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In Appreciation of Tarik Cohen

| June 17th, 2019

Tarik Cohen followed up a solid rookie campaign with a really good sophomore season in 2018. Despite playing less than half of the available offensive snaps and getting fewer than 100 carries and 200 total touches, he finished with 1,169 yards from scrimmage, scored 8 touchdowns, and was one of the most explosive players in the NFL. For good measure, he was also a 1st team All Pro as a punt returner after leading the NFL in punt return yards and finishing 5th in yards per return.

Despite all of this, I think Cohen’s limited snaps and touches keep people from appreciating just how valuable he is to the offense. Cohen’s diminutive stature keeps him from being a conventional lead running back, but he still has a substantial impact on offensive production.

And there are actual numbers to back it up. The graph below shows the relationship between the total number of touches (carries or pass targets) that Cohen gets and how many points the offense scores. In order to account for different numbers of snaps in games, I looked at Cohen touches out of total snaps for that game. So if he got 10 carries + targets and the offense played 20 snaps, 50% of the plays went to Cohen.



There’s a pretty clear trend where the offense scores more points when more plays run through Cohen. We see that anecdotally as well, as the Bears scored 27 or more offensive points all 5 times Cohen was involved in 14+ plays in a game, and only 1 time in the other 12 games (including playoffs). An R2 value of 0.65 gives a strong number to support this correlation (a value of 0 would mean there is no relationship, while 1 would mean the relationship is perfectly linear).

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Mathematical Proof the Bears Need More Explosive Plays on Offense

| March 4th, 2019

I recently ran across this Tweet from NFL Matchup on ESPN – a terrific account you should definitely follow on Twitter if you want to be a better educated football fan. It got me thinking about Chicago’s offense and explosive plays.

Seeing as I’ve already written about Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles throwing the ball deep and Jordan Howard’s lack of explosive runs, I figured the Bears probably ranked towards the low end in this area. Using Pro Football Reference’s fantastic Game Play Finder, I was able to track these stats for every team in 2018 (full data here, slight discrepancies for the 17 teams shown in Tweet above, but all were within 1 or 2 plays).

As you can see in the table below, the Bears did indeed not do very well when it came to explosive plays.

We can see here that the Bears were slightly below average in every category, meaning there is need for improvement in explosive plays across the board. I’ll also note that percentages are calculated simply: (explosive plays/total plays)100; I figured this might be a useful metric since there is a some difference in how many plays teams run, especially when you split it up into run and pass plays.


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Week 13: Bears at Giants Game Preview, Volume II

| November 30th, 2018

Should the Bears win? Absolutely. Will they? The game preview continues…


Why the Bears Win

  • Khalil Mack and the pass rush should dominate a Giants’ offensive line that has already allowed 38 sacks. That means forcing Eli Manning into quick, hurried decisions and that usually means turnovers. The Giants can’t beat the Bears Sunday if they don’t win the turnover battle. And they’re not going to win the turnover battle.
  • Jordan Howard. No, I don’t think Matt Nagy is going to suddenly turn into Marty Schottenheimer and give Howard 28 carries. But this New Jersey defense likes to head for the exits a few ticks early at times. And with the forecast calling for rain, limiting the passing attacks, Howard should be able to dominate one of the league’s worst rushing defenses.
  • Third Down. The Giants, once you remove garbage time drives, are one of the worst third-down conversion offenses in the league. Hell, even if you keep the garbage time snaps they are still pretty bad. The Bears make opponents execute long drives to score touchdowns. Long drives mean executing on third down. The Giants don’t do that well.

Why They Don’t

  • Tackling. As strange as it sounds, this basic fundamental (or lack thereof) is not without precedent. If the Bears had tackled well in Miami they’d be sitting at 9-2 and threatening the top of the conference for a bye week in the postseason. Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham are tough men to tackle. If the Bears are not fundamentally sound they’ll be staring at the backs of their jerseys.
  • Chase Daniel is still a backup quarterback and backup quarterbacks are not expected to win back-to-back road games. Would anybody be surprised if Daniel struggled in the Meadowlands? He’s played three games of note in his 9-year career. Why would anything he does surprise anyone?

Tarik Cohen Audio of the Week

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Bears at the Bye: What To Make of the Running Back Position

| October 9th, 2018

Now that we’ve seen Chicago’s new offense play four games, it’s time to examine what exactly it looks like. We’ve seen them run 271 plays, and while that’s still a fairly small sample size, it’s big enough that we can begin to pick up trends, search for predictable patterns that opposing defenses might begin to pick up on, and see if there are any situations their current approach could be improved.

Today we’re going to focus on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, examining how much they’re playing, how effective they’ve been, and how they’re being utilized.


Snap Counts and Efficiency

First I want to look at how frequently each running back is playing, and how their presence on the field impacts the offense’s performance. Data is from The Quant Edge.

(Note: I’m using success rate here instead of yards per play. That is to account for down and distance context. A two-yard play on 1st and 10 is bad, while a two-yard play on 3rd and 1 is good. The general idea is that a successful play keeps you ahead of the chains, but an exact definition is available here if you’re curious.)

A few thoughts:

  • Howard is actually playing typical lead RB snaps for an Andy Reid offense. As I noted this offseason, Kareem Hunt played 65% of the snaps in Kansas City last year. This is in stark contrast to the Philadelphia Eagles style-rotation I thought would make more sense. It’s worth noting the 2 split snaps almost exactly 50/50 in the Tampa Bay game. I wonder if that’s more what we’ll see going forward.
  • The run/pass splits for when both of these players are in vs. out of the game are too lopsided. A 30% swing when Howard exits the game and 20% swing when Cohen enters the game should not be the case. This is too predictable and makes it too easy on the defense.
  • Some of these numbers are related, since Howard and Cohen basically swap being on the field. They’ve only shared the field on 23 snaps so far this year, so the run game being more effective with Howard off the field is the same as saying the run game gets more effective when Cohen is on the field. Again, I think this might have more to do with defenses gearing up to stop the run when Howard is in the game and not expecting it when Cohen is in.

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A Dominant Defense: Bears Beat Seahawks on Monday Night Football

| September 18th, 2018

The offense is a work-in-progress. The defense is the most exciting unit the Bears have fielded since 2006. The Bears evened their season record at 1-1 and quieted some of their Week One demons. Here’s a rapid fire recap of Monday night’s events.

  • Here’s how I’d summarize Mitch Trubisky’s evening: he’s not there yet. He’s not fully comfortable in the offense. He’s not processing his progressions quickly or trusting his protection. He’s also missing a few touch passes down the field. (Basically throwing straight heat.) But these are the trials and tribulations of a young quarterback, especially one that has seen his system flipped on its head from year one to year two.

  • But there are so many promising moments that it’s not hard to be optimistic about his development. The sideline floater to Cohen under duress:


  • The rolling left dart to Miller for a touchdown:

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How Inconsistent was Chicago’s 2017 Ground Game?

| July 16th, 2018

On the surface, the Bears’ running game didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017.

  • In 2016 they ran for 1,735 yards (17th in the NFL) and averaged 4.6 yards per carry (6th).
  • In 2017 that shifted to 1,788 yards (16th) and 4.2 yards per carry (11th).

The total yards slightly increased, the yards per carry slightly decreased, but the overall run game stayed average to above average.

But sometimes total numbers don’t tell the whole story, and some fans felt like Chicago’s rushing attack took a step back in 2017 due to inconsistency. For every dominant game (222 yards and 2 TD against Pittsburgh, 231 yards and a TD against Baltimore) there was an absolute clunker (6 yards against Philadelphia, 20 yards against Tampa Bay). DBB reader Butch thought that this perceived inconsistency was particularly frustrating, and he asked me to look into it.

Quantifying inconsistency is actually fairly straightforward using standard deviation, which is a measure of how much variability exists in a set of numbers. Basically, the higher a standard deviation is, the more inconsistent the numbers in that sample are. To see where the Bears ranked, I looked at their rushing yardage and yards per carry for each game in 2017 and found the standard deviation for both sets; I also did the same thing for the other 31 teams in order to give some context to the Bears’ results.

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Who Could Be The 2018 Breakout Bears: Offense

| June 27th, 2018

The revamped and retooled Chicago Bears offense certainly has a fair amount of buzz surrounding it, but some of the “breakout” players just may be guys who were already on the roster. Yes, the team spent a lot of money and some prime draft assets on the offensive side of the ball and those players are largely expected to carry the load. But an entire offense can’t be built in one off-season. They’ll need some of last year’s players to step up. There certainly aren’t a lot of options to pick from, but the players and coaches the Bears added could help some of the returning talent take the next step.


Charles Leno Jr.

The hiring of Harry Hiestand created a lot of hype around a few different players, but the young left tackle may benefit more than anyone. Leno has already become a good starting tackle, steadily improving each year, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue and even be accelerated under the tutelage of one of the sport’s best OL minds.

While he was a late round pick, Leno is a very talented player and less than a year older then Cody Whitehair. The superior coaching he is going to get from here on really could make him one of the ten best left tackles in the league. If that happens, you can expect the Bears to have one of the best offensive lines in the league.


Kevin White

I know, I know, you’re sick of Kevin White. But what if Ryan Pace was right when he made White the seventh overall pick in 2015?

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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.

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The Positional Quick 3: Running Backs

| June 8th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Running Backs

  • Folks comparing Tarik Cohen to Tyreek Hill need to calm down. They are not similar physically, as Hill’s size is what allows him to line-up outside as a de facto wide receiver. That’s not to say Tarik won’t be productive in the Nagy/Helfrich offense. He will. But I see most of that production coming from either (a) the backfield or (b) creative alignments by the coaching staff. Tarik is a toy the coaches will love playing with but I don’t see him as being one of the top two or three producers in this offense.
  • Jordan Howard is the best player on the Chicago Bears. Offense. Defense. Specials. Howard is their best player and he might be the best hand-off-and-hit-the-line running back in the game. While Nagy is coming from an Andy Reid program that seemed to abandon the run at the first sign of adversity, he and Helfrich need to recognize and embrace this basic fact. With the new weapons assembled on the offense, the coaches should put Howard in position to win MVP or offensive POY.
  • Prediction: Benny Cunningham, if he holds on to make this roster, will double his 20 catches from 2017 to 40 in 2018.

Monday: Wide Receivers

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 3

| April 17th, 2018

The last in a three-part series, breaking down Ryan Pace’s approach to the NFL Draft when it comes to prospects. Today, day three, rounds four through seven.


Draft History

2015: RB Jeremy Langford (R4), S Adrian Amos (R5), T Tayo Fabuluje (R6)

2016: LB Nick Kwiatkoski (R4), S Deon Bush (R4), CB Deiondre’ Hall (R4), RB Jordan Howard (R5), S DeAndre Houston-Carson (R6), WR Daniel Braverman (R7)

2017: S Eddie Jackson (R4), RB Tarik Cohen (R4), OL Jordan Morgan (R5)


Trend 1

Prioritize Rounds 4-5

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears are averaging two round 4 picks per year and are currently slated to have two in 2018. They will potentially have more if Pace trades down in round 2 again, as is he wont.

The Bears also acquired a fifth round pick in the Brandon Marshall deal. These are the rounds where he likes to operate, and he has done quite well, landing five solid contributors in three years: Adrian Amos, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen.

On the flip side, Pace doesn’t seem to care much about round 6 or 7, where he has made only three picks total through three years. He’s made several trades sending these picks out.

  • 6th for Khari Lee
  • Throw-ins for a trade on day two that netted extra 4ths
  • 6th to move up for Kwiatkoski
  • Throw-in 7th to get 5th back when trading Brandon Marshall to Jets
  • Conditional 2018 7th for Inman that they kept in 2018.

Don’t be surprised to see one of those traded away, perhaps to help move up for a coveted player in round 4.

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