LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s been a rough few days for John Fox and Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who have struggled to explain many of the confusing coaching decisions that were made in Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.
But while the heat is increasing this week, most of the offensive issues have been present all season. With that in mind, this entire edition of “10 Bears Things” is devoted to 10 specific problems with the Bears’ offense:
1. Tarik Cohen’s playing time.
Fox and Loggains keep steering this conversation towards Cohen’s touches, but the real issue here is the amount he’s actually on the field. This is finally getting the attention it deserves this week, but it’s actually been an issue all season. Here are Cohen’s snap counts by game, with the percentage of offensive plays in parentheses:
ATL: 28/67 (42%)
TB: 40/64 (62%)
PIT: 28/65 (43%)
GB: 18/68 (26%)
MIN: 17/61 (28%)
BAL: 26/80 (32%)
CAR: 7/38 (18%)
NO: 18/67 (27%)
GB: 13/60 (22%)
When asked Wednesday about getting Cohen involved more, Fox started his answer by saying, “You’re looking at one game.” But as you can see, Cohen’s 13 snaps on Sunday actually fall in line with what he’s been getting since Week 4. This is about much more than one game.
So why is the Bears’ most explosive playmaker barely seeing the field? It’s the question of the week at Halas Hall and neither Fox or Loggains can adequately answer the question.
“I think if you just looked at the tape you see he is that explosive guy that everybody’s alluded to, including Dowell, but at this stage you put him in as wideout and they’re going to double him,” Fox said. “On the first (second) down last week, you know that was where Kendall Wright was singled up and he got a (second) down reception for a first down when they doubled Tarik over to the other side.”
So isn’t that a reason to have Cohen on the field more? I asked Fox that very question Wednesday and this was his answer:
“You know, you’ve got guys like Inman getting in, and you know there’s only one ball. I think our guys understand it’s a little bit how the game went last week. Last week is kind of, you know, when you isolate on just that one (game) I think he’s had plenty of touches and like I said he is our leading receiver with 29 catches on our team.”
Once again, this isn’t a one-game issue and Fox clearly didn’t have an answer to the actual question. He steered right back to the subject of “touches,” which has nothing to do with the fact that the Bears have exactly one player their roster commanding extra attention from opposing defenses and, more times than not, that player is on the bench.
But since Fox keeps bringing it up…
2. Tarik Cohen leads the team with 29 catches.
Which is worse, that a player who barely plays leads the team in catches or that the player who leads the team in catches barely plays?
Also, it’s Week 11 and we’re talking about 29 catches. That puts Cohen 79th in the NFL.
And it’s usually not good if a running back leads your team in catches, even if that running back lines up at receiver frequently. Matt Forte once led the Bears in catches… with 102. Cohen will be lucky to sniff 50, especially with the playing time he’s getting.
And if Fox is going to bring up Cohen’s catches as proof that he’s involved in the offense, then it’s only fair to point out that 16 of those catches came in the first two games. In the last five games, Cohen had exactly one reception in each game.
3. The real reason for Cohen’s lack of playing time might actually have to do with Mitch Trubisky.
Fox pointed out that Cohen is not part of the Bears’ two-minute package and he’s not the third-down back because they trust Benny Cunningham more in pass protection. That’s fair, although Cunningham did allow a sack Sunday and there’s no reason why Cohen can’t line up at receiver in those packages.
But Loggains provided this very interesting answer when asked about Cohen’s snap counts:
“Tarik draws as many different looks and different coverages as Mitchell does and people try to dictate and hide coverage to Mitchell. Well, every time Tarik is in the game, you don’t know what you’re going to get. New Orleans had their own separate package for him. Green Bay played him a completely different way than they played the rest of the time. Sometimes you go in anticipating one thing and when they do something they’ve never done before, now it’s make sure those two young players get on the same page. So sometimes you have to figure out what they’re doing and how they’re trying to dictate the game and they’re playing different personnel groupings to it.”
This answer is especially alarming. It seems like every week Loggains has talked about opposing defenses playing the Bears a different way than they’ve previously shown on film. Well, they’re obviously doing that for a reason. And now Loggains is saying that opposing defenses are specifically using new packages to stop Cohen, which is making it harder for their rookie quarterback to read the defenses. So instead of making in-game adjustments with Trubisky, they’d rather just take Cohen off the field.
This appears to be an admission that either Trubisky is struggling to read defenses or the offensive coordinator is struggling to make in-game adjustments. Or both.
Which leads us to the next problem…
4. Both Fox and Loggains admitted that opposing defenses are dictating who gets the ball and who’s on the field.
Give Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh credit, because he followed up with a great question: “Why wouldn’t the offense dictate who the defense is going to play?”
“Well, because we look at the matchups, ‘OK, they have a Dime 32 package.’ Each week we might not feel great about Tarik in protection vs. Clay Matthews. Or there may be a certain blitz they run,” Loggains said. “This game is about matchups for us as well as them and that is the first thing we look at when we decide who is going to be in the game.”
I’m sorry, but that is a startling admission. Obviously offensive coordinators try to slow down key defensive players with certain personnel packages, but the offense is the one with the ball. The offense can control substitutions by going fast or going slow.
Every play starts the same way: The offense puts its personnel on the field, the defense identifies it, makes its own substitutions and then gets into a coverage. But it’s the offense that is in control because they determine when the ball is snapped and they can make adjustments at the line of scrimmage once they see what the defense is in.
The amazing thing is that Loggains continued his answer with this: “(Cohen) did help in the passing game because that was the best production we have had in the passing game and he was a part of that because he opened some other guys up because he was doubled.”
Facepalm. So, again, why wasn’t Cohen on the field more?
5. The sudden Josh Bellamy love on offense.
We know John Fox loves himself some Josh Bellamy, but it was bizarre to see Bellamy play 40 of 60 snaps on offense Sunday.
“We thought Bellamy gave us an element of speed that we needed that week,” Loggains said. “He’s always been a good blocker. Part of that thought process was we needed to stretch the field and he’s probably our fastest wide receiver. He came up big on the long touchdown pass. That was really why we did it.”
So it worked for one big play, but Bellamy still only caught two balls on seven targets. The truth is, Bellamy is fast and he actually does get open, but he doesn’t have great hands and he has a small catch radius for quarterbacks to throw to. That makes it easier to play zone coverage on him and limits the route tree. His touchdown catch came in man coverage when he used a small double-move and just ran right by Packers cornerback Davon House. That he can do. You just hope he comes down with the football, which he did on that play.
But Loggains also admitted that Bellamy didn’t run a great route at the end of the game.
“There was a ball to our sideline to Bellamy that I thought Josh could have run out of it. He kind of slowed up a little bit, and he should have been bursting out at 21 yards on the sideline,” Loggains said. “Those are things that right now we’re battling and we’ve got to get fixed and corrected … (Trubisky) is putting it right in the spot he should. If Bellamy runs out of it with a great urgency—put your head down, run out of it at that angle—then the ball is thrown right there. You guys saw it, Coach (Jon) Gruden talked about it the other day (on Monday Night Football), ‘the honey hole’ or ‘the turkey hole,’ whatever he referred to it as. That’s what we were attacking on that play.”
The coaches film does show that the ball landed in-bounds in a hole between three Packers’ defensive backs. Bellamy just wasn’t there yet. And that’s a great Turkey Hole reference by Loggains.
6. Markus Wheaton is in the dog house.
If we’ve learned anything over the past three seasons, it’s that Fox has a short fuse when it comes to guys with nagging injuries. Wheaton has seemingly had something since the start of training camp when he had an emergency appendectomy. Wheaton was active for only the fourth time Sunday but only played two snaps.
“I think most of it is that he hasn’t been practicing a lot,” Fox said. “You know, it’s a little like (Dontrelle) Inman, you just can’t throw people out there the minute they walk in the building, you know there’s a process to learning new language, you have to be able to communicate that language. And so in (Wheaton’s) case, he kind of knows the language, he just hasn’t been out there very much so now it’s just kind of getting re-acclimated back into football shape, back into game-ready shape.”
OK. Inman played 57 of 60 snaps, by the way, and has been on the team for less than three weeks — one of which was a bye. Wheaton has been on the team since March and was able to practice fully on Thursday and Friday last week, but still barely saw the field.
For what it’s worth, Wheaton believes he’s healthy and was frustrated with only getting two snaps against the Packers.
“It was extremely frustrating, but I am coming off of injury,” Wheaton said. “So I just have to keep pushing, man. Keep getting healthy. Show them that I am healthy and I’m sure that it will change.”
Wheaton was then asked if he feels like he’s healthy enough to play more.
“I think I’m ready to play, absolutely. I think I’m ready play. So we’ll see this week,” he said.
Earlier in the week Fox indicated that Wheaton has to practice at full speed. I asked him if he feels like he’s already practicing at full speed. His response:
“I think I had a great day today, yes.”
Perhaps there is more to it.
“For us, when you have a young quarterback, we need guys that we really know and understand out there and it’s not anything Markus has done or hasn’t done,” Loggains said. “We’ve got to get him healthy, get him practicing and his role and reps should grow as he gets more comfortable in that role and Mitchell gets more comfortable with him.”
7. Tre McBride is still Tre McBride.
With Bellamy suddenly getting 40 snaps on Sunday, it was fair to wonder why McBride only got seven snaps, especially after catching three passes for 92 yards in New Orleans.
“Sometimes statistically when you say he played the best game of his career, that may not match with what the coaches see on tape when balls aren’t going your way or how you’re getting separation vs. man coverage or other things,” Loggains said.
Fair enough. Asked and answered.
8. Too many negative runs.
The Bears lead the NFL in negative runs and part of that is because they’ve been so committed to the run (Loggains correctly pointed out that when Fox’s Panthers had two 1,000 yard rushers in 2009, they also led the league in negative runs), but it’s mostly due to inconsistent play up front.
“It’s part of the process of facing eight-man fronts,” Loggains said. “They’re really aggressive. You’ve got to make them pay with the passing game. It is a really difficult spot to put a quarterback in.”
Hey, it’s just me, but perhaps playing the guy who commands double teams would help both the run and pass game.
9. Kyle Long is really banged up.
He has a significantly injured hand to go along with the already well documented shoulder and ankle problems. No one should be questioning Long’s toughness because he has gutted out all season, but it was finally decided to limit him to emergency duty last week.
“Me and Fox never went to med school,” Long said. “I do know that time does help with things you’re dealing with so that’s the approach I’m taking right now.”
With Long out, Whitehair was forced to move to guard and Hroniss Grasu played center, where he was frequently bullrushed backward, shrinking the pocket on Trubisky.
Which brings us to the final problem…
10. This just isn’t an ideal situation to develop a rookie quarterback.
General manager Ryan Pace knew that going into the season, which is why he was hoping Mike Glennon’s experience would help buy time for Trubisky, but Pace also could have done more to help the wide receiver situation.
Perhaps exhausted with getting peppered with tough questions Wednesday, Loggains hinted at some of the personnel limitations, even admitting that Sunday was the first time in his three years in Chicago that one of his players was double-teamed.
“I think the biggest thing, to be honest, that can help Tarik is the other guys start stepping up and start playing well around him and become more reliable receivers where maybe some of the ball distribution (improves) and attention goes away (from him) a little bit,” Loggains said.
The offensive coordinator has a point, but there’s no more help on the way. Inman is the help. And there are things Loggains can do to better scheme his players open. Being afraid to play Cohen because it leads to tougher defenses for Trubisky to read is, well, playing scared. Trubisky seemed to read the double team on the second play of the game just fine, hitting Kendall Wright for 12 yards. He could have taken advantage of that more had Cohen actually been on the field. And why not line tight end Adam Shaheen up outside, even just once? Is that why you drafted “Baby Gronk”? The Bears did that stuff with Shaheen in OTAs and training camp, but it’s been non-existent in the regular season.
Fox and Loggains may be limited with their personnel, but they are limiting themselves with these game plans. Heck, they even admitted it by saying that opposing defenses are dictating their personnel.
But that says it all, doesn’t it?