Chicago Bears: Could the Tarik Cohen receiver experiment actually work?

(Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images) /

With the offense looking anemic, could using Tarik Cohen more as a receiver give the Chicago Bears a shot in the arm?

Yesterday, I talked about the struggles of the Chicago Bears on offense, which suggest that future changes at the head coaching position could be in the team’s best interest — an unpopular position on a Victory Tuesday, as I found.

Then, later last night, I saw this gem of a tweet that more or less sums up exactly why some fans, while happy with the Bears’ 3-4 record, still question how sustainable their success is:

However happy one may be that the Bears are winning with defense — who doesn’t enjoy that?— they won’t win consistently if they have no offense. And though Jordan Howard keeps running as hard as ever, meaningful improvements won’t happen until the Bears open up the passing game.

We know Mitch Trubisky can throw the football just fine. The question is: who’s going to catch it?

Zach Miller has caught the ball well thus far and has Trubisky’s trust, but teams are getting wise to this.

Kendall Wright isn’t playing much because the Bears are favoring Tanner Gentry and Tre McBride, who are both bigger and can block more effectively, I guess. Not that either of them do much aside from that though, partly by design and partly because they’re not exactly world-beaters.

Ditto for Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen, who still hasn’t made an impact in the passing game.

Oddly enough, with such uncertainty around the passing game, the Chicago Bears started toying with an option last Sunday that they briefly tried out earlier this season: lining Tarik Cohen up as a wide receiver.

While the experiment yielded mixed results, the idea of using him that way remains a very intriguing prospect.

But Can It Work?

That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Cohen’s speed, agility and huge hands make him a viable option as a pass-catcher. In fact, he still leads the Bears in receptions (27) and ranks third on the team in yards (233). Most of that came from being Mike Glennon‘s security blanket, of course, but you get the point.

And on Sunday, the Chicago Bears showed a willingness to expand his usage a bit and give teams to think about, targeting him downfield out of the slot.

Here, Dowell Loggains actually runs a nice play out of trips to scheme Cohen open a bit, running a wheel route off a reasonable pick from McBride. They get Cohen matched up with Captain Munnerlyn, and Cohen makes a nice adjustment to Trubisky’s back-shoulder throw. Unfortunately, he can’t haul it in.

Good play design and route from Cohen, but he has to finish the play.

Cohen also dropped a short out route on the next drive along the sideline. Though Trubisky hesitated on the throw and put it slightly behind him, you expect him to catch that.

But then, the Bears (nearly) struck paydirt with Cohen with a 70-yard pitch-and-catch on their third offensive drive.

The Bears flanked Cohen out alone as the Z-receiver, and the Panthers leave cornerback Kevon Seymour on him. They actually did something similar on a first-quarter play on their second drive, splitting him out as an X-receiver on a run play. Perhaps they were setting up this look.

Interestingly, Carolina is playing a Cover-3 “press” look with the other corner in press coverage but Seymour playing the deep third on his side. They have this play covered, right?


Cohen slays him with a corner-post route, turning Seymour around more times than someone doing the salsa. Truthfully, a better throw from Trubisky might have gone for a score here. That said, Cohen did his best to get there despite the underthrow, weaving his way to the 5-yard line.

In short, this play encapsulates every single reason why the Bears could stand to benefit from throwing Cohen the ball downfield: he has decent hands, has shown he’s more than capable of getting open against NFL defensive backs and is unbridled lightning in the open field.

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That said, there are a few caveats that may keep the Bears from utilizing Cohen this way as often as they might.

First off, maybe this usage of Cohen was just game-specific based on matchups they thought they could exploit. They might not be as confident that Cohen can torch other teams’ defensive backs the way he did the Panthers’.

Also, while he has played effectively in spurts, the Bears have arguably used him too much this season without a clear picture of what they want from him. Then again, maybe the Bears think they’ve found something here and use him more specifically in this role. We’ll see.

Lastly, Cohen has to catch the football, plainly and simply. He had two drops on Sunday and also dropped a well-thrown (!) deep ball from Glennon against Atlanta. Can’t have that.

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That said, maybe the Chicago Bears will be willing to roll the dice with Cohen more as a receiver with the passing game struggling. He’s certainly an electric enough player to make it work out.

One way or another, someone has to step up if the Bears intend to stay in this playoff race. Maybe that someone is Cohen.