Each year before I hunker down to write my 10 Most Important Bears series, I always take some time to really give the placement of everyone some thought. My list always goes through some changes before I publish, as my process is to jot down a group of players and coaches that I feel will be critical to the team’s success before I even get around to ranking them. Then once I have a solid list down I’ll start to move players up or down depending on my own subjective idea for importance.
“What potential impact they may have, how much the team will look to the individual for guidance or leadership, how badly the team would suffer if they lost the player to injury, and other intangible attributes.”
There’s often a guy that I leave of my initial top 10 that I end up talking myself into, and this year that guy is Tarik Cohen.
He’s not a full time starter and he rarely plays over half the offensive snaps in a game, but when he’s “on,” he’s a difference maker. In 2018 he was a player that defenses had to be wary of due to his speed, quickness and versatility, but in 2019 the Bears seemed to tip their hand when Cohen was in the game.
He’s best when he’s playing as a running back that can split out on occasion, and not when he’s coming in the game solely to play wide receiver. Sure you can break the huddle and sit him in the slot from the start, but then motion him back into the backfield. Or better yet, keep him at tailback so he’s matched up on a linebacker, than take advantage of that mismatch with an option route, a wheel route, or a slant-arrow concept.
What’s a better match-up in the passing game, Cohen vs. a linebacker or Cohen vs. a defensive back?
Head coach Matt Nagy will need to get back to what made Cohen so electric in 2018 and that’s something both he, his offensive coaches, and Cohen all realize.
“We’re putting last year behind us and we’re just going to move forward,” running backs coach Charles London said via NBC Sports Chicago. “He knows that I’ve got his back and we’re going to do whatever we think’s best for Tarik as far as in the offense and whatever that may entail. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue with him at all. He’s also very motivated to get out there and return to his 2018 form.”
In 2018 the Bears did more than simply try to get Cohen the ball on quick hitters, they let him get downfield to stress a defense.
Last year receptions by Cohen traveled 27 yards downfield through the air total, according to the NFL’s official stat partner Sportradar. However, in 2018 passes to Cohen traveled 205 yards downfield before being caught.
The above nugget was courtesy of Sports Illustrated, and I think it points to how poorly he was utilized from Nagy’s first year to his second.
But his declining impact wasn’t all on scheme and Cohen understands it’s his responsibility to step up and get better. “I feel like I can’t put any pressure on nobody else,” Cohen said via the team’s website. “It’s all on me. That’s how I like to go about it. I just take it upon myself, anything else like, I want to win as a team. I feel like if we win as a team that is good for everybody’s individual success.”
Last year drops were a big issue with him, but he also admitted he wasn’t in the best of shape and he wore down as the season progressed. Not having a veteran running back on the team, like Benny Cunningham from the 2018 season, caused him to lose his way. ‘‘I’ve been doing yoga now, stretching more often and just like the small training room — in-house things you do to keep your body durable,’’ Cohen said via NBC Sports Chicago. ‘‘And to keep the wear-and-tear of the season off of you longer. I really slacked on that. I always had older guys that would keep me on that, keep me in line.’’
Entering his fourth year as a pro — his contract season — Cohen will have some extra motivation to play well and he knows there’s no way he scores a big payday by averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per rush and 5.8 yards per catch.
Cohen played less in 2018, but he had a bigger impact on the offense then he did a year ago. Him getting back to being a meaningful and effective part of the game-plan can help open things up for his teammates.
“I feel like this year, with a new OC, coach (Bill) Lazor — (I’m) already seeing the things he has planned for us. It’s going to be hard to tell who’s getting the ball and when or how they’re getting the ball, too.”