Analysis

Bears Film Study: Vikings Bottle Up the Bears Backfield in Week Five

For the second week in a row, the Bears found yards in the ground game tough to come by. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that the Vikings were rated as the third best rushing defense in the league through the first four weeks at 71.3 yards per game, according to ESPN.com.

As a team, the Bears scraped and clawed their way to 115 yards on 29 attempts, a respectable line against a unit as stout as Minnesota, and the most yards they’ve given up in 2017. Four yards per carry is generally a decent line by NFL standards, but the credit there lies in Jordan Howard‘s ability to fall forward and grind out the difficult yards, because they were not easy to come by. Dowell Loggains attempted to keep things balanced with 29 rushing attempts and 26 passing attempts, but the Vikings continued to dare the Bears to beat them through the air by playing a lot of man coverage and stacking the box with defenders.

The numbers don’t tell the entire story, as Loggains made it tough to get things going at times by falling into old habits of stretches with one-dimensional play-calling. In the third quarter, the Bears ran the ball four straight times against a stacked box, and again in the fourth quarter they ran it six straight times against a stacked box, only to be bailed out by Vikings penalties for a fresh set of downs both times. To Loggains’ credit, play-action had the Vikings linebackers frozen every time, leaving Trubisky able to roll out with easy reads. That should be fun to see for the rest of the year. We just need to see more balance on a play-to-play basis.

Jordan Howard

Howard unsurprisingly carried the load as the featured back with 19 rushes for 76 yards at a 4.0 YPC clip and a long of 13. Howard found the majority of his success on outside zones, where he was able to get around the edge and up to the second level. He found room for runs of nine, 12, 13, and had a 42-yard TD negated by a questionable holding penalty on Markus Wheaton.

Up the middle, Howard became acquainted with Vikings linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks quite well. There wasn’t much going up the middle, with Howard finding room for more than five yards only once on a nine yard run.  Throughout this game, my notes kept consistently repeating the terms “good, hard run,” “tough yards,” and “falling forward.” Jordan Howard is a grinder, and the Bears are lucky to have found him in the fifth round.

I’m consistently impressed with his effort and his vision. The guy is going to be a staple in the Chicago backfield for years to come. Unfortunately, the only positive in the ground game was Jordan Howard.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Tarik Cohen

Tarik Cohen is starting to face the reality that the NFL has a lot better athletes than he faced at North Carolina A&T. Cohen does deserve some credit for the fact that he is trying to make something happen on every single play that he touches the ball. From time to time, it works pretty well. But when it doesn’t, he gives up yards in a hurry. This Vikings defense is definitely top-tier and has more talent than most, but if Cohen takes one thing away from this game, it’s that sometimes you just have to take the yards in front of you and live to fight on the next down.

Through the first half, Tarik was sporting a line of three rushes for negative two yards and one catch for negative three yards. He finished with six carries for 13 yards at 2.2 yards per carry, and the lone catch for a loss of three. It was nice to see Loggains set up a couple plays for Cohen in open space. There was a jet sweep in the second half that went for a first down, and another occasion that Cohen split out wide for a screen pass but was bottled up quickly.

Other than that, his runs were out of the backfield and had no other catches. It was rather surprising, though, that Loggains didn’t implement more ways to get him out in space to help out the rookie QB in this one. One thing that definitely hindered Cohen’s opportunities was the amount of third downs that were given to Benny Cunningham over Tarik Cohen in this one.

Benny Cunningham

Through the first half, Cunningham had played nine snaps to Cohen’s 10, mostly serving as the third down back. Sure, the simple explanation lies in the fact that Loggains prefers to have a veteran back to help Trubisky in pass protection, and Cunningham did serve his purpose in that regard. His blitz pickup abilities stood out nicely on a few different occasions.

It was rather surprising to see Benny get more targets than Cohen, though. Especially on a third and six where a Cohen screen to the right was used as a diversion for a Cunningham screen to the left. Might want to re-think that one, Dowell. Cunningham did provide the most surprising play of the game with a long TD reception from Punter Pat O’Donnell on a fake punt. It feels like forever since the Bears did something exciting like that. All in all, a solid performance for the third-string RB doing the dirty work. He finished with one carry for four yards and two catches for 43 yards and a TD.

Offensive Line

The O-Line had their hands full with the Vikings’ front seven. This was an all-out back-and-forth battle. The Bears looked overwhelmed at times, allowing what felt like the entire Vikings defense into the backfield to bottle up Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. At other times, Howard was able to find room and get up-field for chunks at a time. There were several hellacious holding penalties that negated some big plays, but overall this group held their ground against a top-ranked rushing defense.

The Bears finished the game with the most yards on the ground against the Vikings. This group did what they could, and opened up enough lanes to keep the game close. Charles Leno remains an enigma at Left Tackle, where he’ll show solid technique followed by epic failures. Bobby Massie remains solid in the run game. I expected more out of Cody Whitehair this season, as he’s almost met his penalty total for the 2016 season through five games and has had trouble with shotgun snaps.

Maybe he just needs time to settle in after playing three different positions in the first few weeks, but he still shows flashes of greatness. It was good to see Kyle Long back in the game after an injury scare to his surgically-repaired ankle. He definitely fortifies this group. Josh Sitton finished the game with one of the highest grades from Pro Football Focus at 80.2. He remains one of Pace’s best free agent pickups.

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