Chicago. Play­offs. Jor­dan. Sounds right.

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports - By Dan Wiederer Chicago Tri­bune

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.

STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Bears run­ning back Jor­dan Howard rushed for 399 yards and four touch­downs in De­cem­ber.

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