How Tarik Cohen has grown into being the Bears' leading receiver

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How Tarik Cohen has grown into being the Bears' leading receiver

Tarik Cohen’s improvements as a route runner showed up in a big way late in the Bears’ overtime loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
With the Bears facing a fourth down they absolutely had to convert — down seven with 17 seconds left — Chase Daniel motioned Cohen from the near-side numbers into the backfield. The quarterback and running back identified a matchup that had been favorable to the offense all game, against All-Pro safety Landon Collins. Needing only three yards, Cohen sort of lured Collins into thinking he was going to run for the sticks, but quickly burst to the safety’s outside shoulder, accelerating past him.
The result was Daniel dropping a 23-yard completion to Cohen, resulting in a first down and setting up Cohen’s “Oompa Loompa” game-tying touchdown toss to Anthony Miller.
“We had a good idea of what coverage they were going to be in, and he had some success on the route setup before,” running backs coach Charles London said. “So he knew he had to be patient, he knew the move that he needed to do to beat Collins, and he kind of lulled him to sleep there and then used his speed and ran around him. It was a great throw and a great catch down the field.”
In the narrow scope of Sunday’s game, this was one of the biggest plays of the afternoon. In the larger scope of the Bears’ season, how Cohen set up and executed that route is a telling sign of his development within the Bears’ offense.
Consider how Cohen described what he did to beat Collins:
“Just trying to make every route look the same,” Cohen said. “A lot of the routes out of the backfield, it looks the same, so when you do that the defender will never know what’s coming.”
Cohen’s speed, quickness, athleticism, football I.Q. and work ethic all made him an instant success as a rookie. But what we’re seeing in Year 2 of the “Chicken Salad” or “Human Joystick” or “Big Daddy” show is how Cohen is blending all those pre-existing traits with a larger bank of experience.
Cohen, through three-quarters of the season, leads the Bears in targets (77), receptions (59) and receiving yards (659).
“I think he’s doing a really good job of understanding coverages, how teams are trying to attack him,” London said. “And each team, pretty much each week, has had kind of a different plan of how to attack him. He’s done a good job with film study understanding that, understanding what he’s got to do to get open. So I give a lot of credit to him for doing that.”
And that improvement has opened up more for Nagy to do with Cohen.
“He’s starting to really understand the whys of the routes, whereas in training camp you hear it, you don’t know all the options to different things that we do,” Nagy said. “And then also, he’s getting more and more reps to be able to see versus defenses how that play, route, concept, works. Like I say with Mitch (Trubisky), he’s building a library and we’re able to (do) some good things with him.”
On top of Cohen’s receiving numbers, he’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry — not a standout number, but almost a yard better than Jordan Howard’s average (3.4). And he’s returned 28 punts for an average of 12 yards per return, cementing himself as one of the league’s most versatile weapons.
Cohen joined Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history to have over 150 receiving yards, 12 catches and a touchdown throw in a game on Sunday, showcasing that versatility. But Cohen was more interested in the connection he and Rice had before that, as both are alums of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Cohen went to North Carolina A&T, Rice went to Mississippi Valley State).
“It means a lot to me, because Jerry Rice came from an HBCU also,” Cohen said. “I just want to keep showing people that there are players at HBCUs, so everybody should scout them more. And the players coming out of high school should also respect the HBCUs more and choose them as an option.”

Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

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Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

DENVER – Over the last 18 months or so, the Bears’ defense has grown accustomed to having great performances overshadowed by the team’s kicker. When they get bailed out with a game-winning 53-yarder as time expires, however, it’s a spotlight they’re more than happy to share. 

“I knew it was good as soon as he pointed up to the sky,” Leonard Floyd said. “I knew he was going to make the kick.”

“You think about everything, all those games last year – especially that playoff game,” Khalil Mack added. You put pressure on that guy. Eddy P, birthday man. 

“He came out and nailed that mother f –.” 

Piñero’s coronation will certainly win the headline battles, but it was once again the Bears’ defense that kept them in the driver’s seat for three and a half quarters. The Broncos’ stats (372 total yards – 292 of them passing and 90 coming on the ground) are probably gaudier than Chuck Pagano’s unit would like, but they’ve now gone back-to-back games allowing just one touchdown. 

“There were some times there that they were tired,” Matt Nagy said. “Even at the end, you saw [Khalil Mack] come out on the fourth-down and so I just wanted to call a time out. I felt like it was more important for him to be out there on that fourth-down. He was tired. Those guys, you could feel it.” 

The game had shades of the 2018’s Week 5 loss in Miami, where scorching temperatures took a huge toll through the second half and into overtime. Between the thin air and unseasonably warm weather (the thermometer read 87 at kickoff), you could see why the Broncos have been astoundingly great in early-season home games. And while most of the players admitted that they felt the altitude in some way or another, no one was making excuses for the Broncos’ 12-play, 62-yard drive that would give them the lead with 30 seconds left. 

“Football is a tiring game,” Akiem Hicks said. “You play a lot of football and you just try to have the best results you can.” 

If anyone was happier about the win than Piñeiro, it was cornerback Buster Skrine. After the Broncos scored to make it a 13-12 game, kicker Brandon McManus missed the PAT. Skrine was flagged for being offside, however, and the Broncos got another chance from the one-yard line. Given new life and pretty advantageous field position, Denver went for two and converted, seemingly giving them a win. 

30 seconds and 53 yards later, the Bears were 1-1 – and now Piñero may not have to pay for his pregame steaks any time soon. 

“I was about to come in here and say I lost the game …” Skrine said. “ … “I’m about to post on my Instagram [taking my teammates] out to dinner and everything.” 

“Woo, hot darnit. We got it done – we needed that,” quipped Hicks, in his best country drawl. “It’s good to be 1-1. We’re going to go forward, we’re going to do what we need to do.”  


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Eddy Pineiro 53-yard FG for 16-14 win over Denver Broncos saved Bears season

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Eddy Pineiro 53-yard FG for 16-14 win over Denver Broncos saved Bears season

A win by any other name is still a win. But this one…

One game after coach Matt Nagy deemed 51 yards to be beyond Eddy Pineiro’s field-goal range, the young kicker converted from 40, 52 and 53 yards on Sunday, the last to close out a 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos as time expired.

It was a kick that may have done nothing short of save the Bears season.

Nagy predictably and not incorrectly pointed out that the loss to Green Bay was “just one game” and not the season. But in every NFL season over the past 20 years alone, at least one team has missed the postseason by one game, because of one loss, including the Bears in 2008, 2012 and 2013.

A defeat on Sunday – and that was decidedly close to becoming reality after the Broncos took the lead with a touchdown and successful two-point conversion with 31 seconds remaining – would have effectively put the Bears in a perilous place this early in the season because of five NFC teams already standing at 2-0, with one of them being the Packers, and Philadelphia (1-0) playing Sunday night.

But that didn’t happen, and now the Bears go to Washington to play the 0-2 Redskins next Monday night, followed at home by Minnesota, 1-1 after a poor performance at Green Bay at home and the North American Raiders (1-1) in London.

The win over the Broncos did little to allay concerns about a Chicago offense that was supposed to reach new heights with quarterback Trubisky operating for a second season in the Nagy schemes. The Bears were outgained 372-273 while rushing for 153 yards on 29 attempts, including 18 for a workman-like 62 yards and a touchdown, the only one for the Bears through eight quarters this season, by rookie running back David Montgomery.

The offense was held to 3 points by the Packers and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine; then struggled repeatedly against the Broncos and Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator, for the previous four seasons. The Bears converted just three of 11 third downs.

“The last two weeks our offense has gone up against two pretty good defensive [coaches],” Nagy said.

After its woeful pass-run imbalance vs. Green Bay, the offense ran the football 29 times and threw it 27. Very notably, the protection allowed zero sacks and only two hits on Trubisky while Nagy stayed with a balanced plan, even to the point of handing the ball to Montgomery on three straight dives from the Denver one-yard line. He stretched the ball over the goal line on the third one.

“I told [Montgomery],” Trubisky said, “’Go put it in there.’”

Game-winning moment

For his part, Trubisky managed to run five plays within 30 seconds with the game hanging in the balance. He overcame a penalty for too many men on the field, but aided by a roughing flag on rush-linebacker Bradley Chubb he navigated the Bears into position with a 25-yard completion to wide receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson went to the ground with the one second needed for the Bears to call a timeout and get Pineiro and the field goal unit on the field.

That final possession projects to be a massive confidence-builder for Trubisky, who missed badly on two previous throws toward Robinson before directing the second fourth-quarter comeback and fourth game-winning drive of his three-year career.

“I’ve always been taught that quarterbacks are evaluated on how they finish games,” Nagy said.

The kick also overrode repeated mistakes and shortcomings on all sides of the football and beyond. Buster Skrine was offsides on a missed Denver PAT, allowing the Broncos a second chance, which they converted. The Bears were flagged for too many men on the field in the closing seconds. The defense allowed 195 passing yards by Denver quarterback Joe Flacco in the second half but managed its first takeaway of 2019, a Kyle Fuller interception at the Chicago 3 with less than 5 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

To some extent, Nagy and the Bears were clearly content to operate in a borderline not-to-lose mode, which against a Denver Broncos team that is off to just its second 0-2 start since 1999.

 “We’re not where we want to be as an offense or me as a quarterback,” Trubisky said.

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