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Hub Arkush: The best thing for Trubisky and Bears offense is heavier helping of Howard

September 22, 2018

It’s such a Bears thing that when folks start asking what’s wrong with the offense, everyone immediately focuses on the quarterback, in this case Mitch Trubisky.

Certainly, Trubisky will have to get better for the Bears’ offense to reach its potential, but the idea that his inexperience and lack of development so far is all that’s holding the offense back — or for that matter even the main problem — is not necessarily based in fact.

Through two weeks, the Bears’ offense is 29th in total yards and 29th throwing the football, in addition to 13th in total points — but that is skewed by the two defensive touchdowns, courtesy of Khalil Mack and Prince Amukamara.

Take away those two scores, and the Bears are tied for 26th in points per game.

I was a bit surprised to see the Bears are currently 14th in the NFL running the ball and 12th in average gain per rush. But like scoring, those numbers are misleading.

Fifty-six of the Bears’ 225 rushing yards have come from Trubisky, 54 of those yards on scrambles.

If you subtract those 54 rushing yards, the Bears are averaging 85.5 yards per game, and that would rank them 25th in the league.

The best way to open things up for Trubisky and the passing game right now just might be doing a lot more damage on the ground, especially when you have a Pro Bowl back in Jordan Howard.

So why does Howard have just 15 and 14 rushing attempts in the Bears’ first two games, and is that enough? I asked Matt Nagy that question after the Seattle game.

“It depends on the game,” he said. “A lot of times when you have the lead, in this offense generally when you have the lead, that’s when you get 8-10 carries just on top of that in the fourth quarter.

“That hasn’t been happening. I think a few more carries is probably the answer to that, but we don’t go into any game saying you’ve got to get X amount of runs or X amount of passes.”

The lack of production on the ground from Howard to date isn’t all on Nagy and his play calling either.

There have been questions about Howard’s vision and whether he is hitting the right holes on the carries he has gotten, but his head coach wasn’t going to throw him under the bus.

“I thought his vision was good,” he said. “He didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities. Those guys, just like quarterbacks, you want to try to get in a rhythm.

“I didn’t think that running back, there wasn’t a time where we got into multiple runs and he was really feeling into the groove and into a rhythm. Those guys — the offensive line, running backs, tight ends — they all realize how important it is to get that running game going. He’s a guy that relies on that. But his vision was fine.”

So now coach has brought us back to the game plan and play calling. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich believes there’s more to it than that.

“Sure, on most plays I think there’s something that can be improved from whatever standpoint, specifically whether it’s the aiming point, all the different things that go into that, could be the front, it could be, ’hey it’s against this look versus that look.

“Scheme things a little bit differently each week, but yeah we left some yards on the field.”

There is also the offensive line, which is clearly still a work in progress, and the fact that Seattle’s game plan Monday night was to take away the run, often with eight or nine guys in the box.

But here’s a simple fact: In 33 NFL games, Howard has had 20-plus carries 10 times, and in eight of those games he has rushed over 100 yards, totaling 1,181 yards on 251 carries (4.7 YPC).

Now, if you’re thinking feeding Howard would be out of character, last year the Chiefs were 9th running the football and first in average gain per rush, and their horse, Kareem Hunt, was fourth in the NFL in carries.

It’s time the Bears started feeding Jordan Howard.

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