John Fox

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. 

Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is

trubisky.jpg
USA TODAY

Understanding how steep Mitchell Trubisky’s learning curve really is

Looking at the care and feeding of a Mitchell Trubisky from a slightly different angle suggests that the rookie’s development has been quite a bit more difficult – and better – than realized from just a cursory look. For perspective purposes, consider:

The marquee Bears free-agency signing in 1994 was quarterback Erik Kramer, lured away from the division-rival Detroit Lions whom Kramer had quarterbacked to the playoffs two of the previous three seasons.

By midseason, though, Kramer had lost his starting job to Steve Walsh after successive and progressively more horrible outings against the Minnesota Vikings, Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Something was odd about that. I approached Kramer after a last-straw nightmare against the Packers and wondered why his play against those three was so abysmal (three touchdown passes, six inteceptions and eight sacks) – given that those all were teams with which he was intimately familiar, as opponents and as his own team (Lions). Meaning: He had more than a passing knowledge of where those defenses would line up and how they’d play.

“The problem isn’t knowing where those guys are going to be,” Kramer said. “It’s that I don’t know where MY guys are going to be.”

That was not Kramer knocking his receivers; it was a statement that he felt frustratingly lost in a new offense, a West Coast scheme under coordinator Ron Turner. Kramer was benched following a Green Bay game in which he threw two interceptions in just 10 first-half attempts.

Fast-forward to 2017 and understand how steep the slope is that Trubisky, who had only 13 collegiate starts, is attempting to climb.

Kramer at least knew what Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota defenses were doing. Trubisky hadn’t seen more than film of the Packers and Vikings before facing them, and will see the Lions for the first time next Sunday.

Add to that the exponentially complicating factor that Trubisky is still learning a Bears playbook that he has only used for five games (preseason and training camp never touch much of the playbook) and is being added to on a weekly basis.

“This is a new offense,” Trubisky said on Wednesday. “I was in North Carolina’s offense for four years, knew it like that back of my hand and could probably throw a check-down without even looking. We’re putting in new plays every week now so it’s a little different. In my development, I’ll have to memorize where everything’s at.

“I’m getting better with that each week. And some plays are better than others, just going through progressions and what I’m comfortable with, so I need to keep doing that. I’ll get better at that and get the ball out of my hands. It’ll get better.”

It needs to, if only for Trubisky’s well-being. Illustrative of Trubisky doing a lot – a WHOLE lot – of processing, he has taken sacks at a concerning rate: one sack every seven drop-backs for his last four starts. For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady takes one every 21 dropbacks. Aaron Rodgers, one of the more sacked elite quarterbacks, gets taken down once every 14,5 dropbacks. Mike Glennon, even with his and the offense’s early issues, was sacked once every 18.5 dropbacks. To his credit, Trubisky knows the chief reason for the 15 sacks over the last four games.

“The sacks are more so me holding on to the football than a breakdown in protection; [the offensive linemen] have been doing an awesome job,” Trubisky said. “I just have to continue to go through my progressions, get the ball out and find the checkdowns. 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, so, yeah, that's just where I need to take another step.”

*                          *                          *

One of my media colleagues raised a poignant point about coach John Fox, viewing Fox against the backdrop of Lovie Smith, fired after a 10-6 season and an 81-63 record as Bears coach. Smith lost a Super Bowl played against quarterback Peyton Manning. Fox lost a Super Bowl played WITH Manning.

So how good a coach is Fox, really? Better than Bill Belichick? Mmmmm… . Better than Bill Walsh? Ummmm… .

Consider:

Belichick is a combined 53-62 as a head coach without Tom Brady as his quarterback. That would be a winning percentage of .460.

Walsh without Joe Montana achieved a 49ers record of 17-23, a win percentage of .425.

Fox with Manning didn’t win that Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. But without Manning, Fox is unofficially 93-108 for a win rate of .462.