Bears 2018 position review: Running back

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The following is the second of eight position reviews of the Bears’ 2018 season.

Running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen continued to give the Bears one of the most dynamic backfield tandems in the NFL in 2018, combining for 2,249 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns.

Howard rushed for 935 yards and a team-leading nine TDs on 250 carries, while Cohen ran for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 99 attempts and caught a team-leading 71 passes for 725 yards and five TDs.

Howard’s production increased late in the year; he rushed for 323 yards in the Bears’ final four regular-season games—including his only two 100-yard outings—after gaining 203, 236 and 173 in the first three quarters of the season, respectively.

Howard played an integral role in helping the Bears record a pair of impressive December wins, rushing for 101 yards in a 15-6 victory over the Rams at Soldier Field and 109 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-10 win over the Vikings in Minnesota. 

Howard rushed for 55 yards on three carries on the Bears’ opening possession versus the Vikings, including a season-long 42-yard run and a 6-yard touchdown. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich felt that Howard “made a statement” with his performance, saying: “He truly broke some tackles and ran through some guys.”

With 3,370 yards in three seasons, Howard ranks seventh on the Bears’ all-time rushing list and third among NFL backs since 2016, trailing only the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (4,048 yards) and the Rams’ Todd Gurley (3,441).

Cohen, meanwhile, displayed his tremendous versatility for the second straight season. The 2017 fourth-round draft pick became only the second player in NFL history to gain at least 500 yards via rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns in his first 25 career games. 

“He can play a lot of different positions,” coach Matt Nagy said in November. “He knows a lot of the intricacies of this offense. There’s the ability for us to use him different ways. His energy is very infectious. The way he practices, his enthusiasm in meetings and in practice, he raises other people’s levels.” 

Cohen lined up all over the field in 2018, excelling in different roles and creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.

“He’s a fun guy to coach,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “He goes 100 miles an hour whatever you ask him to do. He’s played halfback for us, he’s played inside, he’s played outside, just a versatile guy and there’s more there.”

Cohen led all NFL running backs with seven catches of at least 25 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown in a 24-10 win over the Jets Oct. 28 at Soldier Field that was the Bears’ longest play from scrimmage in 2018.

Cohen’s most productive game of the season came against the Giants Dec. 2. He caught 12 passes for 156 yards, rushed for 30 yards on eight carries and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller as time expired in regulation to force overtime. 

In the process, Cohen joined Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history to record at least 150 receiving yards, 12 catches and a touchdown pass in a game.

Cohen’s 156 receiving yards were the most by a Bears running back since at least 1960 and the most by an NFL running back during the 2018 season.

Cohen was voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner after leading the NFL with 411 punt return yards.

Also seeing action in the Bears backfield in 2018 were Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell. Cunningham rushed for 20 yards on 11 carries and caught one pass for nine yards, while Mizzell ran for 16 yards on nine attempts and had eight receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown. 

Fullback Michael Burton appeared in eight games with one start, serving primarily as a blocker.

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