Part of what makes Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen so dynamic is his ability to split out wide and run routes as a wide receiver. He’s a weapon that head coach Matt Nagy can move all around the offense, and when he’s used as such he can be a mismatch against opposing defenses.
Start in the backfield, motion to the slot, see how a defense goes with him. Open up split out wide, shift back next to the quarterback, see if a defense tightens up. Take some hand-offs from the running back position, get the ball on jet sweeps, end arounds, catch a screen pass, run a wheel route, drag routes, crossing routes, bubbles, tunnels, there’s really no limit to what Cohen can do on an offense.
Since coming into the league he’s been one of the most productive pass catchers at his position, running back, but what if his running back is no long his primary position?
According to Pro Football Focus, in last nights game Tarik Cohen only had four snaps from the backfield, but he ran seven plays split out wide and forty snaps from the slot. Those aren’t the numbers of a running back with a skill set that allows him to get reps as a wide out, those are the numbers of a wide receiver that can play running back on occasion.
Cohen may be productive as a receiver, but is he best used running traditional routes against a nickleback from the slot, or best used running through the line then darting to the sideline with a linebacker or safety in coverage?
You get Cohen matched up one one one against a linebacker on an option route and he’s unguardable.
And if a defense does counter him being on the field with a nickle or dime package — like the Packers did quite a bit last night — then you have the advantage in the run game since Cohen is a running back. But then we’d have to actually see Nagy run the ball, which is something I addressed earlier today in this article; Inept offensive game plan leads to Bears loss.
I get the Bears want to feature a backfield by committee approach, but to only have Cohen in the backfield for four snaps isn’t playing to his versatility. And then in those few plays he didn’t have one rushing attempt, which telegraphs that the Bears are throwing the ball when Cohen is in the game. For all the talk of Nagy wanting to stop being one dimensional based on personnel, which is what he was a year ago with Jordan Howard, he did that last night.
Sure it was just one game, but Nagy had all offseason to get a plan of attack in place for his running backs, and he failed in his first test. Cohen, as well as David Montgomery, Mike Davis, and Cordarrelle Patterson, each bring versatility to the offense, but if they aren’t used creatively, then that versatility is negated.
It really doesn’t matter whether Cohen is called a running back or a receiver in the program, because the coaches can employ him however they see fit, but if they can’t find a balance with his usage they lose what makes him special.