Bears

Bears film breakdown: Tarik Cohen remains a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season

Bears film breakdown: Tarik Cohen remains a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season

Tarik Cohen's 61-yard punt return score -- on which he actually ran 127 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats -- was one of the most exciting plays by a Bears player in recent memory, and was a much-needed reminder for this team than 2017 hasn't been a complete disappointment. 

"I wouldn’t necessarily say it we drew it up like that," Cohen said. "It was designed for me to get to the left somehow. So when I first got it, my job is to set the defense up and they were really coming aggressively, so that’s why I had to take it that far back to finally turn around and get back to the left side. When I got back to the left side I had all my teammates there, my blockers, to escort me to the end zone."

Cohen nearly had another explosive punt return in Sunday's 15-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, too, though that 67-yarder was called back due to a penalty on Ben Braunecker. He played 16 of the Bears' 37 offensive snaps and had six touches, cathing four passes for 39 yards and rushing twice for five yards. 

"I think we're using Tarik just fine," coach John Fox said. "As a guy out of the backfield, you know he's one of our most explosive players so I don't think there's a lack of knowledge of who and how we use him."

Cohen's numbers should've been better against San Francisco, too, had there been better execution on these two offensive plays: 

This is the first one, coming with the Bears on the 49ers 44-yard line late in the first quarter. Dion Sims (blue arrow) is going to pull to his left, as is right guard Kyle Long, into a hole between left tackle Charles Leno and tight end Adam Shaheen, with Cohen following him. 

Long (red arrow) is pulling and will block Brock Coyle (50) in the hole, while Sims' man is linebacker Reuben Foster (56). 

Things are setting up well here, with Long and Sims plunging into the hole ahead of Cohen. Also worth highlighting is the green arrow: Adam Shaheen doing a good job blocking linebacker Eli Harold. 

If Sims can block Foster (blue arrow), Cohen will have a clear run at the second level, perhaps even the end zone. 

But Sims whiffs to the outside shoulder of Foster, who's able to bring Cohen down. Coyle was credited with the tackle in the official box score, but this was mostly Foster's tackle. 

***

The second one is a passing play early in the second quarter, coming one play after Jordan Howard dropped a pass from Mitchell Trubisky on first down. Cohen (yellow circle) is matched up with cornerback Greg Mabin at the top of the screen. The left side of the Bears' offensive line (blue arrows) will head for the second level and look to trigger an explosive play. 

Cohen runs a good route, faking a quick slant and stopping on a dime to come back to receive the pass from Trubisky, who just completed a play fake to Howard. Leno (72), Josh Sitton (71) and Cody Whitehair (65) quickly get into position to barge into the second level. 

Cohen catches the pass and the Bears have what they want: Two offensive linemen bearing down on a pair of defensive backs in Mabin and Adrian Colbert (38).

Colbert slips and takes out Sitton's knees (blue circle), but Leno engages with Mabin instead of running through the 49ers cornerback. He doesn't disengage until Cohen is past him, and a flag is thrown, negating what would've been a 25-yard gain to midfield. 

These are the kind of plays the Bears need to clean up by the 2018 season, when the team can hope Cohen is a key weapon in a much-improved offense. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

On Saturday, President Trump talked to several commissioners of professional sports leagues and reportedly told them that he believes the NFL season will start on time despite the ongoing pandemic. A day later, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about that possibility.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Jake Tapper asked Pritzker if the Bears would be playing in Soldier Field in September, and if there would be fans. Pritzker did not give a definitive prediction.

“Well, the Bears are a great team whether they’re playing or not, but I will say this, it’s not up to us,” Pritzker said. “We don’t know. None of us really knows. But what I do know is this; if the researchers are able to come up with a treatment, something that will save lives, something that will keep people off ventilators, maybe even keep them out of hospitals, then that will be an enormous development for our country and for the future. It may allow us to open things up in the way the president is describing. But the truth is that no one predicts now that we’re going to have that treatment any time in the next few weeks or even in the next month, and no one really knows if we’ll have it by September.”

“What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem,” Pritzker said. “Because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”

The sports world will continue to hold its breath until there are more answers.

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Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

I used this space on Friday to explain why I see Nick Foles as the clear favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Based on the information we have, it’s easy to see why Foles should beat out Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ “open competition.” 

And I very much believe that'll happen. But I do want to acknowledge something here, an unknown of sorts: We don’t know how Trubisky will handle a legitimate competition. 

“The competitor that Mitch is, the way that he was with us was really neat to see because he embraced it,” Matt Nagy said. “It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got.’”

Nagy and Ryan Pace both talked up Trubisky’s competitive nature when discussing the Foles trade over about 40 minutes on Friday. It’s all they can talk up at this point — anything else about his game or past results would’ve been hot air. Maybe the competitiveness thing is hot air, too. 

But this brings up a question that’s lingered as Trubisky’s career has drifted into disappointing territory, so follow my tangent: Why wasn’t he North Carolina’s starting quarterback sooner in college?

Trubisky sat behind Marquise Williams for two and a half seasons before taking over as the Tarheel’s QB1 in 2016. Williams spent one training camp with the Green Bay Packers before being cut and spent the next few years as a backup in the CFL, AAC and XFL.

Trubisky — the second overall pick in 2017's draft — couldn’t beat that guy out? Huh?

The thing is, though, there wasn’t really a competition in Chapel Hill for the Tarheels’ starting gig. Williams QB’d five consecutive wins to get North Carolina to a bowl game in 2013, then was pretty good in six-win 2014. North Carolina went 11-1 in 2015, Trubisky’s third year on campus, with Williams as their guy. 

Former UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf explained to me after the 2017 draft why there wasn’t truly a competition for Trubisky to win. 

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because (Trubisky) wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

Of course, if Trubisky were lighting things up in practice and limited game reps, he would’ve forced UNC’s hand. He didn’t.

But the point is Trubisky’s failure to win a starting gig in college sooner wasn’t necessarily the product of him losing an open competition. He pushed Mike Glennon as a rookie in 2017, but he didn’t show up to training camp in a true “battle” (especially as he QB’d the third-team offense so much). He took over for Glennon because, first and foremost, Glennon was a disaster.

So we don’t really know how he’ll handle a competition the Bears are framing as fair and even.

Could Trubisky all of a sudden grow with the challenge to his job? Could the mere presence of Foles get him to start hitting more deep balls, or make the right reads at the line, or help him avoid those head-scratching interceptions?

Probably not. Football types love to say competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s hard to see it erasing three years of inconsistent tape.

But we don’t know for sure. For what it's worth, this worked for Kyle Fuller three years ago, when the Bears signed Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and he wound up winning his old job back, and then keeping it.

Trubisky, too, still has more upside than Foles. The Bears would much rather start the version of Trubisky Pace hoped he was getting in 2017 rather than a 31-year-old with 13 starts over the last four years.

Still, Foles is most likely going to be the Bears’ starter when the 2020 season begins (hopefully on time). But the Bears should at least take a look at Trubisky in a true competition.

It may not need to be a long look. But it should be a look.

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