Tarik Cohen must bounce back if the Chicago Bears offense is going to improve
The 2019 season was a laundry list of disappointments for the Chicago Bears offense, which fielded one of the league’s worst units. Tarik Cohen was one of many Bears who fell short of expectations – at least on the stat sheet. Whether or not he can re-establish himself as a bonafide offensive weapon is a major question that will contribute to or hinder the success of the Chicago Bears offense this season.
Cohen only scored three total touchdowns in 2019 despite appearing in all 16 games. The year prior, ‘the Human Joystick’ was a versatile receiving back used in creative ways by Coach Matt Nagy en route to an NFC North Division title. Cohen showed himself to be a more explosive and versatile option than Jordan Howard and became a key contributor to the offense in the process.
He finished with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. Heading into 2019, it felt like Cohen was on the verge of becoming a true offensive weapon to be reckoned with – a more specialized version perhaps of the Saints’ Alvin Kamara.
Receiving backs can make a big difference
The value of receiving backs in the NFL has only increased over time, highlighted by players like Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Le’Veon Bell. Even the Patriots’ James White, who like Cohen favors heavily towards the passing game, has been exploiting defenses for several years now.
Cohen can be a reliable receiver out of the backfield who can provide his quarterback with easy completions and outmaneuver most NFL linebackers in the open for easy yards after the catch.
Though finishing fourth in receptions for all NFL running backs in 2019, and even improving that mark from the season before, Cohen’s yards-per-reception dipped yearly five yards and he carried the ball out of the backfield just four times on average per game. Cohen had only 64 carries in 2019, compared to 99 the year prior and 87 as a rookie in 2017.
As Cohen’s production dipped, the Chicago Bears went from ninth in total team offense in 2018 to 29th in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference.
Backfield mate David Montgomery figures to be the feature back again this season but Cohen will need to be included more on the ground to keep defenses honest. Part of what made Cohen so dangerous in 2018 was the fact that when he stepped on the field, opposing defenses didn’t know how he was going to be used – whether in the run game or the passing game because Cohen thrived at both.
Was Cohen the catalyst or beneficiary of a well-functioning Chicago Bears offense in 2018? His performance and the ways in which Chicago utilizes him this season will tell.