Midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, Tarik Cohen caught a swing pass in open space with just one defender — Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Riley Duke — to beat.
Watching from the sideline, defensive end Akiem Hicks knew what was coming, and it wasn’t going to show up on Duke’s season highlight reel. Duke lunged to try to tackle the 5-foot-6, 181 pound running back, but Cohen deftly shed the effort and accelerated forward. It was something Hicks saw Cohen do plenty in practice over the last few weeks, so he had some sympathy for Duke in that situation.
“His mom’s watching too,” Hicks laughed. “I felt bad for him. I knew he was going to miss.”
The Bears kept their plan for Cohen out of the public eye in August, not targeting him during preseason games and only giving him one carry in their Week 3 dress rehearsal against the Tennessee Titans. But behind the scenes, Hicks and the Bears defense saw the potential Cohen had to be unleashed as a playmaker. What he did in his NFL debut, then, was no surprise.
“I’ve seen it a bunch,” Hicks said. “I’ve seen it one too many times in training camp. I can only imagine that he’s going to be a special player in this league.”
That shiftiness and quickness had a greater impact than landing Cohen on a highlight reel or gaining a few extra yards, though: They also set up Cohen’s two most spectacular plays on Sunday.
On Cohen’s 46-yard cut-back run, he said he knew the Falcons’ defense had over-pursued him on sweep play earlier in the game. So when the Bears ran the play again, Cohen saw the Falcons sell out to the boundary to stop him — which he knew left the field side clear. So Cohen stopped, cut back and dashed across the field in a play reminiscent of a Dante Hall punt return, gouging the Falcons’ defense and setting up a game-tying touchdown just before halftime.
And when Cohen caught a fourth quarter pass from Mike Glennon in the red zone with one defender to beat — cornerback Desmond Trufant — all those spins and jukes from earlier in the game paid off in a different way. Cohen, instead of making one of those moves, lowered his shoulder into Trufant and bowled through him to get in the end zone.
“The beautiful thing is Trufant couldn’t really get up on him because he was afraid that Tarik was going to make a move,” Hicks said. “So if you get a guy scared of your first move — whether it’s in pass rush or blocking as an offensive lineman or any position — when you get a guy scared of your first move, it opens up a lot more. And that’s why he was able to run him over.”
That’s the kind of stuff Cohen did to the Bears defense in August — and it’s the kind of stuff that’s now a problem for the rest of the league.
“You can hear the chatter, you know what I mean, going through training camp where guys get matched up on him are saying, ‘Oh man, here we go,’” Hicks said. “And that’s a great feeling, because you know he’s not torturing us any more. He’s torturing other defenses.”