After Brady experience, Bears' Fangio not taking Osweiler for granted


After Brady experience, Bears' Fangio not taking Osweiler for granted

With injured Peyton Manning being replaced as Denver Broncos starter and Brock Osweiler scheduled to make his first NFL start, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have any number of insights to share.

But first Fangio will likely tell them a horror story.

When then-starter Drew Bledsoe was injured against the New York Jets in Week 2 of the 2001 season, the New England Patriots were forced to turn to a backup from the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft as a stop-gap. That was nothing short of a turning point in NFL history because the backup was Tom Brady, who’d never started a game to that point.

Fangio was defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots’ opponent that week, and had a painfully good vantage point from which to witness Brady’s Patriots trample his Indianapolis defense in a 44-13 rout. The Patriots rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and not even the Colts having Peyton Manning as their quarterback helped.

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Some defensive coaches may relish the prospect of facing a first-time NFL starter – which Osweiler will be, after Manning’s poor health and performance from the loss to Kansas City last weekend.

Fangio knows better.

“I remember I coached against Brady in his first start,” Fangio said, managing a slight smile. “And you know how that turned out.”

The Bears also should know that quarterback starts are an imprecise indicator. And they do.

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“Imagine guys like Tom Brady,” said linebacker Sam Acho, hinting at what and about whom Fangio may have told his players. “When you get your first start you’re trying to go out there and prove something, so we want to make sure he’s not proving anything against us.”

Small sample sizes don’t matter a great deal with some quarterbacks. The Bears got past the Minnesota Vikings last year with a rally after rookie Teddy Bridgewater, in just his sixth start, had gotten the Vikings off to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. When the Bears saw Bridgewater the second time, Bridgewater threw for 209 yards in what was the final game of the Marc Trestman era. The third time they saw Bridgewater, he beat them again.

“I think at times that’s a little overrated,” Fangio said. “Obviously the veteran [quarterbacks] react to things better but [Osweiler] has played – I think this is his fourth year in the league – so he’s been around and he’s had the advantage of sitting with Peyton these last three years. You never know what’s going to happen with that.”

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.