One week after being out-snapped by fourth-string tight end Daniel Brown, the Chicago Bears unleashed rookie tight end Adam Shaheen to the tune of a season-high 46 snaps. Shaheen made the most of his newfound playing time, catching all four passes thrown in his direction, gained 41 receiving yards, and scored the offense’s first touchdown.
Fellow rookie Tarik Cohen also saw an increased work load. Cohen, the player deemed to be the offense’s best playmaker by Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains, more than doubled his touches from Week 10 by playing 31 snaps. He received 13 touches, gained 59 scrimmage yards, and went airborne to score an electrifying game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It was as if the Bears were shamed into ensuring both players were going to play an integral role in Sunday’s game after a week of public criticism.
And yet, neither played a single snap on the Bears’ final offensive possession.
Faced with a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime or win it outright with a touchdown before the end of regulation, quarterback Mitch Trubisky took the field without two of the offense’s most productive players. Instead, the Bears relied on veteran running back Benny Cunningham and tight end Daniel Brown during Trubisky’s comeback effort.
Head coach John Fox addressed the media in a press conference after Sunday’s loss (which you can re-watch in its entirety here) and offered up an explanation.
“Not everybody on the team knows all that,” Fox said regarding his players’ knowledge of the team’s two-minute offense. “We have Adam Shaheen, we have Mitchell Trubisky, we have Tarik Cohen that are playing in their eighth games of their NFL careers as rookies. They have a lot on their plate as it is. They can’t do everything. They’re definitely good players for sure. We utilized them a lot – all three of them.”
Allow yourself to look past Fox’s mathematical miscue (Shaheen and Cohen had nine games under their belt entering Sunday and were playing in their 10th game) and there are still things to dissect regarding Fox’s statement.
It’s unclear whether Fox is simply uncomfortable handing rookies expanded responsibilities, if the offensive coaching staff hasn’t done their part in coaching up the young players, or if these two players need to spend more time studying their playbooks to earn playing time. In any case, it’s discouraging that – 10 games into the season – the coach doesn’t deem two of his most talented offensive contributors trustworthy enough to see the field during a potential game-winning drive in a two-minute drill situation.
Further, it’s nothing short of concerning that Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard isn’t a factor in these situations either. Howard had a lowly 58 percent catch rate as a rookie, but has improved that number to 66.7 percent in his second season. For Howard to be the every-down back he shows flashes of being, he needs to be on the field in crunch time.
Without Trubisky’s crazy 19-yard fourth-down scramble, that drive would have ended without the team’s best personnel taking the field. If the goal is to win games and develop Trubisky as a quarterback at the same time, the decision to keep the team’s two best offensive pieces sidelined is unacceptable, an indictment of coaching and/or player development or GM Ryan Pace’s talent-evaluation skills.