Joniak's Journal: Bears Thrilled To Re-Establish Running Game

Chicago rushed for 179 yards in a win Sunday, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Jeff Joniak
October 30, 2018 - 7:27 pm
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LAKE FOREST (WBBM Newsradio) -- The Bears (4-3) were back to work Tuesday, preparing for a matchup at the Buffalo Bills (2-6) on Sunday. Here are the notes and observations of the day.

First impression

Losing starters on either side of the line of scrimmage is challenging. The continuity created from consistent reps gives teams the opportunity to establish their identity. 

From training camp on, Bears coach Matt Nagy set sail on creating a physical, aggressive team in all three phases. Losing starting right guard Kyle Long for any length of time disturbs that plan. The Bears are still awaiting word on his right foot injury that he suffered in a win against the Jets on Sunday. Long could be out for some time.

"Being with him in the training room after the game was tough," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said on the Bears Coaches show on WBBM on Monday night. "We’ll see. If that happens, coming back to a combination again of (Eric) Kush, of James (Daniels), of Witz (Bryan Witzman) who we just signed, Bradley Sowell, just trying to find whatever the magical combination of getting the right five in there."

Helfrich coached Long in his only season at Oregon. Helfrich knows him well, understanding Long's gritty enforcer mentality. The offensive line is a work in progress with or without Long.

Second thought

Getting the run game going now that November looms is a critical component in the Bears' bid to become a playoff team. That part of the Bears offense took a step in the right direction against the Jets, as Chicago produced 179 rushing yards on 34 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That included a 22-carry, 81-yard outing from Jordan Howard, who rushed for jsut 39 yards in a loss to the Patriots a week prior.

"We challenged our guys all last week to step up in that area," Helfrich said. "We still left quite a bit on the bone as far as yardage or opportunities that for whatever reason whether it was the running back, whether it was the quarterback, whether it was the O-line, we had some issues in all three kind of levels of that deal that we will work to prove upon to get ready for Buffalo."

Howard’s 24-yard run that set up his finishing touchdown in the 24-10 win over the Jets was exactly the type of run the Bears are capable of churning out over the course of the game. That's also Howard's game.

"Wwe have to get him going in some of those other two-yard runs -- (they) have to become six or become a broken tackle for a house call," Helfrich said. "Those are all the things that as we all get to take these next steps together and get to know what buttons to push, I just think he has a lot in him. I really do."

Third degree

Offensive coaches always believe there are always "yards left on the bone." Helfrich is no different. He isn't shy about approaching players Monday morning about recognizing what went right and what didn't the day prior.

"That’s how you hopefully are always growing," Helfrich said. "I think our guys feel that."

Rookie guard James Daniels survived his first NFL start against the Jets. And with Long’s injury, there's a lot more urgency for Daniels to grow and develop as soon as possible. 

"He’s a guy that’s a great example of his best ball is ahead of him, period," Helfrich said. "He’s a young guy inexperienced at that position really playing against grown men."

A lot is coming at Daniels on any given snap as he learns on the fly how to play guard in the NFL. 

"All in all, he handled things pretty well," Helfrich said. "We had a couple other guys make mistakes that were maybe a little bit more of what you would expect from a rookie in there, but very excited about his future for sure."

The Bears' offensive line will be tested Sunday by an aggressive and deep Bills front four led by bull-rushing pass rusher Jerry Hughes and crafty veteran Kyle Williams.

Fourth-and-short

Rarely do you find one offense ranked last or nearly last in every major category, but that's the case for Buffalo through eight games. The Bills are last in the NFL in yards per play, passing yards per game, yards per pass play, interception percentage and points per game. They're 31st in yards per game, sacks per pass play, first downs and third-down efficiency. Third-stringer Nathan Peterman is expected to start at quarterback, with former Bears quarterback Matt Barkley scheduled to visit the Bills on Wednesday to potentially be the backup this Sunday with Josh Allen and Derek Anderson suffering from injuries. 

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.