As the Bears start their preparation for their season-opening game against the Lions in Detroit, it appears the team will be without starting running back David Montgomery. Montgomery, who hurt his groin a few weeks ago in practice, is expected to miss the team’s first two games this season. Without the second-year back, carries will be split amongst running backs Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall, and Cordarelle Patterson. Cohen, although the smallest of the three backs, has proven that he can be an effective back when deployed the right way.
The fourth-year back is one of the team’s most explosive players as he can make plays in the running, passing, and return game. In Cohen’s rookie season of 2017, then head coach John Fox made him a vital part of the offense incorporating him anyway possible. Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains used the shifty rookie as a traditional running back as they ran him out of many different formations. Cohen was given carries in the I, Single, and weak-side formations allowing the play set up to help create more explosive rushing attempts.
Many analysts viewed Cohen as too small of a running back to be able to handle a significant amount of carries due to his 5’6, 191-pound frame. In 2017, Fox wasn’t fearful of his running back’s size, which led to the running back having three games of 10 or more carries. Cohen was impactful as he rushed for over 75 yards and had multiple 20 yard or longer runs in two of those three games. There was nothing unique or fancy about how the Bears were using the small running back as several of the runs came from traditional formations and blocking schemes.
With Montgomery likely out for the first two games, head coach Matt Nagy should look at Cohen’s game film from 2017 and try to work some of the running formations into his game plan. In the two seasons under Nagy, the former North Carolina A&T running back has only one game in which he was given ten or more carries. The other issue is that a majority of Cohen’s running plays have come from a shotgun formation, which has allowed opposing defenses to better defend against it, making the Bears offense much more predictable.
If Nagy can get Cohen 10 more rushing attempts from different sets, the Bears rushing attack could still be effective without Montgomery to carry the load. Chicago’s running game can work Nall in on short-yardage situations, while using Patterson as a decoy or on specially designed running plays to keep their expected starter fresh and not overused. Nagy will have to use Cohen in a new way from a rushing standpoint anyway this season as the back’s longest rush attempt last season was 19, wherein prior years, his longest rush was over 30 yards.
Last season, the Bears were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL. This season, Nagy and his offense can change that even without Montgomery to start. Chicago should not shy away from running the ball with Cohen as there is a blueprint on how he can be a traditional rusher when given an opportunity. The worst thing that can happen on Sunday is for Nagy not to utilize the running game to balance out the offense with a running back that has shown he can be successful when given an increase in carries.
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