Dowell Loggains

Why aren't the Bears using Tarik Cohen more?

Why aren't the Bears using Tarik Cohen more?

Last month, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera explained why the Bears can be dangerous on offense when both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are on the field at the same time. 

“When they put them both in there, now you’ve got to play attention to both of them,” Rivera said. “If you treat it like it’s a nickel type of package and you put an extra DB in there, they’re going to run the ball at you. If you put a linebacker out there on them, now they’re going to isolate that linebacker on that back. I think the one one-two punch they have with those guys has worked very well for them as a football team.”

That line of thinking would, seemingly, feed into how Cohen can make an impact even if he isn’t getting handoffs or targets. The Bears like Cohen’s ability to be a decoy now that opposing defenses have figured out he’s the team’s best playmaker.

So why did Cohen only receive 13 offensive snaps on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers?

“You’re looking at one game,” coach John Fox said. “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.”

Cohen was always due a decline from his early-season usage, which peaked at 62.5 percent of the Bears’ snaps in that Week 2 blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in which Jordan Howard was given a rest as things got out of hand with a banged-up shoulder). But he was used on about one-third of the Bears’ plays against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6, throwing a touchdown and carrying 14 times for 32 yards. 

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains pointed to Cohen not matching up well against the Packers in pass protection as to why he was only on the field for 21.7 percent of the Bears’ snaps, his second-lowest percentage of the year (18.4 percent vs. Carolina). Cohen is not part of the Bears’ two-minute package, for example. 

“Tarik, he’s a really good player, sometimes the defense dictates who is going to be out there,” Loggains said. 

But why are opposing defenses dictating the personnel the Bears’ offense has?

“We might not feel great about Tarik in protection vs. Clay Matthews, or there may be a certain blitz they run,” Loggains said.

The fundamental issue here goes beyond Cohen’s usage, or lack thereof, and is that the Bears don’t enough other playmakers on offense outside of their undersized fourth-round pick. With more talent in this group, Cohen receiving 13 snaps wouldn’t be as significant a topic of discussion. 

But as long as the Bears need, as Loggains said last month, “Tarik to be that guy for us, the best playmaker we have,” the coaching staff has to seek a way to get him on the field more, even if it’s merely as a decoy. 

What about the receivers?

Josh Bellamy played 40 snaps on Sunday after totaling 14 in the Bears’ previous four games, while Tre McBride — who caught three passes for 92 yards in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints — only played seven snaps against Green Bay. 

Loggians said Bellamy’s uptick in playing time was because the Bears though they needed his speed in the offense. That doesn’t speak well to how much the coaches trusted Markus Wheaton, who was a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday leading up to the weekend but hadn’t played since Week 5 due to a groin injury (Wheaton said barely playing against Green Bay was “extremely frustrating,” but acknowledged he still needed to prove he’s healthy). 

“Sometimes statistically when you say (McBride) played the best game of his career, that may not match with what the coaches see on tape when balls aren't going your way or how you're getting separation vs. man coverage or other things,” Loggains said. “We thought Bellamy gave us an element of speed that we needed that week. He's always been a good blocker. Part of that thought process was we needed to stretch the field and he's probably our fastest wide receiver. He came up big on the long touchdown pass. That was really why we did it.”

Bellamy, though, only had two catches on seven targets, and didn’t track a pass from Trubisky with the “great urgency” needed to catch it on the Bears’ last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter, Loggains said. 

It wasn’t all disappointing for the Bears’ receivers on Sunday, though, with Dontrelle Inman impressing Loggains with how quickly he developed a chemistry with Mitchell Trubisky. 

“(He’s) a big guy that was in the right spots — a calming presence for Mitchell,” Loggains said. “I think you guys felt as the game went Mitchell’s confidence with him grew. And confidence is only born from demonstrated ability. Mitchell needed to see the that. He needed to see Dontrelle go out and be in the right spots. He did a nice job with it.” 

Why this trip to New Orleans may not be the right time for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky

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USA Today

Why this trip to New Orleans may not be the right time for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky

The last four quarterbacks to start against the New Orleans Saints don’t exactly have a pretty track record: Brett Hundley, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton combined to complete 74 of 131 passes for 730 yards with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. On a per-game average, that comes out to a 56 percent completion rate, 183 yards, less than one touchdown and two interceptions. 

New Orleans’ defense may be prone to allowing yards (5.7 per play, 27th in the NFL), but they’re allowing an average of 22.2 points per game (16th), so this isn’t necessarily a leaky defense. Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranks the Saints’ defense 15th, backing up the traditional numbers: This is about an average defense, but one that succeeds against the pass (6th in passing DVOA). 

It’s also a defense that struggles against the run. Opposing rushers have averaged 4.9 yards per carry against the Saints, tied for the second-highest average in the league. 

And it’s worth noting that the Saints had at least one takeaway in their four wins; in their two losses, they didn’t force a turnover. Worth noting, too: Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was John Fox’s defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos in 2011.

So this all begs the question: Is this the game for the Bears to open things up for Mitchell Trubisky?

“Dennis does a good job,” Fox said. “I think they got off to a little bit of a rough start both against Minnesota and then New England, but I think they’ve improved and you see that. I think that’s why their record has improved. They’ve run off four in a row and are playing really good football right now.

“… (They’ve improved) just in assignments, guys playing with better eyes, guys being where they’re supposed to me. We had some of the same ills to start the season, but we’ve improved and so have they.”

The Bears can find a way for Trubisky to throw the ball more than seven times with some safe, quick gain concepts, or try to get him out of the pocket on play-action rollouts if the Saints’ defense allows it. The issue of running the ball is an interesting one, too: Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart is the only running back to face eight or more men in the box on over 50 percent of his runs against the Saints this year. 

If the Saints don’t stack the box, it could allow the Bears to do what they did so well against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. And that could mean Trubisky doesn’t throw the ball a whole lot. 

But as long as the Bears emerge with a win — which, to drive home the point, would get this team to .500 halfway through the season — it doesn’t matter how conservative the plan is for their rookie quarterback. 

“Winning’s the most important thing,” Trubisky said. “I don’t care if I throw zero passes if we win the game. I don’t care if I’m not playing if we’re winning the game. As long as the Chicago Bears are winning, we’re doing something right.”

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

Kendall Wright has been the Bears’ most productive receiver in 2017, with 20 catches on 26 targets for 236 yards and a touchdown. But he only played eight snaps against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, about 21 percent of the offense’s total.

The Bears’ gameplan — which went ultra-conservative after Eddie Jackson’s two touchdowns — was centered around a run-first, mistake-free approach that dictated more heavier sets (two tight ends, two tight ends and a fullback, three tight ends, etc). And that led to Wright being used sparingly.

“When you’re in the bigger groupings and trying to play to your strengths that way it does limit some of the things he does,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “The last two weeks we’ve chosen to do some no-huddle stuff on third down to kind of help Mitchell (Trubisky). So, it has limited some of Kendall’s touches and those things.”

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Wright, who played under Loggains during his most productive years with the Tennessee Titans and signed a one-year prove-it contract in the offseason. He’s a savvy, football-smart veteran who can reliably get open, especially ahead the chains on third down. Those traits haven’t vanished.

But the team views Wright mostly as a slot receiver with some ability to play outside, though it’s telling that over 70 percent of his snaps since Trubisky took over at quarterback have come in three-receiver sets.

This is where Dontrelle Inman could, theoretically, help get Wright on the field more. Inman had success last year with the Chargers as someone with the flexibility to play inside and outside, but at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he has better size to play outside than the 5-foot-10, 194 pound Wright.

It’s unlikely Inman — who coach John Fox expects to take his physical either Wednesday night or Thursday morning — will step in and make an immediate impact on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Not only will Inman have to get up to speed on a new offense quickly, but he hasn’t been active since Oct. 8 and last was targeted Oct. 1. Inman has two catches on four targets this year after a 97-target, 58-catch, 810-yard breakout season in 2016.

But the addition of Inman gives the Bears a low-risk, low-cost (ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Chargers are receiving a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick in the trade) shot at finding a wide receiver for Trubisky to trust. But even if he doesn’t find the form he had a year ago, perhaps he’ll help allow the Bears to find a way to get Wright on the field a little more. And Wright is definitely someone Trubisky can trust.

“(Wright)’s a guy in my opinion who’s better when he doesn’t play 75 snaps,” Loggains said last week. “When he gets to play in that 25-35 range, he’s fresh and can bring the energy and juice.”