Bears Getting Running Game Off The Ground

November 01, 2018 - 4:03 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Pressed into another close game, the Bears didn't blink Sunday. They were ready to run for a victory.

After seeing their lead cut to 17-10 against the Sunday, the Bears turned to running back Jordan Howard and their rushing attack to seal a victory. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky noted that he sensed the focus. The offensive line worked to the second and third levels. After the Bears worked their way down the field with a run-pass mix, Howard ran free to finish the drive, with rushes of 24 yards, four yards and then two yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

Coach Matt Nagy greeted Howard on the sidelines with a hug and a message: I promise you, I'm going to get you going. I promise you.

"That’s real, that’s how I feel," Nagy said. "That’s what I’ve been saying and how I feel about all these players on the team. All these players, regardless of what position and what side of the ball you’re on, they all have feelings and they all want to do well for their team. We all understand that we can be better in the run game and we need to be better in the run game. But that’s not because of one person, one coach. It’s together collectively."

Establishing the running game has been a bit challenging for the rookie coach Nagy and this Bears offense. They rank third in the league with 137.6 rushing yards per game, though that's a bit misleading because of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's scrambling efficiency, as he's averaging 42.3 rushing yards per game.

The Bears' running backs have averaged 89.1 rushing yards per game -- put another way, that's just more than the 88.4 rushing yards per game from Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ranks third in the NFL. With weapons like Howard and Tarik Cohen available, Chicago's inability to create a steady running game at times has been perplexing on the outside.

All along, Nagy has stressed patience with the process of building a dynamic rushing attack.

"It's what I expected," Nagy said. "I didn't expect to come in here and start rolling in any phase. It takes time. This thing doesn't happen overnight."

A year ago, Nagy's Chiefs featured the NFL's leading rusher in rookie Kareem Hunt, who thrived within an established offense in Kansas City. That hasn't been the case in Chicago. Maximizing Howard in particular has been difficult.

Howard rushed for a combined 2,435 yards in his first two seasons (78.5 yards per game) while working in an offense that relied on his work. The Bears haven't needed Howard to be the focal point of their offense this season now that they have more talent at their disposal. In turn, Howard has only two games with more than 15 carries. He has averaged a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry while operating with a lighter workload.

On Sunday at Soldier Field, it seemed the Bears made strides with their rushing game by getting Howard more involved and using Cohen's explosiveness in doses. A first-quarter screen pass to Cohen went for 70 yards and the score because of ideal timing and execution. With the lead in hand, the Bears turned to Howard, who carried 22 times, including 16 in the second half as they looked to seal the win.

Howard seemed to thrive as his volume increased.

"He's definitely kind of a rhythm ball-carrier," Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "He's a guy that sometimes, it's hard to be patient to get that rhythm, get that third or fourth or fifth carry."

There have been times this season when Howard has appeared frustrated by his lack of a defined role in the Bears' offense. After his team's 48-10 victory over the Buccaneers on Sept. 30, a game in which Howard had only 11 carries, he stormed out of the victorious locker room, declining to speak with reporters about the game.

If the Bears truly felt Howard didn't fit their offense, they would've traded him by this point. But the deadline for deals passed Tuesday afternoon with Howard still part of the team's plans. Now, it seems the Bears have their running game getting off the ground.

Nagy vowing to Howard that more opportunities are coming is no small proclamation. Greater production out of the rushing attack coupled with continued growth from Trubisky would reveal a balanced, dynamic Bears offense. Consider that in 2017, Nagy's Chiefs offense averaged 256.5 passing yards per game while Hunt added 82.3 running yards a contest en route to the league's rushing title.

The Bears recognize the potential in store if they can get running right.

"Every facet of our offense, we can improve upon in a big way," Helfrich said. "That's glass half-full, very exciting; glass half-empty, very frustrating."

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