Gabriel: Quality Of Touches Crucial For Cohen

October 02, 2018 - 11:55 am

(670 The Score) Bears running back Tarik Cohen had a breakout game in his team's 48-10 win against the Buccaneers on Sunday, rushing 13 times for 53 yards and recording seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

It begs the question: Is that high-volume usage of Cohen what we can expect on a weekly basis?

I don't believe so. His 20 touches from scrimmage led the Bears on Sunday, but I don't think we will continue to see him get that much work regularly moving forward. My reasoning has to do with matchups. First-year coach Matt Nagy schemes to exploit opposing defenses, and the Bears recognized that the design of the Buccaneers defense would allow Cohen to be put in advantageous one-on-one matchups with linebackers often.

That proved to be the case Sunday, but the Bears' upcoming opponents now have film on how Cohen was utilized and will make a point to prevent getting stuck in such situations. Beyond that, the increase in Cohen's touches took away from the workload of Bears running back Jordan Howard, who had 11 carries for 25 yards and was really a non-factor. 

For the Bears to win on a consistent basis, Howard has to be productive. While they want to produce big plays on offense and Cohen has that game-changing ability, a strong running game is key to setting up such plays. Howard is the player to rely on in that quest.

Counting his three punt returns, Cohen had 23 touches Sunday. His production will likely wane if his workload remains that high, as the 16-game schedule will take a toll on his small frame. 

The ideal number of touches for Cohen is 15 to 17 a game, and Howard needs to get 20 to 25 for the Bears offense to have sustained success. Amid their strong 3-1 start, the Bears have yet to develop consistency in the running game. That will become more important as the season goes on.

Nagy has praised Cohen's ability to learn the system quickly, citing his aptitude for handling multiple positions in the team's offense. Cohen understands the primary running back position, the secondary running back position and much of what is asked of the wide receivers. Because of that, the Bears can line him up in many different spots -- at running back, in a double-back formation, in the slot or split wide -- and scheme to get him the ball.

That puts pressure on the defense. The key for the Bears is finding ways to isolate Cohen on either a linebacker or one of the opponents' weaker cover defenders. The goal should be to get Cohen eight to 10 carries a game and five catches in space. Do that, and Cohen will have the ability to make the big plays that everyone wants and he also won't get worn down. 

Howard can then complement that by pounding away at the defense with 17 to 20 rushes a game.

There's no doubt that Cohen is going to continue to be a big part of the Bears offense, but what's best for him isn't necessarily getting 20-plus touches every week. It's more about quality of touches rather than quantity. 

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​