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.
The Bears are hurtling toward another last-place finish in the NFC North, and Mitchell Trubisky is 2-4 as the team’s starting quarterback after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But talk to any of Trubisky’s teammates and it's clear they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for this team, and it’s because of the bright future their quarterback has.
“He’s still young right now, a little green,” offensive lineman Bobby Massie said. "But he’s getting better every week, man.”
Explained fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long: “Just his poise and sense of urgency, at the end of the game to have the wherewithal to make the throws he’s making. Obviously it’s not all perfect — he’s a young quarterback in this league — but he has the confidence and trust of the guys around him. And that’s a rare thing in this league to have.”
Massie, like Long, also used the word “rare” in describing Trubisky, a guy who’s only started 20 games since leaving Mentor High School in 2013 (13 games at North Carolina, one in the preseason and six in the regular season). Massie, Long and the rest of the Bears’ locker room know how good Trubisky can be — or maybe, the way they’re thinking, will be — despite some uneven games this year.
The flashes of what the No. 2 overall pick can do keep on showing up, like that 18-yard jump pass to Kendall Wright that set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens, or his instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 on Sunday that set up a game-tying 46-yard field-goal attempt that Barth missed.
“That’s his mentality — y’all got to see his mentality,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “That situation, fourth and 13, he’s not going down, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball away — he’s going to find a way to make a play, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to be.”
On the other hand, there were still some missed throws and reads for Trubisky (like not connecting with Benny Cunningham on a check-down five yards from the end zone in the first quarter) that serve as a reminder of his greenhorn status.
But it’s what Trubisky has done before and after those highlight or lowlight-reel plays that’s building a groundswell of confidence in him among his teammates.
The Bears got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 91 seconds left in the fourth quarter needing a field goal to tie the Lions on Sunday. When Trubisky entered the huddle, he was calm and confident — same as he was in the first quarter of the game, when the stakes weren't so high.
“He came to huddle and told everybody, 'Calm down, we’re going to win this game,'" wide receiver Dontrelle Inman said. “And that’s what the greats do. There’s no up and down with the emotional level when it comes time to actually go win the game. That’s a plus for him.
“He’s a competitor, and you see it week in and week out. He’s never going to give up. That’s the quarterback you want to be with you and throwing you the ball.”
That Trubisky’s teammates have so much confidence in him — despite the Bears’ 3-7 record — is a significant positive for his long-term development (that he’s only thrown one interception in his last 120 pass attempts is another positive). On Sunday, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to have more confidence in Trubisky, too, with the pair opening up the playbook and leading to the Bears having their best offensive game of the season.
That trust might not lead to a lot of wins this year. It might not be enough to keep the current coaching staff in place. But the way Trubisky’s teammates talk about him, they don’t see any hurdles the rookie can’t clear on his way to becoming a legit franchise quarterback.
“It’s rare and it’s the start of something special that we get to see,” Massie said. “Hopefully — I can’t predict the f***ing future — but from this point on, it looks like he’s going to be a special player.”