Last month, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera explained why the Bears can be dangerous on offense when both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are on the field at the same time.
“When they put them both in there, now you’ve got to play attention to both of them,” Rivera said. “If you treat it like it’s a nickel type of package and you put an extra DB in there, they’re going to run the ball at you. If you put a linebacker out there on them, now they’re going to isolate that linebacker on that back. I think the one one-two punch they have with those guys has worked very well for them as a football team.”
That line of thinking would, seemingly, feed into how Cohen can make an impact even if he isn’t getting handoffs or targets. The Bears like Cohen’s ability to be a decoy now that opposing defenses have figured out he’s the team’s best playmaker.
So why did Cohen only receive 13 offensive snaps on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers?
“You’re looking at one game,” coach John Fox said. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard being the fifth leading rusher in the league probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”
Cohen was always due a decline from his early-season usage, which peaked at 62.5 percent of the Bears’ snaps in that Week 2 blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in which Jordan Howard was given a rest as things got out of hand with a banged-up shoulder). But he was used on about one-third of the Bears’ plays against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6, throwing a touchdown and carrying 14 times for 32 yards.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains pointed to Cohen not matching up well against the Packers in pass protection as to why he was only on the field for 21.7 percent of the Bears’ snaps, his second-lowest percentage of the year (18.4 percent vs. Carolina). Cohen is not part of the Bears’ two-minute package, for example.
“Tarik, he’s a really good player, sometimes the defense dictates who is going to be out there,” Loggains said.
But why are opposing defenses dictating the personnel the Bears’ offense has?
“We might not feel great about Tarik in protection vs. Clay Matthews, or there may be a certain blitz they run,” Loggains said.
The fundamental issue here goes beyond Cohen’s usage, or lack thereof, and is that the Bears don’t enough other playmakers on offense outside of their undersized fourth-round pick. With more talent in this group, Cohen receiving 13 snaps wouldn’t be as significant a topic of discussion.
But as long as the Bears need, as Loggains said last month, “Tarik to be that guy for us, the best playmaker we have,” the coaching staff has to seek a way to get him on the field more, even if it’s merely as a decoy.
What about the receivers?
Josh Bellamy played 40 snaps on Sunday after totaling 14 in the Bears’ previous four games, while Tre McBride — who caught three passes for 92 yards in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints — only played seven snaps against Green Bay.
Loggians said Bellamy’s uptick in playing time was because the Bears though they needed his speed in the offense. That doesn’t speak well to how much the coaches trusted Markus Wheaton, who was a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday leading up to the weekend but hadn’t played since Week 5 due to a groin injury (Wheaton said barely playing against Green Bay was “extremely frustrating,” but acknowledged he still needed to prove he’s healthy).
“Sometimes statistically when you say (McBride) played the best game of his career, that may not match with what the coaches see on tape when balls aren't going your way or how you're getting separation vs. man coverage or other things,” Loggains said. “We thought Bellamy gave us an element of speed that we needed that week. He's always been a good blocker. Part of that thought process was we needed to stretch the field and he's probably our fastest wide receiver. He came up big on the long touchdown pass. That was really why we did it.”
Bellamy, though, only had two catches on seven targets, and didn’t track a pass from Trubisky with the “great urgency” needed to catch it on the Bears’ last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter, Loggains said.
It wasn’t all disappointing for the Bears’ receivers on Sunday, though, with Dontrelle Inman impressing Loggains with how quickly he developed a chemistry with Mitchell Trubisky.
“(He’s) a big guy that was in the right spots — a calming presence for Mitchell,” Loggains said. “I think you guys felt as the game went Mitchell’s confidence with him grew. And confidence is only born from demonstrated ability. Mitchell needed to see the that. He needed to see Dontrelle go out and be in the right spots. He did a nice job with it.”