Chicago. Playoffs. Jordan. Sounds right.
It’s the question that won’t go away. All season it has been asked with varying levels of curiosity and skepticism. Just how confident is Bears coach Matt Nagy in his running game?
Nagy’s Week 18 answer: “Believe it or not, I have really always had confidence (in it).”
That was Wednesday afternoon, just before the Bears began practicing for Sunday’s playoff game against the Eagles. Nagy went on to explain that the feeling-out process with a new offense simply took some time as the season unfolded, with the Bears trying to figure out which players were best at what. Eventually — and perhaps at just the right time — the offense found its groove on the ground.
To close the regular season, third-year running back Jordan Howard had his best game of the season, chewing up 109 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the win over the Vikings. Howard’s second run of the day, a 42yarder with a broken tackle near the line of scrimmage, was the Bears’ longest all season. It was a nice touch for Howard, who put together a solid December just as so many fans hoped he would.
Howard’s December totals: 88 carries, 399 yards, four touchdowns. Extrapolate that five-game sample over a 16-game season and it amounts to 1,277 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Both totals would have ranked third in the NFL.
So yes, when the Bears commit to the run, Howard still can be productive. But it’s also foolish to argue that Nagy has been misguided in his offensive approach. The Bears won 12 games and a division title. By carving out an important niche for Tarik Cohen, the Bears tapped into a young player’s unique skill set and squeezed 1,169 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns from Cohen.
That has left defensive coordinators with great anxiety when they play the Bears as they account for Cohen’s versatility and Nagy’s ability to play chess in finding favorable matchups.
Sticking to an old-school, run-first philosophy with Howard as the engine never would have allowed this offense to have the dimensions it now has. Still, Howard is valuable heading into the playoffs. And it’s probably no coincidence that his December uptick in production corresponds with Trubisky’s scariest performance of the season — a threeinterception hiccup in that Week 14 win over the Rams.
After Trubisky threw his third pick with 3 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter, the Bears didn’t throw the ball the rest of the night.
Howard had seven carries for 42 yards after that stomach-turning turnover, helping to apply the submission hold on a 15-6 victory. Howard finished with his first 100-yard outing of the season. He made the most of his opportunities the rest of the way and might be leaned on again in the postseason.
Nagy understands how special his defense is. He has seen that his running game can be productive. There’s no need for the rookie coach to force the issue with his second-year quarterback in the playoffs.
Trubisky didn’t throw another interception in his final three games. He completed 76 percent of his passes. Nagy has put emphasis on taking care of the ball and being effective on third down. Trubisky has handled both tasks well.
The Bears also have seen that their running game can be an asset.
Bears running back Jordan Howard rushed for 399 yards and four touchdowns in December.