Bears

The Bears got Tarik Cohen on the field more. But why not on their last possession?

The Bears got Tarik Cohen on the field more. But why not on their last possession?

Tarik Cohen had as many touches Sunday against the Detroit Lions as he had snaps against the Green Bay Packers last weekend, with that connecting number being 13. The rookie running back was on the field for 29 of the Bears’ 63 snaps (46 percent) in their 27-24 loss, his second highest usage rate on offense of the season. 

But when the Bears needed a few plays to, at least, get into field goal range in the fourth quarter, Cohen was nowhere to be found. Why?

“It’s just moreso about me learning more things in the offense, so in hurry-up situations I can be in the slot or I can go to the X receiver or Z receiver, or be in the backfield,” Cohen said.

When asked what he doesn't know, Cohen explained: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

There’s logic here: The Bears were going to have to pass needing to gain at least 50 yards in 91 seconds to get into range for a game-tying field goal. Cohen hasn’t been featured much in the Bears’ two-minute packages, with Benny Cunningham able to fill a role as both a pass blocker and reliable check-down guy out of the backfield. And if Cohen’s knowledge of the Bears’ hurry-up route concepts is lacking, he may not be effective had he been on the field. 

Also: That Cohen doesn’t have expansive knowledge of the Bears’ playbook isn’t necessarily surprising, and that’s not a knock on a guy who’s only played in 10 games in his NFL career. Perhaps the Bears could’ve schemed to get Cohen on the field in that final minute and a half, but thanks to some highlight-reel plays by Mitchell Trubisky, the offense still delivered a makable game-tying kick for Connor Barth. 

(The bigger gripe on that last drive may be the absence of tight end Adam Shaheen, who showed good chemistry with Trubisky and caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.)

Cohen, though, was outstanding when he was on the field, tying the game in the fourth quarter on a well-designed pitch play with a leaping lunge into the end zone (“I felt like I had a 44-inch vert,” Cohen said). He carried nine time for 44 yards and caught four of six targets for 15 yards, though he lost eight yards on a reception when Trubisky made a bad decision to throw him the ball a few plays before his 15-yard touchdown. 

And the threat of Cohen was something the Lions had to respect, which helped open things up for Trubisky, Jordan Howard and the rest of the offense. It makes it all the more head-scratching that the Bears, coming off a bye week, couldn’t get Cohen on the field for more than those 13 snaps against the Packers a week ago. 

“It gives us versatility,” Trubisky said. “We can use him as a decoy and as a playmaker. I think the offensive line did a great job up front creating seams for Jordan and Tarik all game. It’s going to be an emphasis for us moving forward, continuing to stay in rhythm on offense and get the ball to our playmakers. We have to make sure Tarik and Jordan get their touches so we can be rolling.”

And eventually, perhaps those touches will come with a game on the line in the fourth quarter. 

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.