Rack up big 'W' for Bears defense as pads come back on after day off


Rack up big 'W' for Bears defense as pads come back on after day off

BOURBONNAIS — Whether it was a good day or a bad day depends on which side of the football you happened to be standing on or which phase of the Bears you happen to think needs a big day.

With assistants keeping “score” on an electronic board along one sideline — the defense triumphed, 24-20, based on the in-house point system — the offense that had been virtually turnover-free through the first week of training camp was throttled.

One pass was intercepted (though it wasn't thrown by either Jay Cutler or Jimmy Clausen). Plays were repeatedly stacked up. Pernell McPhee and Shea McClellin so swarmed Cutler on one drop-back that the quarterback was hard to find in the mayhem, even in his bright orange jersey.

Cutler located 6-foot-4 wide receiver Marquess Wilson deep against single coverage on a 60-yard touchdown attempt, only to have veteran cornerback Tracy Porter easily break the play up with a deflection. Even in one-on-one pass protection work, Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long was sent flying by veteran defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff on one rep.

“Jeremiah Ratliff is the final ‘boss’ you gotta face in the video game,” Long said. “You play it all summer, and then you gotta beat Jeremiah Ratliff. He’s who I go up against every day, so it’s always awesome to line up on Sunday and not see No. 90 with a giant beard across from you.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

The offense saw a whole lot of Ratliff and associates in Wednesday’s sessions. One hallmark of the 3-4 as practiced by coordinator Vic Fangio is its unpredictability, and that was very much in evidence, with the offense struggling to execute and establish any sort of consistent rhythm.

This could be considered good news for a unit still very much its formative stages. Or it was a sign that the offense has not yet shaken off all the vestiges of the past year or two.

“Today was a bad day for us offensively,” Cutler said simply. “I think everybody across the page isn’t going to be happy with the performance.”

The boss chose to look at the overall, not just the day’s receipts.

“I like their progress (on offense),” head coach John Fox said. “I like their toughness up front. I like that our starting group has not had a turnover yet.

“Again, it’s not a game or anything, but in practice it’s something coach (Adam) Gase and the offensive staff, they stress ball security. I like where they are now.”

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.