JJ STANKEVITZ

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing. 

With matchup against Golden Tate looming, Bears need Kyle Fuller to have a short memory

11-16kylefuller.jpg
USA Today

With matchup against Golden Tate looming, Bears need Kyle Fuller to have a short memory

A couple of relevant stats on Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate: Passes toward him average 6.5 yards in the air, the second-lowest average among NFL receivers this year (via NFL Next Gen Stats). Tate, though, leads receivers with 315 yards after the catch, and is ninth in the league with 659 total receiving yards. 

The point: Matthew Stafford gets Tate the ball quickly, and when he gets the ball, he’s a dangerous weapon. 

“He’s kind of built like a running back and runs like one,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a double threat – not just catching it but then after he catches it what he does with it. He’s good on the low routes but yet he can get deep balls also, too. He’s kind of a complete receiver with really good running ability after the catch.”

This is especially relevant for Kyle Fuller, who whiffed on a third down tackle attempt on Green Bay’s first drive last weekend, resulting in a 38-yard gain for Randall Cobb. Fuller went on to have his worst game of the season, allowing 127 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets and missing five tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Fuller was one of the Bears’ best defensive players in October, and with free agency looming after this year looked like he could be setting himself up for a sizable payday. But he’ll need a short memory to move on from his struggles against the Packers. 

“I hope (he has that),” Fangio said. “You need to at that position in this league.”

If Fuller’s tackling issues re-surface this weekend, Tate could be in for some gaudy numbers. Or Fuller could find his starting spot in jeopardy, with Marcus Cooper — who signed a three-year, $16 million contract in March but has only played 14 defensive snaps in the last three weeks — in position to play if coaches make that call. 

“Anything but your best effort in tackling, both from a mindset and technique stand point, is going to be needed when you are going up against a guy like this,” Fangio said. 

What's the solution for fixing Mitchell Trubisky's high sack rate?

11-15mitchelltrubisky.jpg
USA Today

What's the solution for fixing Mitchell Trubisky's high sack rate?

A common theme of Mitchell Trubisky and Dowell Loggains' mid-week press conferences has been that opposing defenses are throwing looks at the Bears' rookie quarterback they haven't shown on film before. That presents a problem for a young quarterback trying to study the tendencies of his opponents. 

Trubisky doesn't have a lot of experience at the NFL level, and will make his sixth career start on Sunday. Without that bank of experience on which to draw, he's struggled at times to identify coverages, and that's led to him getting sacked at a high rate. 

"The more snaps, the more reps you take the better you get," Trubisky said. "So just go back to the library and you start to see patterns in what they're throwing at you and what you've seen before, so it all helps. The more reps the better."

Historically, though, it's not unprecedented for a rookie quarterback to have some growing pains in terms of identifying what opposing defenses are doing, leading to that player taking a fairly heavy load of sacks. In the last 15 years, there have been 18 first-round quarterbacks to average more than two sacks per game, with Trubisky currently tied for the fourth-highest total:

 QB  Year  Sacks/Game
 David Carr  2002  4.8
 Blake Bortles  2014  3.9
 Jared Goff  2017  3.7
 Alex Smith  2005  3.2
 Marcus Mariota  2015  3.2
 Mitchell Trubisky  2017  3.2
 Paxton Lynch  2016  3.0
 E.J. Manuel  2013  2.8
 DeShaun Watson  2017  2.7
 Jay Cutler  2008  2.6
 Andrew Luck  2012  2.6
 Blaine Gabbert  2011  2.5
 Matthew Stafford  2009  2.4
 Cam Newton  2011  2.2
 Ryan Tannehill  2012  2.2
 Ben Roethlisberger  2004  2.1
 Sam Bradford  2010  2.1
 Carson Wentz  2016  2.1

This isn't a perfect measurement -- sacks per drop-back would be better, but for historical context would require film review of every snap each of these players took as a rookie, a task for which we don't have enough time. This total doesn't factor in the quality of the offensive line playing in front of the quarterback (Joey Harrington, for example, was sacked only 0.6 times per game in 2002). 

But it does back up what offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains brought up about Trubisky taking so many sacks.

"He's just gotta keep playing," Loggains said. "When you go back and look at it, look at Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, those guys took a lot of sacks early in their career. The part of what we're going through right now with Mitchell, and he is playing now, he has a knack for not turning the ball over and he's doing a good job with that. That's a huge plus. The next part of his game that will grow as he plays more is he'll start to take less and less sacks because he'll start to understand where check-downs are. A lot of young guys do this and he's learning a great lesson while taking care of the football."

(Rodgers took 2.1 sacks per game in 2008, his first year as a starter.)

Smith, since his rookie year, is averaging 2.5 sacks per game. Maybe the more encouraging example here is Mariota, who like Trubisky averaged 3.2 sacks per game his rookie year, but in 2016-2017, is averaging 1.4 sacks per game. Goff has only been sacked 1.4 times per game in his second year in the NFL. Even Bortles, despite a league-leading 51 sacks in 2015, is down to averaging 2.4 sacks per game since his rookie year. 

The point being: These things take time, but can be corrected with the benefit of experience seeing different NFL defenses. Trubisky not only knows he's taking too many sacks, but he knows why he's taking too many sacks. And that's at least a good starting point for improvement, too. 

"Ball security is very important so I'm just trying to take care of the football, but at the same time you want to stay aggressive and you could say the sacks are a result of that," Trubisky said. "I think the O-line has been playing their butt off and they've done a really good job in protection, so the sacks are more so me holding on to the football than a breakdown in protection. So they've been doing an awesome job, and I just have to continue to go through my progressions, get the ball out and find the check downs, and the more and more I play within the offense, I think you'll see growth and me getting the checkdowns and getting the ball out of my hands."