Chicago Bears ran often enough, just not very well
Coach Matt Nagy spent much of the season affirming his belief in and commitment to the run game, mostly because, for much of the season, critics contended that the Bears didn’t seem to do it will enough or often enough.
In actuality, the Bears ran the ball plenty – 129 times more than their opponents. They just didn’t run the ball all that effectively, especially with Jordan Howard. The bell cow of the Bears’ backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, continuing the precipitous drop-off he’s experienced since he averaged 5.2 yards as a rookie in 2016 and 4.1 in 2017.
“Everyone talks about the run game,” Nagy said. “It wasn’t as good as it should be. The offense can be better, without a doubt.”
As Nagy hinted, the offense as a whole wasn’t good enough, finishing 21st in yards, but the run game was 27th in average gain per play. So it would not be a surprise if the Bears prioritized adding a more dynamic element to the backfield in the offseason. Whether that element could be ex-Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt remains to be seen, but the Bears will have to think long and hard before making that difficult decision.
Howard is just not a good fit in Nagy’s offense, which values speed and quickness, neither of which he possesses. Howard is also a poor option as a receiver, lacking natural hands and ability to create after the catch. He does have the vision and power as a runner necessary to be a workhorse in many offenses, and he rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the final four regular-season games, averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in both.
Change-of-pace RB Tarik Cohen brings an ideal skill set to Nagy’s scheme but mostly as a pass catcher, where he has rare ability to stretch a defense vertically as well as horizontally. He led the Bears with 71 catches and was second with 725 receiving yards, averaging 10.2 yard per catch, exceptional for a running back, and scoring five touchdowns.
But, despite his diverse skill set, the 5-foot-6, 181-pound Cohen will never be a workhorse. Though he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, he doesn’t seem to relish running between the tackles and too often strings out plays by traveling east-to-west before eventually running out of room. Cohen needs to run more decisively and stick his foot in the ground and take a couple yards rather than hoping to bust a big one on every play and often winding up with nothing.
Undersized Taquan Mizzell is a decent receiver but lacks Cohen’s big-play ability and has no special qualities as a runner.
Most improved: Cohen.
Best play: Howard’s 18-yard TD run that gave the Bears a 28-0 lead over the Bills just before halftime in Week Nine, was the 224-pounder at his best. He encountered Buffalo S Jordan Poyer just shy of the goal line and buried him en route to the end zone for his second TD of the half.
Key stat: On just 68 attempts, QB Mitch Trubisky had three runs of more than 25 yards. On 250 carries, Howard had just one. Howard also had just one run of 20 yards or longer before December and five all year. Cohen, on 99 attempts, had seven runs of plus-20 yards.
Room for improvement: The blame for the Bears finishing 27th in average gain per rush (4.14 yards) doesn’t all belong on Howard. The O-line did not do a consistently good job of creating running space for him or for Cohen.
Position-by-position 2018 Bears superlatives: