Trying to figure out what coaches in sophisticated offenses plan to do to stop the opposing defense has always been difficult, but in today’s NFL, it is downright impossible. Last week was a classic example of this situation, when it came to deciding between Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard for the Chicago Bears against the Detroit Lions. Let’s take a look at the statistics heading into this game.
Matt Nagy’s Offense
Matt Nagy’s offense is great at using mismatches to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness on defense. Last year, the two biggest weapons for Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs offense were running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Last season, there were 15 games where both players had enough snaps to be considered a full game player. Out of those fifteen games, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt were both in double-digits in standard scoring on five occasions. In three games, neither player scored in double-digits. Two games, only Tyreek Hill had double-digits, and in five games only Kareem Hunt scored in double-digits.
Cohen vs. Howard 2018 Before Detroit
The 2018 Chicago Bears feature a similar version of the offense Matt Nagy used in Kansas City, but due to different personnel, it is impossible to make a direct comparison, but Tarik Cohen is the small playmaker, similar to Tyreek Hill, while Jordan Howard is the more typical running back, similar to Kareem Hunt. Ironically, Howard and Hunt were within one pass target of each other last season. Heading into the game against Detroit, there were eight games where both Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard had enough snaps to be considered a full game player. Two of those eight games, both players scored in double figures, while one time neither player was in double-digits. Twice Tarik Cohen was the only player in double -digits, and three times Jordan Howard hit that mark.
Before the showdown with the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions had given up an average of 134 rushing and only 43 yards to opposing running backs in receiving yardage. The likelihood of a running back scoring via rushing was 80%, with the likelihood of a running back scoring via reception was only 30%. Looking at this difference, it would be a logical conclusion that Jordan Howard would have the “Game Script” advantage over Tarik Cohen in week 10 against the Lions. Neither player had an impressive performance in yardage, with Howard accumulating 32 yards and Cohen 44. Cohen did hit double-digits in points in standard scoring thanks to a rushing touchdown. Heading into the game against the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions defense had only given up an average of 19.9 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, but in week 10, Mitchell Trubisky posted 37.5 points with three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and 355 passing yards. This passing total represented more than 120 yards over the Detroit average for the first nine weeks of the season.
Coaches can read statistics too and will game plan to beat their foe by out-thinking the opposing coach. While it appeared the Chicago Bears rushing game would dominate the Lions, Coach Nagy came out throwing with great success. This is a classic example how it is often too difficult to diagnose the “Game Script” for any given week. If an opposing defense that has been vulnerable to the rushing game tries to load up with eight men in the box, they can get torched by a good read/pass option offense,like Matt Nagy is running this season with the Chicago Bears.