How Tarik Cohen is learning to combat being a focus of opposing defensive coordinators


It was inevitable that opposing defensive coordinators were going to scheme a way to smother Tarik Cohen after his explosive NFL debut against the Atlanta Falcons in September. And it’s been a challenge for the rookie to adapt to having a target on his back over the last few weeks.

Cohen’s production has steadily declined since Week 2, with his snap counts dropping from 28 against the Pittsburgh Steelers to 18 against the Green Bay Packers to 17 against the Minnesota Vikings. He caught four passes for 24 yards against both Pittsburgh and Green Bay, but only had one catch for minus-one yard against Minnesota. He carried 12 times against Pittsburgh for 78 yards, but was held to 24 yards on six carries in Green Bay and 13 yards on six carries on Monday night.

Against Minnesota, Cohen felt he was dancing and trying to make a move too frequently, which led to his muted production.

“I feel like I was trying too hard to make a play,” Cohen said. “And that’s what I really gotta look at, just playing to the offense and taking what’s there.”

The Vikings put two defenders on Cohen quite a bit on Monday, which isn’t surprising given Cohen has shown he can be the Bears’ best offensive weapon this year. That double-team challenge isn’t one Cohen is shying away from — “if I take an extra defender with me, then somebody else should be freed up,” he said — but it does make it incumbent on the 5-foot-6 running back to not necessarily try to make a huge play every time he touches the ball.

“He does have that innate ability,” coach John Fox said. “Now if people are starting to play for that, even as a receiver, you start to draw more attention, which happens in this league. These guys are all pretty good coaches and understand. People are doing things to not let him be as big a factor, whether it’s the style of run or even the matchups. People are playing nickel defenses against him.

“Now it’s a matter of adjusting. He’ll do that, we’ll do that and keep trying to get him his touches.”

The Bears don’t want to coach Cohen’s aggressiveness and instincts out of him, but much like with Mitchell Trubisky, he’s figuring out when and when not to try to make a play.

“You really have to take what they give you, because if they’re doubling you it’s two NFL guys so there’s not going to be a lot there,” Cohen said. “So when you do get the opportunity to get the ball in double coverage, just take what the defense gives you.”

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