Bears

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

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USA TODAY

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

It’s not that Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers never wants Tarik Cohen to try to pick up another punt that’s bouncing deep into Bears territory. It’s just that he doesn’t want the explosive rookie to try to pick up the ball when he’s surrounded by multiple defenders. 

That’s what Cohen did on Sunday, leading to a prompt fumble recovered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which needed only one play to get in the end zone after the fourth-round pick’s gaffe. The challenge for Rodgers then is coaching up Cohen to retain his aggressiveness, but not make the same mistake twice. 

“We’re not down on the kid,” Rodgers said. “He’s trying to make an aggressive play and that’s always going to be in his nature. That’s what you like about the kid. 

“… I think you’ve just got to coach him as time goes on and say, ‘hey, the reason why you wouldn’t do something like that in this situation is because of this,’ or ‘this was a good play because of that.’ It’s so hard as a coach to prepare a player for every possible scenario, so you’re trying to give him general guidelines and rules to follow in the different situations he finds himself in.”

Cohen said after Sunday’s game he wanted to keep the ball from bleeding further toward the Bears’ goal line. He owned his mistake and made no excuses for it, saying if he faces that situation again he won’t try to grab the ball. 

But Rodgers pointed out a pair of punt return touchdowns that began with a player picking up a bouncing ball deep in their own territory: This from Tavon Austin and this Trindon Holliday score. Cohen has the skill to make a similar play, so Rodgers doesn’t want him avoiding every single bouncing ball from here on out. 

He just wants Cohen to be smarter when confronted with a bouncing ball and a handful of defenders surrounding him. 

“You’re not trying to dwell on the negative and keep reminding him that he made a mistake on the field,” Rodgers said. “You’re trying to coach him as best we can before those things happen and say, ‘hey, if you ever get in this situation...’ But a lot of that is learning experience. Unfortunately that one didn’t work out but hopefully next time, based on field position, based on proximity of opponent players, he’ll make a different decision.

Bears regress to their 2017 mean in uninspiring loss to Lions

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USA TODAY

Bears regress to their 2017 mean in uninspiring loss to Lions

DETROIT — Whatever positive vibes the Bears generated in their blowout win last weekend were quickly snuffed out by a conservative gameplan and sloppy, undisciplined play in a 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Saturday at Ford Field.

For the Bears, Saturday was rife with penalties (13 for 97 yards), minimal running gains, short throws and missed opportunities. It was a return to the kind of football this team had all too consistently played since the bye week, and is why the Bears are 4-10 — with an 0-5 record against the NFC North. Whereas last week’s 26-point win over the Cincinnati Bengals provided, perhaps, a flicker of hope for John Fox to save his job, yet another dismal loss lacking any semblance of “progress” likely extinguished that.

The Bears entered halftime down by only 10 points despite a dismal showing in the first half, punctuated by Fox’s decision to punt on fourth-and-one from his team’s 45-yard line. With the Bears’ defense looking gassed, the Lions executed a 10-play, 97-yard touchdown drive highlighted by Marvin Jones beating Eddie Jackson on a third-and-18 heave for a 58-yard gain.

While the Bears struggled to move the ball in the first half — only picking up five total first downs and averaging 2.1 yards per run — the second half turned into something a little more sinister.

Mitchell Trubisky was picked off on the second play of the third quarter, when he rolled to his left and overthrew Kendall Wright into the hands of cornerback Darius Slay. He threw a worse interception on third-and-goal from the five-yard line in the fourth quarter, with Quandre Diggs picking that one off. There will be teaching points from those interceptions, of course, and a lack of execution around Trubisky certainly didn’t help his case.

Trubisky did rebound to make some quality throws in the second half, like a 22-yarder to Markus Wheaton and a 19-yarder to Wright. Managing to lead a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter on a drive on which the Bears committed five penalties was a decent accomplishment for him, though not necessarily his teammates.

But this game felt like a step backward for Trubisky and the rest of a team that played so well just six days ago. But maybe instead of a step backward, it’s more accurate to view this as a regression to the mean — and that’s the level of play for a team that, for the fourth consecutive season, will finish with 10 or more losses.

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

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USA Today

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

The question was posed to Mitchell Trubisky at Paul Brown Stadium following the Bears’ 33-7 destruction of the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend: Was the offensive more aggressive today?

“Sure, it’s fair to say,” Trubisky said with a confident, wry grin. “Everyone’s got opinions.”

The follow-up: Is it accurate to say that?

“It’s accurate,” Trubisky said. 

Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with both a passing and rushing touchdown in Cincinnati, but more importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over while operating a more aggressive and expansive gameplan. The effectiveness of the Bears’ ground game — led by Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and, as heading an excellent showing by the offensive line, Cody Whitehair — helped make sure the passing game was going to open up against a depleted and downtrodden Bengals defense. 

The Detroit Lions have a lot more to play for on Saturday at Ford Field than the Bengals did last weekend: At 7-6, they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive NFC. Detroit didn’t have standout defensive end Ziggy Ansah for its 27-24 win over the Bears at Soldier Field in November; Ansah is officially questionable for Saturday but seems likely to play. 

As my colleague John ‘Moon’ Mullin pointed out, though, the biggest key for the Bears on Saturday will be not turning the ball over: The Lions have been losers in three of the four games in which their defense didn’t generate a takeaway. But since squeaking by the Bears in Week 11, the Lions lost by seven at home to the Minnesota Vikings, were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens and — despite forcing five turnovers — beat the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers by only three points last week. 

So even though the Lions have something to play for, this is a team that’s beatable. Expect another close game; if the Bears play close to as well as they did against Cincinnati, they very well could leave Michigan with their fifth win of the season. 

Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 23