Containing Tarik Cohen is one of the Jets’ top priorities, but it’s also been a frustrating exercise in futility for many teams.
The Bears second-year, all-purpose player beats you in so many ways. Cohen has had a 21-yard touchdown run, a 50-yard reception and a 42-yard punt return this season. He’s averaging 112 yards per game in those combined areas.
“They use him in some many different ways,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He brings a lot to the table. He's one of the premier guys in this league and right now he's one of the best players in the league.”
Bowles compared Cohen to Chiefs receiver/returner Tyreek Hill and the Eagles Darren Sproles. As a rookie, Cohen burst onto the NFL scene as a returner, which he didn’t do at North Carolina A&T.
Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer said he studied Cohen at length when he was coming out of college. Boyer saw something special in the 5-foot-6 Cohen — his vision, the way he cuts back and his overall speed and bursts.
“He is as dynamic as a player as there is in this league,” Boyer said. “He is a very shifty, explosive and is an underestimated kid in this league. I think he is a dynamic weapon for them. I really thought highly of him coming out of the draft.”
Boyer said he sees some similarities between Cohen and Jets rookie Trenton Cannon as a returner. But Cannon fumbled and muffed too many punts in camp and the preseason for the Jets to feel comfortable with him as a returner. In time, though, Boyer thinks Cannon can be a special teams star.
“He's very explosive,” Boyer said. “But he's just got to get better at catching punts, that's all. He's just not ready to do that yet. It's going to take him some time and we knew that.
“I think that you would hope that he's going to transition to something like (Cohen) and exactly what this kid is doing. I think he is going to be a hell of a weapon in the future, I really do.”
Andre Roberts is handling the Jets’ return duties right now. But Cannon, who led the Jets in receiving yards last week, is expected to be more involved in the offense this game as the Jets’ No. 2 running back since Bilal Powell suffered a season-ending neck injury.
THE X-FACTOR: CHRIS HERNDON
Rookie Chris Herndon has become a favorite target of Darnold’s, and could be again Sunday with the Jets thin at receiver. Herndon, Darnold’s roommate during training camp, has six catches for 98 yards and two TDS the last two games. The Bears have given up four touchdowns to tight ends this year.
DON'T RUSH QBs
Bears coach Matt Nagy was very complimentary of Sam Darnold, but he’s a firm believer in letting rookies spend their first season watching and learning.
It worked well with Nagy’s old team.
The Chiefs, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, did that with Patrick Mahomes last season. He watched Alex Smith run Kansas City’s offense. Mahomes, in his second season, is an MVP candidate.
“I always think that it’s great to be able to have a guy sit back and get to understand the formations, the motions and the shifts in your mind and then in practice go through it, so not be thrown into the mix right away,” Nagy said. “Right now, you’re seeing a lot of teams are not going that route. There’s that instant gratification that they need it right now.
“That’s a case right there. The coaches trust (Darnold). They like what he’s doing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as you feel he’s protected within the scheme by how you’re calling plays.”
CENTERS OF ATTENTION
If center Spencer Long (knee/finger) doesn’t play, Jonotthan Harrison and Dakota Dozier would be next men up. But neither has done it much this season. Harrison has played just seven offensive snaps. Dozier hasn’t appeared in a game at all yet.
Long’s finger issue has led to some bad snaps the last few weeks, resulting in botched plays and fumbles. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said they were working to fix that, but he wouldn’t get into specifics.
If Long sits, healthy hands may help that, but their inexperience overall and with Darnold will be worth watching.
Scoring points hasn’t been an issue for the Bears, particularly lately. In their last three games, they’ve averaged 35.7 points. But they’re 1-2.
The Bears’ defense, which was so stout and stingy at the start of the season, has failed them the last two weeks. The Bears allowed 922 yards of offense and 34.5 points in their back-to-back losses to Miami and New England.
“How does our defense respond now?” Nagy said. “That’s always the challenge.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
0: Rushing touchdowns allowed by the Bears this season
245: Rushing yards by Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky
Bowles said he’s known Nagy “pretty much his whole life.” Bowles played for Nagy’s father, Bill, who was Bowles’ defensive line coach at Elizabeth H.S. in New Jersey. They won a state championship in 1980, two years after Matt Nagy was born.
“I watched Matt grow up and go to Delaware and play football after that a little bit,” Bowles said. “We coached together in Philadelphia. I've known him pretty much it seems like forever.”
Bowles and Matt Nagy worked together for Andy Reid with the Eagles. Bowles reportedly wanted to hire Nagy to be his offensive coordinator in 2017. He was on Reid’s staff in Kansas City. The Jets weren’t granted permission to interview Nagy, and hired John Morton instead.