Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
I’ve expected more out of the short screen game to get Tarik Cohen in space. Seems every other team runs it more effectively. Is that true? — @fols54 from Twitter
That’s a keen observation on your part. I don’t know if I would say every team has a better screen game than the Bears, but it is fair to say the screen game has considerable room for improvement. In my estimation, it’s not a play Mitch Trubisky has executed really well to this point. Keep in mind it takes time to develop the feel, touch and most importantly the timing to be really good in the screen game. There are a lot of moving parts there with the linemen attempting to deke the defensive linemen and then getting out in space to clear a path. Cohen, obviously, has the skills to be really good in this area, but keep in mind opponents are being very careful with how they defend him. Jordan Howard continues to struggle catching the ball and really that has been a team-wide issue. The Bears have dropped 8.9 percent of catchable passes, the second-worst rate in the NFL behind only the 49ers (9.2 percent), according to STATS. Hopefully the Bears can iron out some of the timing issues with the screen game in the two months ahead.
I actually have a couple points to make about this answer.
Cohen could be very good in the screen game but we’ve seen the league rapidly adjust to him and I think there’s some reason to doubt his long-term viability in the league. Cohen practically made a living in cut back lanes in his runs but once defenses understood what he was doing, they started quickly taking those cuts away. The result hasn’t been good.
The Bears desperation to find a receiver has led them to split Cohen out and he’s done a decent job. But he’s awfully small and Trubisky has been struggling a bit with his accuracy. That’s not a good combination.
How Cohen adjusts to the defenses is going to be one of the more interesting stories in the second half of the season.
Here’s hoping executing in the screen game is part of the answer for Cohen. If there’s one lesson that I learned watching the Saints, it’s how important that can be to an offense. The Saints played off of their success in the screen game about as well as anyone I’ve ever seen and the Bears could use it just as effectively if they get their act together on it.
The second point has to do with the drops. I was surprised by this statistic but I shouldn’t have been.
I’ve noted a number of times during my quick game comments that drops haven’t been a big factor in the games. However, as Biggs statistic emphasizes, this is because they’ve thrown so few passes. As a percentage of what they’ve thrown, they’ve been pretty bad.
The passing game is a lot like the running game in that it goes better when you build momentum. Pass catchers that never see passes all game have a bad habit of dropping the ones that come to them simply because it’s such a long time since they’ve seen one.
This argument is admittedly somewhat circular. You don’t throw because you don’t have success doing it. You don’t have success doing it because you don’t throw.
I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that the Bears need to break out of this. Teams have zero respect for their receivers, sometimes crashing 9 men into the line of scrimmage.
They aren’t going to compete with many good teams without a passing game.