Matt Nagy, the newest Head Coach of the Chicago Bears, brings to the Windy City his West Coast hybrid style offense that resulted in Alex Smith having the best season of his career. More impressively, his offense turned Kareem Hunt; a late third round pick in the 2017 Draft into the NFL’s most prolific rusher in his rookie season.
However, one of the biggest challenges that Nagy will face is trying to improve a Bears rushing attack that ranked 16th in the NFL in total yards last season. The goal will be to try and turn the Bears running game which features two talented young running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, into a feared two-headed monster. But how will he be able to fix a below average offensive line? And more importantly to fantasy owners, what impact will Nagy and his new offense have on Howard and Cohen?
As part of his rebuilding of the Bears Offense, Nagy has brought in Mark Helfrich to be the Offensive Coordinator. In Helfrich’s eight seasons at Oregon, four as the Offensive Coordinator under Chip Kelly and the last four as Head Coach, Helfrich lead one of the most feared offenses in college football. Helfrich will be called upon by Nagy to help install a new offense that will rely heavily on the run-pass-option or RPO.
An RPO-style of offense is one in which the offensive line is always run blocking for the purposes of confusing defenses and forcing them to question whether the quarterback will hand the ball off to the running back or quickly pass the ball to receivers running short passing routes. To make this style of offense work it requires both a dynamic rushing attack and, just as important, a quarterback who has the ability to get the ball out as quickly as possible; forcing the opposing defense to employ more of a spread-out defense as opposed to overloading the line to stop the run. In order for the Bears, particularly Howard and Cohen to be successful, we must look at how their offensive line measured up against the rest of the league and what steps they are taking to increase the output by their two running backs in 2018.
Football Outsiders ranked the Bears run blocking 28th in Adjusted Line Yards and 6th in Open Field Yards which indicates it relied more on their running back’s breaking longer runs versus the line being responsible for opening a sufficient number of running lanes. They, also, ranked near the bottom of the league in Stuffs allowed (27th) and 26th in the league in Power Success which measures short yardage conversions for a first down or touchdown.
What did this mean?
It means that the Bears offensive line was more successful in blocking on 2nd Level and Open Field runs (runs of 5-10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage) than they were in creating those running lanes at the point of attack. A lot of that success came from, second-year running back, Jordan Howard who ran behind that offensive line and still accounted for 1,122 yards, 4.1 yards per attempt, and 9 TDs. Howard’s top 10 finish in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and 14th in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value over Average) suggests his value to the Bears running game is largely due not only to his talent as a runner but his overall value on every running play. This fact is illustrated by the Bears offensive line averaging 4.08 yards/attempt in 2017, a good number for a mediocre group that was only made to look that good because of Howard’s effectiveness on the ground.
Enter Tarik Cohen.
Tarik Cohen’s multidimensional capabilities as a playmaker would certainly make him a valuable offensive weapon in an RPO style offense. As a runner Cohen averaged 4.3 yards per attempt and as a receiver 6.7 yards per reception, stats that outpaced those of Jordan Howard. The problem with Cohen in 2017 is they just didn’t know how to utilize him properly despite being the second leading receiver on the team. Besides the offensive line, if the Bears are also able to upgrade the WR position this offseason, both Cohen and Howard stand to be two of the primary beneficiaries of the Bears new RPO style of attack.
As for how the new Head Coach will be able to positively affect the fantasy value of his two running backs has been stated. It all depends on how the Bears address their offensive line both in free agency and in the draft. They have already started the retooling process as they appear to be willing to let Josh Sitton, their unrestricted free agent Pro-Bowl Guard leave without so much as an offer. The 31-year-old offensive guard known for his pass-blocking prowess will hit the open market leaving a big hole on the offensive line.
However, this might be a blessing in disguise as the Bears’ best chance of success in implementing a successful RPO style offensive is to draft linemen who excel at run blocking. A quick look at the first round projections of the draft shows two linemen that would fit the Bears new model for an offensive lineman, both of whom happen to come out the University of Notre Dame. Left Guard Quenton Nelson and Left Tackle Mike McGlinchey are both highly prized offensive lineman who’ve excelled in run blocking, with most experts predicting them to be taken in the first round with Nelson projected to be going anywhere between the 2nd and 10th picks in the draft.
Putting together a strong offensive line to many is the trademark of any great offensive team. Mark Ingram was a pretty good running back, Alvin Kamara was a rookie third-round pick (sound familiar) and they both became Pro-Bowl backs in many ways because the Saints were also able to put together one of the best offensive lines in the game. It, is therefore not a stretch to believe that with the proper improvements on the offensive line and at wide receiver, Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich could have quite the explosive tandem in the backfield, with the talent to not only make Bears fans happy, but those people lucky enough to have taken Howard and/or Cohen in their Fantasy drafts instant championship contenders.
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