What’s Up With the Bears Running Game? And Other Bullets

Someone foolishly dropped Bears tight end Trey Burton before his breakout performance on Sunday, and seeing that I had a major need at the position, I figured a strong waiver bid would tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, I woke up Wednesday morning to find out Burton wasn’t on my roster. How could this be? It turns out that someone else made the same $20 bid I did, but was higher on the priority list. So not only do I go into Week 8 of the fantasy football end without Burton, my two highest scoring players (Julio Jones and Melvin Gordon) are on bye. I hate fantasy football.

(Michael: My fantasy football team has scored the third most points in the league, but has BY FAR the most points against (50+ more against me than even the second team on the list!). And, so, I’m nearly in last place. I also hate fantasy football.)

From a happier fantasy perspective, Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus highlights Tarik Cohen’s excellence out of the Bears’ backfield. Cohen is making the most out of his opportunities, many of which are coming in a wide receiver type of role. Cohen has run 22 routes lined up as a wide receiver and is averaging 49.3 air yards per game, according to PFF’s metrics. Matt Nagy has sent Cohen onto the field for 43.5 percent of the offensive snaps, which represents a seven percentage-point increase from his rookie season. It’s almost as if good things tend to happen when your most explosive players are on the field.

Seriously, this seems good:

RB @TarikCohen has recorded 414 all-purpose yards over the past three games and ranks fourth among NFL running backs with 328 receiving yards this season. He also leads all NFL running backs with four catches of at least 25 yards.

— Chicago Bears (@BearsPR) October 23, 2018

Because Cohen has done a ton of damage whenever he touches the pigskin, there have been fewer big-play occasions for teammate Jordan Howard. It’s been a disappointing start for Howard, who figured to have a bigger say in the offense since he has shown an improved ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Howard isn’t taking advantage of his overall lead in the snap share, averaging a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry. It’s the second straight year Howard’s yards per attempt has taken a dive, so I suppose it makes sense Cohen is getting more opportunities than he did last year. But still … at some point, No. 24 needs to get it in gear if the Bears are going to wake up from their recent slumber.

The Bears’ run-blocking hasn’t been that big of a problem. Trey Burton has the third best run-block grade among tight ends, Charles Leno Jr. ranks 17th among 74 offensive tackles as a run-blocker, and Cody Whitehair checks in as the 10th highest-graded run-blocker by PFF’s grading scale. There are good things happening here and maybe it’s just a matter of time before Howard gets it going again.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it’s unfair to pin the blame solely on Howard. A successful rushing attack is a team effort that starts with game-planning and play-calling and needs effective blocking up front before the running back even gets the ball in his hands. Hopefully, Mitch Trubisky’s three consecutive 300-yard passing games will loosen up the defense and clear the way for Howard to get some more successful touches.
OK, so Trubisky wouldn’t have crossed the 300-yard passing threshold had it not been for Kevin White’s Hail Mary snag. Which rekindles one final thought regarding that Patriots loss – why didn’t the Bears throw the Hail Mary play before halftime? Patrick Finley of the Sun-Times gets an explanation from the Bears’ head coach, and it’s a logical one. The Bears were really in a no-win situation. My gut was telling me the Bears should have tried a 58-yard field goal, but the numbers suggest that’s not quite in Cody Parkey’s range, and my head knows that he just missed a 53-yard game-winner a week ago. Maybe the hook-and-lateral will be available next time.

Over at 670 The Score, Greg Gabriel wonders if there should be a heightened level of concern regarding the Bears’ defense. Sure, the Patriots scored only 24 points on the Bears last week. That’s a better showing than what went down the prior week against Miami, but it doesn’t take into consideration the possessions New England lost with a special teams fumble, two special teams touchdowns, and two turnovers. Things could’ve been worse than they were.
Despite its recent struggles, the Bears’ defense still has its moments:

This is cool: Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic catches up with Blake Annen, Nathan Vasher, and Johnny Knox, who are coaching high school football for Carmel in suburban Mundelein. Vasher and Knox are higher-profile names who Bears fans have fond memories of from their playing days, but Annen’s story is the most intriguing one because his path isn’t the one you would expect to lead to where he is now. You’ll want to clear some time to read Fishbain’s piece.

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