Cohen is in the backfield.
Punt. The ball is looping high in the air.
Tarik Cohen does what he does. He catches and cradles the ball on the 39 yard line. He takes off. To his right. And backward. He moves at a rapid rate. He is a smooth and fluid runner. He is a smooth and fluid runner going the wrong way. He has lost ten full yards by the time he elects to wheel out to his left.
Chicago Bears fans are becoming accustomed to his erratic running style. What separates this haphazard dash from the many others is its success. As Cohen doubles back and redirects he has somehow negotiated a clear running lane. He finds another gear of acceleration and is able to sprint to the end zone.
Soldier Field erupts.
There are rarely individual moments that can fully and accurately encapsulate a team dynamic. This is not one either. It was thrilling. It was successful. The Chicago Bears are not thrilling. They are not successful.
It was more of a tantalizing glimmer of hope. In many ways Tarlk Cohen has carried the weighty burden of hope for this roster. He is genuinely exciting to watch. He is an offensive spark plug. It is a huge responsibility for an under-sized rookie. He should be a complimentary piece. Jordan Howard is the lead running back tasked with getting the bruising hard yards. Cohen can be deployed in numerous ways. He can line up as a receiver. He can provide a coordinator with the ability to alter the angle of attack.
We often cast envious glances at other teams. It serves as little more than a useless lesson in frustration. The recent performances of the New Orleans Saints running back tandem is, with justification, drawing widespread acclaim.
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are a duo with different skill-sets. They can be successfully used separately or in conjunction with one another. They are taking defenses apart and are steamrolling the Saints towards the playoffs.
What separates the Saints backs from the Bears duo — and their comparative success — isn’t their own individual talents. The surrounding structure in which they are deployed plays a significant part in their success. Kamara and Ingram must always be accounted for. But defensive schemes cannot afford to focus solely on nullifying their threat. Drew Brees cannot be easily tamed by a defense with heavy emphasis on stopping the run. Brees will, with his dependable arm and cerebral talent, simply work with his reliable targets and expertly move down the field.
The emergence of Mitchell Trubisky has seen defenses pay respect to his mobility and ease of moving the pocket. But for all his elusiveness he is yet to prove his accuracy and is devoid of receivers. Teams facing Trubisky will be content to take their chances with minimal receiver coverage. Until such time as Chicago finds consistent weapons in the wider areas opposition defenses can concentrate and centralize their efforts in run defense.
Trubisky is young. He can certainly improve. To ask him to be Drew Brees is beyond unfair. But Drew Brees passing ability has a huge influence on the effectiveness of their run game. The New Orleans Saints have effectively added a flexible dimension to their offense. They are now an offense strong in the passing and running game. Strength upon strength.
General Manager Ryan Pace has spoken openly about his time in New Orleans and how it has shaped his own footballing beliefs. He is often at pains to stress his wish to instill a culture. He preaches the mantra of gradual improvement. He plans in the long term.
If it is possible to look beyond the immediate — most notably the depressing win-loss record — there are small shoots of optimism. Pace has overseen a radical overhaul of the roster. He has thrown his weight behind Trubisky. He has found his franchise quarterback.
Now the coaching staff has to evolve.
No pleasure should be taken in advocating for the dismissal of a coaching staff. But the Chicago Bears need change. The franchise wants to compete. They are several years away. The Bears are entrenched as the poor relation in a division with three teams with distinct identities.
This is beginning to feel like the next phase in ‘The Rebuild’. It has been a difficult, awkward and humbling process. The Cutler era was terminated. Suitable players were acquired for the 3-4 defense and schematic misfits were moved. The demolition work has been all but completed. There are a few outstanding tasks — see Mike Glennon’s contract. Significant work has commenced on the foundations. The project ahead remains daunting. This will not be a quick job.
John Fox is 62 years old.
Replacing Fox should not be a petty act of agism. It is lazy to suggest his advanced years equate to regressive or latter day thinking. He is an experienced Head Coach and his resumé should be given proper respect. But the Chicago Bears have to be focused on the future.
His performance this year has been marred with game mis-management and poor decision making. As the losses mount there is a growing feeling of lethargy and despondency. Defeat is expected. There is a meek acceptance.
There should be a sense of realism. Surrounded by teams on an upward trajectory the organization must understand the sizable gulf between contention and their current status. The Chicago Bears need to identify a head coach that can spearhead the franchise for the next decade.
It is perhaps a unrealistic notion that franchises can expect a ten year tenure for a coach. But in the circumstance the Bears find themselves in — with divisional and conference rivals showing no indication of regression — they must look at the coming seasons as a period of regeneration. A new appointment has to be made with a long term view. The next coach should be able to allowed to benefit from the transitional Fox years. Let the demolition be John Fox’s legacy.
Fans will want immediate success but would at least be more accepting of mis-steps and errors being made by a young coach with new ideas. The lack of promise is what kills a franchise. It is to Fox’s enormous credit that stories of a lost locker room are not prevalent. He has had to contend with much outside of his control. It has been an altogether horrible and demoralizing season. But even his most ardent supporters would concede that a renaissance or new positive direction in his coaching is unlikely.
The Bears need clarity and solidity. They need a visible organizational structure. If Ryan Pace is to remain in place it will be as a direct result of his drafting talent. He needs to identify a coaching staff that can make the most of that talent.
The Rams took the decision to replace Jeff Fisher with an untested coach in his early thirties. This was a bold move that had the capacity for disaster. But Sean McVay has approached the job with a refreshing air of positivity and restraint. He had the wisdom to hand the defensive responsibilities to Wade Phillips. This could have been spun as a novice admitting to his own short-comings. Instead we are witnessing a coach who is installing his own brand of offensive football derived from his background as a coordinator. He is making this team his own. He is seen as comfortable in the sensible delegation to a defensive guru.
We see the positive angle because the Rams are winning.
The Rams took the road less travelled. They didn’t appoint a retread coach. Now they have a coach that could feasibly be in place for many years to come. He has transformed the fortunes of Jared Goff after an uninspired rookie season. The Rams have weathered relocation and continued under-performance. They have their new coaching staff and a revitalized roster. Their arrow is pointing upward.
The Chicago Bears are looking more and more like a franchise at a crucial crossroad. The decision makers have the power to shape the future of this team.
As Tarik Cohen’s lung-bursting, scrambled punt return demonstrates — the road to success can beset with diversion and set-back. Overcoming those obstacles is an undeniably hard part of the journey. But there comes a time when you have to set your course and commit to the destination. You need to get there.
The Chicago Bears’ fanbase is desperate to see this team run free.
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