleone, who, by the way, coached Chiefs' legend Derrick Johnson in his final three seasons in Kansas City before working throughout this season with Smith, told Bears Insider this week.
Then there's Pierre-Louis, a 28-year-old journeyman who'd played on defense only twice prior to last week, combining for 26 snaps, before flourishing in a pinch-hitting role as a blitzer and coverage defender, not to mention helping shut down reigning rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott.
"A lot’s riding on your name on the back of the jersey. Guys are counting on you to make a play," Pierre-Louis told Bears Insider. "... Fortunately, I was able to make a couple of plays."
Pierre-Louis' stat line, even under difficult circumstances, might not jump off the playbook, but the same can't be said for his play on the field, where his speed coming forward, laterally and in retreat was a lethal weapon vs. the NFL's top-rated offense. His blitzing prowess, not unlike Smith's, was particularly evident. Don't believe us? Ask his teammate, starting DRE Bilal Nichols.
"I made a joke with him after the game, I told him he was bending the edge like he’s pass-rushed before," Nichols told us. "And it was great to see. That’s just a guy you like to see him do [well]. Because of the character of the guy, the way that he handles himself. So when he gets in there and he’s making plays, he’s being a force, you love to see it."
Pierre-Louis said his blitzing success, even if it was more so moving Prescott off his spots than getting home, is "something I realized I have in my back pocket." He also realizes as the "new guy," that he's likely to get targeted Sunday at Lambeau by Aaron Rodgers.
That Pierre-Louis' first extended starting opportunity in the NFL arrives against now, late in a contract year against the Bears' oldest rivals, could create an opportunity to put something else in his back pocket — if he has a few more performances like Thursday's.
With Pierre-Louis and Kwiatkoski potential free agents, as well as Danny Trevathan, the Bears face tough decisions on how to best complement Smith moving forward. The way all three have played, it may be a good problem to have for the Bears, so to speak. And especially for Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis, each in search of their first multi-year veteran NFL contracts, their auditions are for all 32 teams — including the LB-hungry Packers they'll face off against Sunday.
Just don't expect that reality to cloud Pierre-Louis' interim focus.
"Very back [of my mind] because you start to focus on that, you’ll miss what’s right in front of you," he said. "And that’s one thing I don’t want to do. I’ve watched guys' last play ever. You look too far ahead … you never know when your last play is going to be. So, I want to make sure of each play and make the most of it. And whatever happens, happens."