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Film Study: Reviewing the Bears’ Runningbacks

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With Howard gone and the draft approaching, Robert S. turns to film to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Bears’ current runningback room

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Mark Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of talk about the Bears drafting a new starting RB, and for good reason — their 2018 starter is now an Eagle, they signed Mike Davis in free agency, and they’ve met with ~17 unique RB prospects in the pre-draft process.

But what do the Bears currently have at RB? Why do they need a new one? Find out in this film study!

Throughout this breakdown I’ll give insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the main 2019 Bears’ RBs, namely Cohen, Davis, and Patterson. As usual, if the videos don’t work on your platform simply look for the italicized portion of the paragraph — that should be a link to the video being referenced.

We’ll start off with...

Tarik Cohen

The explosion Cohen displays is absolutely unreal. Watch him go from a standstill to 20 yards downfield here — suffice to say, that’s not common in the NFL. His ability to create something out of nothing keeps defenses constantly on alert.

But any who’ve seen Cohen play know that he’s not just a runner, he’s a capable receiver too. Cohen’s ability to play both out of the backfield and off the line of scrimmage creates big plays like the one shown here — the defense simply doesn’t expect him to run a sideline go route, leaving a huge hole up the sidelines. Cohen makes them pay dearly.

Cohen’s versatility allows Nagy to switch formations virtually at will, and it shows up in the offense. Take a look at this play — while it isn’t successful, the Bears flex from an I-Formation look to a shotgun set with Cohen out wide without missing a beat. Cohen gives Nagy tons of formation flexibility whenever he’s on the field.

All of this said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Cohen’s weakness as a power runner. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a feisty guy (as pictured above), but he doesn’t run inside the tackles often and likely won’t going forward. He’s a deadly weapon, but he’s not our 2019 feature back.

Next, let’s review...

Mike Davis

At ~220lbs, Davis is a natural fit between the tackles and plays with a surprising amount of burst for a man his size. He’s not one to go down to a bad tackle and lowers his shoulder effectively. Davis could run well in Nagy’s inside-zone scheme.

But what separates Mike Davis from your run-of-the-mill downhill back are his surprisingly smooth hands -- check out how fluidly he catches the ball here, wasting no time between the catch itself and the run afterward. Also note his spin move — it’s one of his favorite tools in the open field.

Unfortunately, Davis has occasional issues with open-field decision-making — this play shows him pass on a sure first down, instead choosing to break back into the middle of the field and lose yardage. I’d like to see him finish runs like these physically in the future.

Davis also leaves a lot to be desired in pass protection — in the 3 games I charted, he gave up a sack, a pressure, and a QBH on only 5 blocking snaps. Davis’s talents as a runner & receiver make him great fits for Nagy’s offense, but his blocking may deny him the starting role.

Last but not least, let’s discuss a dangerous player that I think was brought in to play a surprisingly heavy RB role...

Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson is wickedly fast and hits the hole hard — check out how smoothly he navigates traffic here, picking 20 yards without breaking a sweat.

Patterson’s bigger than you may realize — his 6’2”, 220lb frame gives him plenty of power, making him a tough man to bring down. Don’t be surprised if he ends up getting the ball in short-yardage situations throughout 2019.

But the best part about Patterson’s game (and what I think makes him fit so well in this Bears offense) is that he, Davis, and Cohen can all catch the ball well out of the backfield. Patterson flashes each of his tools on this play — he catches the ball smoothly, jets by the linebacker, and runs over the first DB that reaches him. The dude’s a weapon.

And, of course, he’s got plenty of experience as a receiver too — while his routes aren’t always perfect, his speed and size will make you pay if you leave him open deep. He’s very, very dangerous in the open field.

Ultimately I expect Patterson to be used as an RB/KR — before 2018 he averaged ~10 carries/year, but the Pats gave him 42 and I thought he did well with them. The Bears have decent WR depth, so it won’t shock me if Patterson primarily supports the RB room, getting 50-70 carries throughout the season.

Conclusion

Based on the analysis above, the Bears seem to be missing a true “do-it-all” back. If our RBs are a cake, we have fantastic icing (Patterson, Cohen) but need more cake. I expect the Bears to focus on backs with inside vision and a quick first 10 yards that catch and block well. He should be able to handle ~150 carries.

Mike Davis is solid, so it won’t shock me if he “starts” the first 2-4 games (remember, RBBC!) while we ease the rookie in. As for who that rookie is? You’ll have to ask draft gurus like EJ Snyder, Jacob Infante, or Aaron Leming. Trayveon Williams and Miles Sanders seem like solid fits to me, but I’m no expert.

But what do you think about the Bears RBs? Like em? Think they could’ve been better? Let me know!

Poll

Which RB are you most excited to see in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Tarik Cohen
    (253 votes)
  • 8%
    Mike Davis
    (80 votes)
  • 35%
    Cordarrelle Patterson
    (339 votes)
  • 30%
    The Rookie, whoever it is
    (292 votes)
964 votes total Vote Now