One of the main reasons the Bears aren’t preparing for a Saturday night rematch against the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum is because the offense never got into gear on Sunday.
Let’s face it: a touchdown in one of the team’s red zone trips could have changed the trajectory of Wild-Card Weekend more than a finger-tip on a Cody Parkey kick.
One source behind Chicago’s struggles could have been the utter lack of Tarik Cohen. Despite a healthy usage rate throughout the season, Cohen finished Sunday’s tilt with just one rush, three receptions, and five targets. That’s an alarmingly low amount of attention for someone who was one of the offense’s biggest playmakers this season (he’s a potential game-changer any time the ball is in his hand). And it’s definitely one reason the Bears offense didn’t do the things we expected tthem to do on Sunday.
When asked about Cohen’s lack of touches, Head Coach Matt Nagy told The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus it wasn’t enough. Understatement much?
Let’s put Cohen’s regular season importance and value in perspective. This year, Cohen played on 495 snaps (or 46.1% of the offense’s plays), was given the second most touches (170), led the team in receptions (71), garnered the third-most receiving targets (91), and ultimately finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-most valuable running back, according to the site’s Wins Above Replacement metric. He led qualifying running backs in yards per route run (2.37), and quarterbacks posted a 111.0 passer rating when targeting the 5’6″ standout. And if that weren’t enough: Cohen dropped just one pass all season long.
I know it’s always easy to look back and nitpick on things that went wrong, but that feels like quite the oversight – even if it wasn’t necessarily the biggest one.
Joshua Bellamy returned two kicks for 30 yards on Sunday, which was a surprise considering he hadn’t been in that role since 2012 with the Chiefs. Though maybe that wasn’t entirely the Bears fault. If you forgot, Anthony Miller had been in that role since the Bears’ Sunday Night Football win against the Rams and through the end of the season. Which means even even though Miller was a full participant in practice all week and played on Sunday, the team’s actions suggest he wasn’t quite healthy enough to be a returner and receiver against the Eagles.
But still … why not Cohen?
Cohen returned the one kickoff that went to him for 35 yards and set the Bears up on their final drive of the game with good field position. Where was this on the other two kicks? Why was a player who was limited in the offensive game plan also kept out of the return game where he could get touches and provide an impact? Not using Cohen as a return specialist in a win-or-go-home game is almost as egregious as him getting just four touches on offense. This just goes to show how every thing can add up in the postseason. And when everything added up at the end, it equaled elimination for the Bears.
From a “give credit where it’s due” perspective, the Eagles deserve props for bottling up Cohen the way they did. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz highlighted a pair of defenders for their efforts in keeping Cohen locked up.
Schwartz credited Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins for the job they did containing Tarik Cohen. Was a big emphasis of the game.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) January 8, 2019
To see a safety (like Malcolm Jenkins) and linebacker (like Nigel Bradham) credited for containing Cohen serves as a reminder of how much the Bears offense missed Trey Burton. No, Burton wasn’t a world-beater from the tight end spot. But his ability to run sharp routes, find soft spots in zone defenses, create mismatches for the defense, and provide a security blanket for Mitch Trubisky were clearly missed. And without Burton grabbing their attention, it allowed two of Philadelphia’s better defenders to focus on stopping Cohen.
So while there’s an obvious/fair focus on the missed field goal sealing the Bears’ loss to the Eagles on Wild-Card Weekend, many little things happened in the 59 minutes and 50 seconds that led up to that moment of agony. But perhaps the things that didn’t happen should be in focus, especially when they involve a player as talented and valuable as Cohen.