How Might the Bears Dynamic Running Back Duo Be Deployed in 2018?

| June 26th, 2018

The Bears have two very good and very different running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is a bigger, more physical runner, while Cohen is a smaller scatback. Both were effective in different ways last year, and today I want to dig a little bit deeper into:

  • How they were used differently.
  • Where they were most effective.
  • How they might best be used on the ground in Chicago’s new offense.

I’ll start by looking at where each player runs, with a special shout out to DBB reader EnderWiggin for this idea. Using the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder, I tracked how often both Howard and Cohen ran between the tackles vs. outside last year, and how effective they were doing so.

I also compared this to the NFL average in 2017 and the Kansas City average running Andy Reid’s offense (which Matt Nagy will presumably be doing in Chicago) from 2013-17. Results are shown in the table below (ypc = yards per carry).

A few thoughts here:

  • Tarik Cohen ran outside a whole bunch, and was very ineffective running between the tackles when asked to do so. That’s a potential problem going forward, and it will be interesting to see if it changes in 2018 and beyond. Cohen has noted he got most of his yards in college on inside zone runs.

  • Compared to the NFL average, Howard ran outside a lot in 2017 as well. That’s consistent with 2016, when he was outside 59% of the time, but his effectiveness on those runs varied tremendously. In 2016, Howard averaged 5.9 yards per carry outside the tackles, while that plummeted to only 3.7 yards per carry in 2017. That’s really the difference between his 2016 and 2017 seasons; his inside runs remained fairly consistent at 4.3 (2016) and 4.5 (2017). As I noted back in February, that was largely due to a drop in efficiency running to the right side, which I believe was due more to predictable play calling than anything else (though I don’t have stats to back this up).
  • If Nagy installs his offense from Kansas City, the Bears are going to feature a lot more inside runs; KC only ran it outside 44% of the time when Andy Reid was there, and that dropped to 33% when Matt Nagy called plays last year (which is admittedly a small sample size of only 5 games). The inside zone run is a staple of this offense, and it will be interesting to see if they shift that a bit more to the outside given that is where Howard and Cohen have both done their best work.
  • It’s worth noting that these inside/out splits can vary even within the same offense. Doug Pederson runs a version of the Reid offense in Philadelphia, where 56% of their runs have been outside of the tackles in his two years there. Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron has a great look at film of the inside vs. outside zone and what that could mean for Chicago.

Cohen vs. Sproles

I want to turn now to that Philadelphia comparison in a little more detail, especially when considering that the Eagles have had Darren Sproles (when healthy) for the last two years. Sproles is a player that Tarik Cohen gets compared to quite often, so looking at how the Eagles used Sproles might provide a bit of a blueprint for how the Bears can be expected to use Cohen. Some relevant stats for the two are provided in the table below, using only Sproles’ 2016-17 seasons.

A few thoughts:

  • Notice the total involvement in the offense isn’t huge for either player, at least by running back standards. About 10 touches per game is probably the ideal target for somebody who is “bulked up” to only 190 pounds. You just don’t want somebody that small getting plastered by bigger defenders 15-20 times a game. Cohen is best used as a complementary weapon who can change how defenses play simply by his presence on the field.
  • These statistics suggest that Cohen’s usage probably won’t change all that much going forward. He’ll likely continue to have just under a 2:1 run:pass ratio, with most of the runs going outside. How those runs set up, and how pass plays headed his way are designed for him, will likely change, ideally in a way that utilizes his playmaking ability better than the Bears did in 2017, but the volume and ratios of touches probably will remain fairly similar.

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  • JC

    I suspect snaps per game for Sproles was higher than Cohen. As little as Cohen was on the field for some of those games, it’s hard to believe he received that many touches.

    Also, I’ll bet Howard will see a much higher percentage of snaps out of the shotgun where he has been much more successful – which I assume is because defenses had to at least entertain the idea that the play might be a pass.

    • willbest

      Howard will be more successful in any scenario where the passing game precludes 8 man boxes

    • Something I didn’t mention here but that I am excited for is seeing Howard run against nickel fronts. He’s been one of the most successful RBs in the NFL against those small fronts over the last 2 years, averaging more than 6 yards per carry, but he hasn’t seen many carries there.

      Having Howard on the field this year should create a dilemma for opposing defenses. Do they go nickel front to account for the threat of the passing game, and make it easier for Howard? Or do they go big front to account for Howard and make it easier for the passing attack?

      • AlbertInTucson

        The Bear offense creating a dilemma for an opposing defense.

        THAT I would LOVE to see.

      • JC

        100% agree. I can’t wait to see defenses try to stack the box on second down with 3 or 4 wideouts out of the shotgun. He will be unstoppable.

  • Bob Doll

    I would think that Cohen might see some time splitting out to a slot receiver position on occasion too and I think that his touches will not change drastically, I think they will go up a couple of touches beyond Sproles due to play calling and ultimately more offensive production that will, in turn, lead to more offensive snaps and time of possession. There were times when the Bears touted two offensive weapons at RB but struggled to get them on the field together…I don’t think this will be near a problem as Cohen, assuming he learns the playbook, will see time all over the field

    • Bring back the diamond formation!

    • Irish Sweetness

      If he’s not carrying the ball I’d have him in the slot sometimes. That’s just the kind of guy you want darting around after a short dump-off.

      • Bob Doll

        over the years, I’ve come to believe the difference from the division champion and the division basement dweller is not very much…most teams are basically average 8-8 teams…a handful of plays, coaching decisions,execution, turnovers, calls from the officials etc are the majority of the difference….saying all of that…a check down pass to Cohen is going to yield more big plays than a check down to Cunningham….hopefully Cohen, or even Gabriel can block well enough to be useful in pass protection to allow them to be on the field for these key moments….I never could understand why the Bears were unable to utilize Hester effectively, though I think it is likely due to the unimaginative offense and that Hester did not “master” enough of the offense to be on the field regularly so when he was there, the play calling got predictable.

  • CanadaBear

    Unless Howard gets hurt, I think he’s going to have a monster season. I’m hoping the Beloved run the Fudgies ragged in that first game of the season.

  • leftcoastdave

    Loved your link to the Windy City Gridiron article on the inside vs. outside zone. There were also great links within that article to follow showing much about line play and pulling linemen which I expect to see more of with Daniels and Whitehair in the middle.

    I agree with the conventional wisdom that this will be great for Howard as the primary bell cow back and can’t wait to see how Cohen is utilized with all the talk of him playing “all over the field.”

  • Sactowns#1

    No love for Benny “the Jet” Cunningham?

    • Not much data on him? He began the season INJ , while Cohen got a relatively heavy dose. I don’t think we saw much of him until the very last game when he became a revelation in the passing(to dumb ass Fox) and essentially became the 3rd down back

  • My biggest reservation about Cohen(besides his size) is his instincts. When he played against inferior competition, he could outrun everyone to the outside. He found out though that he can’t do that in the NFL as teams pretty much figured him out after 2 weeks.

    He’s gotta learn to take the 4yds. But can he? Or is he hardwired to always try for the big play?

    Something to watch this yr

    • The little tyke took some hard hard shots trying to run north-south.

      He won’t be doing that much. He’s best running sideline to sideline looking for the 1-cut Hester thang.

      • Might be right. Self preservation is hard to rewire.
        It’s a classic curse-blessing.
        We all remember the PR when we were shouting no no no no- go go go!
        May just have to live w it and hope Nagy is creative enough to throw the Ds off no matter who’s in.
        The last two HCs became wo predictable, i think someine’s kids was even calliing ghe pkats before they happened

  • AlbertInTucson

    (Okay THAT’S the last political tweet)

    And, the check’s in the mail and you’ll respect her in the morning.

  • AlbertInTucson

    HUD says you can make a 6 figure income and still qualify for “low income” housing in SF, San Mateo and Marin Counties in California.

    (NBC BAY AREA) — “In most of America, a family of four making more than $115,000 a year would be living rather comfortably. But in the Bay Area, the Department of Housing and Urban Development says you’re living in poverty.

    In a new report, HUD says you can now earn six figures here and still qualify for low-income housing programs. According to the latest guidelines, a family of four making $117,400 a year in San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties qualifies for their low-income housing programs.

    • KentuckyBearsFan

      High income housing must be overlooking the moon or something.

      A lot of people would live out of their car for that salary.

      I remember the movie The Slums of Beverly Hills where the poor family kept moving into as cheap as possible places so the daughter could attend the best schools.

      • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

        Funny thing. Last year almost my entire family was out in Portland OR for my Bros wedding. My parents, sister and brother-in-law, rented an AirBnB house for the week. It was a decent house but nothing special. The family that lived there lived in a small pull behind camper in their driveway for that week. I talked to them and they did this 12-15 weeks a year, mainly because the cost of their house was so damn high. They made enough money to not have to do it but it was high enough that they would not have been able to enjoy life.

        • Sactowns#1

          Even better, in SF a ton of apts are now being turning into full time Airbnb. So where are the renters supposed to live?

    • Sactowns#1

      It’s called end stage capitalism.

      • willbest

        Its all done in the name of socialism. Capitalism would let someone buy a bunch of lots and put a 100 unit buildings on it

        • Sactowns#1

          Nah. Capitalism has allowed foreign investors to park money in American real estate with no incentive to improve or even occupy the properties. Its a great way to launder money and US real estate is way safer than most countries economies.
          Also, who is going to rent another million dollar penthouse? So you just make the penthouses and mansions bigger and bigger.

          • willbest

            When a community gets together and votes on how people can use their own private property that is socialism.

            All the policies I listed in my other post are socialist policies
            designed to price poor people out of the neighborhoods. We don’t have
            an epidemic of houses falling over in the parts of the country that
            don’t employ these building codes, so they clearly aren’t needed for
            safety reasons.

            If capitalism showed up in SF tomorrow you would have legions of developers buying adjacent lots and putting multiunit condos all over the place, and the price of real estate would be 1/3rd of what it is today in a mere 5-7 years. That would create a massive destruction of wealth for the collective SF residence though, so they would never allow capitalism to occur.

            I might point out that those foreign investor boogiemen that you are so concerned about would be the first to flee. I say boogie man because it would seem to me that a person that doesn’t consume city services, doesn’t vote in your elections, but does pay taxes is not the worst situation to have. That is they are good for present owners. But I am perfectly willing to bar non-citizens from owning residential real estate in the US.

            Also, I am not entirely sure what you mean by doesn’t improve the property. In places like Seattle and San Fran, the lionshare of the value of the property is in the dirt due to all the restrictive zoning. Therefore a neighbor engaged in a deferred maintenance strategy isn’t going to drag neighborhood property values down in any significant manner. And I would think that any foreign owner that wanted to engage in the strategy would be better off bulldozing the building and leaving a vacant lot since
            a) vacant lots are more valuable than lots with tear down homes on them
            b) the taxes on a vacant lot are generally quite favorable

          • Sactowns#1

            So under pure capitalism, with our ever growing concentration of wealth, wouldn’t SF just become owned by a handful of landlords who could then charge exorbitant amounts for renting to the 99%, the pleebs if you will?

          • willbest

            Has Manhattan? Has Houston? Has Chicago? Hawaii is but then its that way because there used to be a King and a bunch of noble families.

            You are still beholden to the laws of supply and demand. And you could try and colluded, but there would be a lot of incentive to cheat. You check would be to not develop oversupply of units, but then that is pretty easy to police since you would watch companies accumulate land and not develop it. It is also seriously expensive if some 3rd party player comes in and bids up the land on the real estate cartel. Quite frankly, wouldn’t even be possible without corruption in the building permits office.

            And lets say a dozen people ended up cornering 80% of the market they are beholden to the whims of the major corporations there. If Google leaves, the SF real estate market, they all go bankrupt. That is just a really bad investment strategy.

          • SC Dave

            To call the United States pure capitalism indicates some remediation might be needed.

        • I think we all saw what unfettered capitalism did during the industrial age


    • willbest

      Single family zoning, max height, construction standards that add an extra $75k, open sky laws that prevent old agricultural land from being developed.

      Every affluent area in the country does it. And those get locked in because once you buy into a community the way you would a corporation (and that is what you are doing at that point) you have no interest in allowing the value of your investment depreciate

  • willbest

    Some reasonably popular youtuber is reporting that Kathleen Kennedy almost got fired but Iger couldn’t find anybody he was comfortable with to take over Lucas, including JJ Abrams who is reported to have total creative control over 9.

    If true, this is amazing news because JJ Abrams is a guy that alternative universed star trek. He wouldn’t be afraid to start 9 with Luke coming out of a Jedi meditation trance talking to ghost Yoda about preventing the awful future he just witnessed from happening

    • Sactowns#1

      Can we just make Star Wars movies go away for another 20 years or so? I might be ready for another spinoff, prequel, sequel by then.

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        Episode 10 will be awesome! Directed by me for $1 billion and 0.00000001% merchandising rights.


      • Johnnywad

        Or never. There’s like 8 too many right now.

    • Johnnywad

      Your depth of interest in, and knowledge of Star Wars is surprising.

      • willbest

        It came across my twitter feed, and it was just another opportunity to kick a franchise that shit all over my childhood while it was down. You might say I have some unresolved issues when it comes to it.

        • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

          Shit all over your childhood??? How?

          • They killed off his childhood hero Darth Sidious
            Spoiler alert!

          • willbest

            The originals were a hero’s journey, comprised of an ensemble of lovable characters resulting in the redemption of Luke’s father and the overthrowing of an evil dictator which instilled awe and wonder in my 6-8 year old self. Yes, as an adult, I can find a lot of issues with them, but the nostalgia allows you to overlook a bit of that.

            What they have done since, is to destroy that sense of nostalgia for the characters without providing anything of quality to replace it with. Vader is some virgin birth coalescence of the universal spirit which manifests itself as an emo child murderer who kept a retarded fishman for a sidekick. Han, Leia, and Luke are similarly destroyed in 8 and 9.

            Now I get they had a problem because when you look back at Star Wars and ask what is it, it doesn’t really lend itself to additional mythos. Its completely open in that sense. And what they tried to do was tie it to the originals while providing war in space. But in doing so they twisted all sense of the characters they had built up. Plus, all the plot holes.

          • Sactowns#1

            I like how bombs have to fall from directly over the target even though there is no gravity to cause them to fall. I also like how they use trains for transportation even though they have ships and store info on giant cartridges that you have to retrieve with some robot arm thing. Makes total sense.

          • You’re just jealous cuz u cant make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            But the originals did not change, so how do they really shit on your childhood? And I don’t really see how they twisted the characters.

            Han, still a space pirate. Oh no the killed him off. He was old, and also they almost killed him off in the originals. Frozen in carbonite… why because they did not know if Ford was coming back for another movie.

            Leia, still a leader and respected woman for the resistance, so nothing changes except she gained some control over the force, which was hinted at in the originals.

            Luke, I might give you. But he is still a Jedi, and still an emotional little bitch, just like in the originals.

            I get that some of the plot lines in the new movies are questionable and there are plot holes, but the same can be said of the originals. Not going to even touch the prequels because they were just awful CGI movies and honestly IMO did not really impact the originals. The problem is the nostalgia bullshit people carry for the originals. Nothing anyone tries with the original characters is going to really satisfy people, because everyone has a different view of the characters to begin with.

          • willbest


            Luke, who wouldn’t give up on Vader, the second most evil person in the universe. Who still believed there was there was good despite Vader overseeing genocide, turns around and tries to kill his nephew in his sleep because of the shit he might do.

            How is that not shitting on the character?

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            The same Luke who fought Vader and cut of his damn hand before deciding not to kill him because there was still good in him. The same Luke that thought about killing his nephew but didn’t. That is the same emotional little bitch as always..

          • willbest

            But when he was intent on killing Vader he was just some faceless monster. Once he was forced to confront Vader as a man, that changed.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            Maybe you should go rewatch Return of the Jedi.

          • The thing w Luke and the Skywalkers in general perhaps is that he always had the capacity to be evil. That’s why Vader was trying to turn him to overthrow the emperor, and that’s why the Emperor was trying to replace Vader w Luke.

            We saw a lil but of that rage when the emperor goaded him to strike him down (unarmed) and when he went bezerk when Vader brought up Leia.

            But he pulled back from the brink in those instances and w Kylo.

            Unlike Anakin who just acted on his rage and slaughtered the sand ppl.

            Once that line is crossed….

      • Irish Sweetness


        Watched it in the cinema aged 5 and hooked for life. It’s a certain-age thing …

    • JJ Abrhams also killed Star Trek movies.
      They need to find a REAL story teller not a karate choreographer. Maybe someone lije Ridley Scott (if he’s still alive).

      • willbest

        J Michael Straczynski (Bablyon 5) gets my vote.

        • Yeah, a lot of sci fi peeps love that show (and Firefly, Star Gate, etc)

          Think it would be good idea to get a director who is familiar w story arcs like on tv series.

          Star Wars is basically a made for TV series like Chaka Zulu at this point. Might as well get someone who can flesh out a story (and sub plots) and present a vision like the first 3.

          Just read that Thrawn is coming back to novels. That would be a good start as a worthy villain and a good counter to emo Kylo


      • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

        I am going to ask you this also. How?

        • Ridley. Scott. Did Blade Runner and Aliens. Obviously knows how to weave a story in Sci Fi.
          I would introduce a new cool villain who’s not a whiny bitch.
          Thrawn would be perfect. The last admiral Palpatine promoted. He was such a badass he was the only non human w that honor, and Palpatine sent him off to the farthest reaches so as to not overthrow him.

          Could return and hunt down and kill Rey (he’s got no problem killing Jedis)

          Thrawn would totally hype up the nerds and make the story compelling again.

          Then, an old Bobbafett comes back and avenges Solo who he always respected.

          Could you imagine Fett blasting Ren in the face?

          THAT alone is worth the price for admission.
          Thrawn then hunts down Fett who has no choice but to ally himself w the Republic and his pirate network.

          See. I just told a more interesting Star Wars story then the last 4 episodes…

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            true but I was curious on the whole killing Star Trek.

          • The first two Kelvin Treks were ok. But then they totally ran out of ideas because JJ can only give old cars new paint jobs. He’s not smart or creative enough to build one from scratch.
            There were loooots of ideas to be farmed IF he hadn’t painted himself into a box with his alternate universe.

            The new Star Trek Discovery is showing just a lil of the endless possibilities tapping into the mirror universe, section 31, captain Pike, etcand lest we forget, Spoc’s bro and “sis” are still out there, and all kinds of other stuff, that Ridley just didn’t think of cuz he’s not much of a trekkie or director.

            That being said, most of the Trek movies sucked w out him.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            Never watched Discovery – is it any good?
            I actually thought the alternate universe was needed for what they were wanting to do. By using the same group of characters your hands would be tied to all the old time lines and story lines. By making the break, it gave freedom to hash out different storylines. I will agree JJ is not the one that should have been doing that. I figured out the last movie before the halfway point.

          • Disco has a diff vibe-tone than most other Treks. Whereas others started off exploring and built up, DISCO just went intense right away. They started off battling the klingons who look like orcs.

            A lot of fans complained about that, arguing that Cpt Lorca was a borderline tyrant, but by the end of the season it all kinda gels together. And next season, word is, they’re gonna be a lil lighter (tribbles?)

            I def think it’s worth watching. I’m looking forward to the 2nd season and I’m a big trekkie.

            W out giving too much away , the main problem I saw in the first season was the immediate exestential threat by Klingon orcs.

            It was like they skipped 4 seasons of DS9 and just opened up w the Dominion War

            That being said, they did a good job of fleshing out characters, throwing in some fan favs, and building an arc.

          • willbest

            Building 7-9 around the Galactic Republic trying to curb stomp the last of the empire loyalist would have been a layup. Kill off Han. Have Luke set up the Jedi Order again. Have Ben Solo go rogue. Have Luke Sacrifice himself to save Rey. Maybe have Plagueis who supposedly mastered death being really behind it all.

            No need to bring in Death Star Squared until the final act.

    • AlbertInTucson

      The Star Wars franchise crashed and burned on Endor in RETURN OF THE JEDI when it turned into an episode of The Muppet Show. All that was missing was a “PIGS IN SPACE” skit.

      • Sactowns#1

        Hey!! I love the muppets and would have been totally cool with with the pigs showing up. It’s a hell of a lot better than CGI overload.

        • AlbertInTucson

          I enjoyed the Muppet Show, especially the 2 grumpy old men ( Al likes the grumpy old men. Go figure, right?) Statler and Waldorf.

          But, there’s a time and a place for Muppets and Yoda was all the Muppet Star Wars needed.

          They set up a good story line in EMPIRE… and then they lost interest in RETURN… and pissed away a huge chunk of the script concentrating on the cute and fuzzy Ewoks.

          I’m not big on all the CGI, either, OR the “Let’s revise ( sanitize) the original film so Han doesn’t fire first in the bar.

          • That’s because you saw Return as a grown up. I watched it as a kid and loved the ewoks!

            I remember getting sad when that one Ewok didn’t get up after getting blasted by ATTs. Damn you, empire!

          • AlbertInTucson

            I’ll grant that adult v. kid perspective point.

            As a kid, I loved getting up early or staying up late to watch WGN run the FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS serials with Buster Crabbe.

    • Irish Sweetness

      I’m free. Kind of.

  • Irish Sweetness

    Watch this.

    What happens when Jordan gets a hammy?

    Who ya got?

    • Taquan Mizzell

      • Irish Sweetness

        88KG brah ….he ain’t knockin anybody over.

    • Get another 5th rd RB off FA . Alfred Morris is basically an older Howard.
      Demarco Murray’s got a season in him, and much better hands. Darwkwa avg 4.3 yds behind a butter oline.

      Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos. Age: 31.
      Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
      Branden Oliver, RB, Chargers. Age: 27.
      Kenjon Barner, RB, Eagles.
      Andre Ellington…

      Read more: http://walterfootball.com/freeagents2018RB.php#ixzz5JaaH0mRd

      See what I’m saying here?

      • willbest

        Irish was looking for Trade our #1, 2 and 3 picks in 2019 for Fournette

        • If I was paid for it, or really bored, I bet I can find a ufda HB this week who can rush for 1,000 yds behind our oline.

          There’s about 3-5 elite ones, then the rest ( until you get to has beens or borderline arena league )are more or less interchangeable

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis


    • Johnnywad

      List all of the NFL teams that can immediately replace a top five rusher, with no drop off, when he pulls a hammy.

      I’ll wait.

    • JC

      Well I hope he already has two.

      Benny Cunningham is a fine backup and will excel. Plus, until Howard proves he can catch the ball, Bennie brings versatility.

      I’ve watched what little video I could find an Nal and he looks outstanding. Patient and powerful with some moves.

      It would be a step down but the Bears are plenty deep at rb.

  • willbest

    “America. Follow NY-14. We’ll pave the way.” – Jeff

    While I admire Jeff’s enthusiasm, NY-14 has a PVI of D+29.

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