Bears

Perspective more important than specifics as Bears ready for Packers

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Perspective more important than specifics as Bears ready for Packers

Like it or not, and regardless of an outcome Thursday night that has the Bears’ point total in single digits and the Packers’ in the 50s, the Bears already have achieved something meaningful in a season dismissed by many as simply remedial at its outset.

Phil Emery was dismissed as general manager in part because he’d been hired to close the gap between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. The Bears already have lost to all three within the span of their first seven games, and since the NFL doesn’t grade on a curve - just pass-fail - any sense of progress could be dismissed as illusory.

But consider:

Of the Bears’ 11 losses last season, only one (Week 1, OT vs. Buffalo) was as close as three points. This year three of the last six have been by three or fewer, by a total of eight points, most recently by two to the team (Denver) with the NFL’s best defense.

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The loss to Green Bay in week one was by eight points, with the Bears leading at halftime, being a point down (17-16) after three quarters and forcing the Packers to recover an onside kick with 34 seconds left to preserve a win. The Bears have been that close to the Packers as recently as 2013 but the slide from there was precipitous.

The Packers are the standard in the NFC North, Minnesota’s early surge this season notwithstanding. But they don’t represent necessarily a reference point of where the Bears are or how they’ve progressed, beyond the overall point of needing a win in a hugely important game in their season.

“It has nothing to do with record,” said coach John Fox. “Obviously it’s a division game, which we put a lot of stock in. It’s a red-letter game for us as I’m sure it is for them. It’s a conference game, which we didn’t get our first one of those until a couple weeks ago [St. Louis]. So we’re in a situation where it’s an important game regardless of who it’s against."

[MORE: Bears expect Forte, Jeffery back vs. Packers]

In their first meeting with the Packers this year, the Bears’ offense scored on four of its first five possessions through three quarters. And that was with coordinator Adam Gase directing his first offense without Peyton Manning.

Now “I think we’re a little more confident, a little more comfortable in the offense,” said guard Matt Slauson. “[Against Denver] it didn’t really show that, but we are. We’re feeling better as an offensive line. We’ve had a lot of growth this year in this offense. We just need to put it out there on game day."

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.