By Chris Emma—
(CBS) In the aftermath of his Bears regular-season debut and a hard-fought loss, quarterback Mike Glennon was among those offering praise for rookie running back Tarik Cohen.
“Secret’s out,” Glennon said after a 23-17 loss to the Falcons on Sept. 10.
The Bears had just unleashed Cohen to the tune of five rushes for 66 yards and eight receptions and a touchdown on 12 targets. Atlanta wasn’t expecting to see the fourth-round pick out of North Carolina A&T lining up all over the field as the most prominent piece to Glennon’s offense. The Bears nearly pulled the upset thanks to Cohen masking their issues offensively.
But the words of Glennon also spoke to the Bears’ problem offensively. What more do the Bears have than a secret who’s now on everyone’s scouting report?
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains again stated Wednesday that the Bears are a run-oriented offense, but they haven’t gotten Jordan Howard to the second level. Howard is the single most important piece to this offense, and he can’t get to open field. On the Bears’ 0-2 start, he has rushed a combined 22 times for 59 yards.
“The thing is — and I wish there was a better answer — the fact is it was one guy on each play,” Loggains said of Howard’s struggles. “It wasn’t one guy playing poor. We’re going to face overpopulated boxes. We know that. There’s going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time, and we have to execute better. It comes down to that.”
The answer to this problem comes with the Bears’ passing game, which is halting the running game.
Glennon’s longest completion on the season is for 22 yards. He hasn’t tried to attack a defense over the top, primarily passing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. In fairness, Glennon hasn’t had the receivers to go deep. The Bears’ hope is that Markus Wheaton can change that against the Steelers on Sunday.
With Wheaton, the Bears hope to create “more three-level throws,” Loggains said. That would force the safeties to drop back into coverage, thus opening up the box. But will the Steelers even fret the deep threat from Glennon?
Glennon has completed just 21 passes for more than 30 yards in his career, and 13 of those went to receivers named Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson. Wheaton has a good track record of big plays, but those came with Antonio Brown lining up across from him and Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. On Sunday, those two will be on the opposite sideline.
Howard set a Bears rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards on 252 carries in 2016, good for a 5.2 yards-per-carry average. He’s averaging 2.7 yards this season after rushing nine times for seven yards in an ugly loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
There’s new personnel around Howard this season. Glennon is the starter at quarterback, Alshon Jeffery is a Philadelphia Eagle and not the Bears’ big-play threat and the offensive line has been shuffled.
“I would definitely just say it’s different,” Howard said Monday during his weekly press availability. “We have so many new pieces, but I don’t have any doubts about us putting it all together.”
Cohen has been a key cog to the offense, but he’s now a marked man after that debut against the Falcons. As Glennon said, the secret’s out. This offense must run with Howard.
The Bears certainly have fair intentions with their goal of being a run-based offense. They’re still trying to figure out Glennon’s fit in this offense and doing so with a mix at receiver. It would be nice to simply rely on that running game to keep the ball moving, but there’s no complement from the passing game.
It’s up to Glennon to open up the box for Howard and Cohen, or else there’s little hope for this offense.