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Bears showed willingness to feed Jordan Howard, and production uptick should follow

September 27, 2018

Matt Nagy’s Chicago Bears eclipsed 30 rush attempts for the first time this season in their Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a grind, with Jordan Howard handling 24 carries but managing only 2.5 yards per pop for a second consecutive week, while Tarik Cohen was a model of efficiency with 53 yards on only five totes.

After repeatedcalls here last week for Howard’s involvement to increase as Mitch Trubisky’s struggles persist, he was given the workhorse treatment by Matt Nagy. No, Howard didn’t put up huge numbers, but he didn’t get a ton of help, either.

Howard was met at or behind the line of scrimmage on 17 of his 24 carries in Arizona, according to Pro Football Focus, and picked up 70 yards — nine more than his total rushing output — after contact. That was the fourth-highest mark among all NFL backs in Week 3, per PFF. He also forced four missed tackles en route to earning PFF’s highest grade among Bears on offense, 74.2.

So PFF adds some important context to Howard’s lackluster numbers over the past two weeks, and here’s some more: the Seahawks, who held Howard to 14-35 rushing and met him within two yards of the line of scrimmage on 11 of his 14 carries, currently rank ninth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA on ‘D’ and the Cardinals are at No. 11 in run ‘D’ DVOA. For all of the tumult surrounding these NFC West clubs, they’re not exactly slouches defensively.

Meantime, Cohen forced three missed tackles Sunday, all coming as a receiver after the catch. Although Cohen is averaging a robust 6.1 yards per carry — up from 4.3 as a rookie — he’s on pace to receive fewer overall touches on offense, undoubtedly the byproduct of Chicago’s mass offseason influx of skill talent. But Cohen looks as speedy and elusive as ever, and it stands to reason that his effectiveness should only increase as Nagy continues learning exactly what he has in one of his more versatile weapons on offense.

With all of the hand wringing regarding Trubisky’s uneven showings and the lack of punch on offense not going away, let’s hold off before adding Howard’s play and the run game to the list of legitimate concerns. Howard looks like a different player altogether in the passing game, where he’s snared 10-of-11 targets for a team high 90.9 % catch rate and posted 7.8 YPC — bested only among teammates by Allen Robinson and Trey Burton. And the Bears’ run game currently sits at No. 11 in DVOA.

Are improvements still needed? Sure. And with upcoming foes that include Tampa Bay (No. 18 in DVOA run ‘D’) on Sunday, the New England Patriots (No. 17) in Week 7 and the New York Jets (No.19) in Week 8, opportunities abound for better days soon.

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