Against the Rams last week, the Bears used running back Tarik Cohen twice as much as they usually do.
Good things happened. He scored the Bears’ lone touchdown and had the team’s second-longest catch — though it was only for 17 yards. His two 12-yard runs were the longest by any Bear.
“Trust me,” coach Matt Nagy said this week, “just like everybody, we want to do everything we can to get [Cohen] going. He’s a playmaker, and every time he’s on the field, even if he doesn’t touch the football, the defense has to know where he’s at.”
Nagy must ensure he actually touches the football. To try to put a positive spin on a soul-crushing season, the Bears must turn to the man with the apt nickname for their current predicament: “Chicken Salad.”
Cohen had nine carries for 39 yards against the Rams, plus five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.
His 14 touches were his most since the last Giants game — when Cohen ran eight times, caught 12 passes and threw a one-yard touchdown pass at the gun to force overtime.
It was double his typical workload this season. Through the Bears’ first nine games, he averaged 7.4 touches.
“I’ll take the ball however it comes to me,” Cohen said. “I’m definitely not picky.”
As the Bears spend the next six weeks trying to unlock their offense, all the attention will be on struggling quarterback Mitch Trubisky. But Cohen is unique in that the Bears can get him the ball without forcing Trubisky to make a great throw. He can hand it off or throw short passes.
“We want to get him going, just in general,” Nagy said. “We want to get more touches for him, and there are some reasons why we do and don’t based on whom we’re playing, when we’re playing.”
Cohen is the most electric player on the least explosive offense in football. The Bears rank last in percentage of run plays that go for 10 yards or more, according to Sharp Football Stats. Only one team has a lower percentage of pass plays that go for 15 yards or more — the Dolphins, who are tanking this season.
The Bears ran 74 plays against the Rams — and scored seven points. Only one other team, the Titans, had run more plays and scored fewer points this season.
“When you don’t have those explosives, you’re not in the red zone as much,” Nagy said. ‘‘Seven points on 74 plays? You can’t have it.”
Cohen’s nine carries were a season high and his most since the Bears’ 48-10 victory against the Buccaneers last season. His heavier workload was born of necessity. The Bears’ every-down running back, David Montgomery, played with an ankle he rolled during practice.
The 5-6 Cohen used his size to his advantage — “I’m a foot less than other players out there,” he said — to hide behind linemen on his 12-yard runs, which were between the tackles.
“You can predetermine that he’s going to get the ball by handing it to him,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “And then anything beyond that, the defense has a say.’’
On his touchdown catch, Cohen lined up next to Trubisky in the backfield and took a few shuffle steps right to help him release on an out-and-up pattern. He is used to getting whacked when he runs routes out of the backfield and has learned to treat it like a receiver does press coverage.
“It’s not hard to get used to,” Cohen said. “It’s just knowing when and who’s going to do it.”
He’s never short on confidence.
“Just short on height, that’s all,” he said.