Bears' Backfield Balance Puts Team First

October 08, 2018 - 3:25 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- The longstanding rule around locker rooms all across football is for players and coaches to take 24 hours after the outcome of a game is decided and bring their emotions back to earth.

Whether it's a triumphant win or tough loss, one must have moved on after those 24 hours. Recently, Bears coach Matt Nagy applied that for running back Jordan Howard, who appeared frustrated in the locker room after his team's 48-10 victory against the Buccaneers on Sept. 30, a game in which he played only a small role in the breakout.

Howard had rushed only 11 times for 25 yards on the afternoon. While the Bears relished in their win, Howard made a quick exit from the locker room while declining to speak with reporters. On Monday, he came back after the bye week just happy the Bears earned such a sizable win.

"Jordan understands what we’re trying to do as a team," Nagy said. "And he also understands -- and we’ve talked -- that he has a major part of this offense. He has a big-time role. But if it’s an advantage to us to go a different direction for that game or for that play or that series, we’re going to do that. As long as our guys understand that, we’ll be in good shape.

"Jordan is good with that. He understands it. And again, it’s just one of those games where he wasn’t a featured guy.  But collectively as a team -- forget just the offense -- the team played well. That’s what’s most important for all of us."

Howard on Monday denied his apparent postgame frustration while speaking for the first time since that game.

"I was happy," he said. "We won. You see how much we won by? So, there’s not really nothing to complain about."

Howard's role in the Bears offense -- one finding its form after four games under Nagy's watch -- has been in question ever since the new coaching regime arrived in January. He isn't the dynamic playmaker that Tarik Cohen is, as Cohen adds a threat out wide in addition to his work out of the backfield. Of course, Nagy's offense in Kansas City featured its own workhorse in Kareem Hunt, the league's leading rusher last year.

Nagy has been among Howard's greatest supporters since he first set foot in Halas Hall, expressing his belief in Howard as a pass-catching back and even working closely with him to improve those skills. Through four games, Howard has rushed just 64 times for 203 yards and one touchdown. 

By comparison, Cohen has rushed 27 times for 139 yards but has played a larger role in the receiving game, adding 14 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown. In that win over the Buccaneers, Cohen had 13 rushes and eight targets. Howard had only 11 touches, all carries.

The Bears spread the football around plenty in that game against the Buccaneers. Receiver Taylor Gabriel had seven receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Top targets Allen Robinson and Trey Burton each added two catches and a score. Reserve receiver Josh Bellamy even had a touchdown.

It was about a year ago that then-rookie Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was 4-of-7 throwing the football in a win against the Panthers. Howard rushed 21 times in that game, one of six times that he had more than 20 carries in a game last season. Now, the Bears have an offense that doesn't solely rely on Howard rushing the football.

"I feel like we have more weapons, so we can do those things," Cohen said.

Will the Bears turn to Cohen as their feature back over Howard? Given the structure of this offense, which utilizes nearly every man available, that wasn't a discussion in which Nagy was too interested Monday.

But what has been clear thus far is that Howard won't be relied upon as the every-down back he had been the last two seasons under former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. The Bears have enough weapons in this offense that they don't need to count on Howard for 20-plus carries per game. 

Howard is on pace for 256 carries in 2018, which would be 20 fewer than last season. More importantly to Nagy, Howard, Cohen and everybody else at Halas Hall, the Bears are a first-place team believing they're just beginning to click.

"Jordan Howard is a big part of this offense, and I think that for us to continue to keep trying to grow, everybody in this offense has a role," Nagy said. "This is not going to be an offense where it’s just one person and it goes through one person. I don’t necessarily believe in that. It’s great when you have everybody fulfilling different roles, and it’s hard for the defense when you do that."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​