Jordan Howard is fantastic. We all know that by now. As a fifth-round pick out of Indiana in 2016, Howard eclipsed 1313 rushing yards on 252 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, while shattering almost every Bears rookie rushing record in the books. He did that with only thirteen starts, which makes it even more impressive. And I didn’t even mention that Howard did that on one of the worst teams in the league. Howard is the best running back in Chicago, there should be no debate over that.
Howard has certainly gotten off to a shaky start in the 2018 season, having only 203 yards on 64 carries, for a putrid 3.2 yards per carry, not to mention that eighty-two of those yards came in week one against Green Bay alone. Those are not good numbers, by any means. Cohen has certainly picked up for Howard’s inefficiency, having 139 yards on 27 carries, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Nagy was asked on Monday about Howard’s role in the offense moving forward, and here is what he had to say: “Jordan Howard is a big part of this offense, and I think that for us to continue to keep trying to grow, everybody in this offense has a role. This is not going to be an offense where it’s just one person and it goes through one person. I don’t necessarily believe in that. It’s great when you have everybody fulfilling different roles, and it’s hard for the defense when you do that.” Nagy worked with rookie standout Kareem Hunt last year as the offensive coordinator for Kansas City, and while he is a better pass-catcher, Hunt and Howard can both run in between the tackles when asked.
I think people look at how the Bears should utilize their running backs in the wrong way. Howard does not have to do it all. Although his pass-catching ability has improved, the need for a do it all running back is quickly going away in the NFL. Look at the great teams today, and they have multiple backs they utilize on the roster. While having Le’Veon Bell would be great, teams can have an effective running back unit without having a do it all guy. When I want to utilize two different types of running backs efficiently, I immediately think of the New Orleans Saints. Over the last season and a quarter, Sean Payton has utilized both of his grade A running backs the proper way. Alvin Kamara, the pass-catching back in New Orleans, is utilized perfectly, as he has only averages 8.6 carries per game, and those stats are inflated due to Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension to start the 2018 season. With Kamara in the mix, Ingram averaged 14.4 carries per game. In 2017, Ingram averaged 3.6 catches per game, while Kamra averaged slightly over five catches a game. Ingram is your typical run between the tackles runner, and is put in on short-yardage or goal-line situations, while Kamara is your more modern NFL back that plays a critical part in the passing game. The Bears should be taking a page from Sean Payton’s book, as this has to be the most effective use of two elite running backs I’ve ever seen. Now I know Cohen is not even close to Kamara in terms of talent or production, but he doesn’t need to be. Howard’s pass-catching abilities have come a long way, and Trubisky should be more comfortable throwing him the football in 2018 that he was in 2017.
I also think it takes the right coach to utilize a running back, let alone two. I think we can all agree John Fox wasn’t that guy. He was calling plays like it was 1998, and that was just painful to watch. Now that we have a clever offensive mind calling plays, I think Howard and Cohen can finally be what Pace envisioned when he drafted the two backs.
Howard has certainly taken a step back statistically, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. Howard has improved his game immensely in all facets of the game, including pass catching and pass protection. Cohen is still that explosive offensive weapon that Pace drafted only one year ago. The Bears possess one of the best running back tandems in the NFL, with only the Atlanta Falcons (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman), and the New Orleans Saints (Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) possessing better duos if you ask me. These two guys really give the Bears a future at running back, and I’m going to grab some popcorn and a comfy seat, as I can’t wait to see it unfold.
Photo: Chicago Tribune