Tarik Cohen is a special player in the Bears offense

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Chicago Bears made moves this offseason to bring a variety of offensive talent to play alongside young quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Their most exciting weapon, though, might be a player that was already on the roster in Tarik Cohen.

Chicago drafted Cohen in the fourth round in 2017 and he was an instant hit. He made his mark on the league in his first career game and was the key to a Bears offense that almost pulled off a week one upset over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. He instantly found his role in Chicago’s offense and was a shining light in what was a dysfunctional Bears team.

Cohen rushed for 370 yards last season on 87 carries, averaging a decent 4.25 yards per carry. The running back also had 53 receptions on 71 targets for 353 yards. He was not the most efficient player but he was one of Chicago’s most dangerous big play threats. The rookie had 6 plays (4 receptions and 2 runs) which gained over 20 yards, leading the team.

The traits that make Cohen most dangerous with the ball in his hands are his speed, acceleration and deceleration. The running back can quickly reach his top speed but also can slow down a stop on a dime without losing balance allowing him to make quick cuts and dodge defenders. Combine his physical tools with his great vision and incredibly fast reaction time and he can scorch defenses.

Cohen’s abilities coming out of the backfield translate to any position on the field. The Bears lined the running back up at multiple positions, including split wide as a receiver or in the slot. His speed and quick twitch skills make him a great route runner and he excelled making catches underneath coverage then making plays with the ball in his hands after.

The same skills that make Cohen such a threat coming out of the backfield also make him a huge threat running after the catch. His great body control and balance allow him to stay on his feet when he has to make awkward adjustments to catch the ball.

Cohen is also incredibly slippery. He is an expert at escaping tackles not only because of his balance but relative size. The rookie is only 5’6, meaning he has a natural advantage when he attempts to get low enough to bounce off of tackles. When defenders approach him up high he is great at getting his body low, becoming small and slipping through their arms.

While his small size does provide some benefits, there are obvious drawbacks. Almost all of Cohen’s receptions come at or around the line of scrimmage, even when split wide. This is expected as he isn’t nearly big enough to win contested catches downfield. No matter how good of a route runner he may be it makes things a lot easier on the defender tasked with covering him when they don’t have much to worry about downfield in man coverage. In zone coverage, if a defense see’s Cohen split out wide then they know to make a quick adjustment on the fly to assign a defender to a shorter zone.

It also hurts him as a runner. While he can deke and dodge his way out of the backfield as well as anyone if the Bears run protection fails and he is left without a cutback lane then he is not strong enough to lower his shoulder and power his way through the pile. He can only bounce around so many tackles, and that led to a large number of carries of under 3 yards for the running back last season.

Holding on to the ball also is an issue for a player of that size. He is great at avoiding big hits but when he does get smacked ball control is an issue.

Durability will also become a concern in the future. Running backs league wide are physically wearing down faster than any other position. At 5’6 185 pounds Cohen’s long-term durability and even his week to week workload are limited. Chicago would obviously love to feed Cohen more often but they also want their versatile weapon to be in their arsenal for as long as possible. Luckily for the Bears, they have another starlet running back in Jordan Howard (who I did a rookie season breakdown on last season) who Cohen provides a perfect compliment to.

Defending the Bears talent rich offense will be an issue for many defenses next season, and Cohen may be the team’s most versatile piece.

 

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