After breakthrough from Howard, Bears seek more ground gains
The running back was at his best on a night when quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled, running for a season-high 101 yards to help the NFC North leaders beat the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams 15-6 last week.
Yes, the defense dominated, stopping Jared Goff and a high-powered offense.
But the Bears also got their ground game going. And that was no small development for a team that’s had its ups and downs running the ball.
With three games left in the regular season and the playoffs approaching, the Bears would welcome more of that.
“That was nice to get that going the other day,” coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. “We need to build off that. I feel like it was one step forward. Now we got to make sure we … continue with that next step going forward.”
The Bears (9-4) could take a huge step this week by clinching the NFC North championship and their first playoff appearance since the 2010 team won the division. Even sweeter for them, they have a chance to do it against rival Green Bay when they host the Packers on Sunday.
Chicago would clinch the North with a victory or a loss by Minnesota to Miami. Ties by both the Bears and Vikings would also do it.
The Bears could also secure a playoff spot this week even if they don’t win the division. A tie gets them in, as does a loss or tie by Washington against Jacksonville.
Considering Chicago came into this season with four straight last-place finishes, this is quite a change. In their first season under Nagy, the Bears are already assured a winning record for the first time since 2012. They’re doing it with a dominant defense and a creative offense, overcoming some inconsistent play at quarterback as well as in the run game.
But against Los Angeles, Howard had all the right moves.
“It feels very encouraging because we knew what type of team they were,” he said. “They’ve been No. 1 all year and they have some very good players on defense, with Aaron Donald and (Ndamukong) Suh and a lot of other players. So it feels very encouraging.”
Chicago ranks 13th in yards rushing per game (121.5) and is tied for 18th in yards per attempt (4.2). Whether it’s been the play-calling, scheme or simply poor execution, the run game really hadn’t clicked.
Though he’s the team’s leading rusher with 713 yards, Howard has been in more of a secondary role at times behind Tarik Cohen. But with Trubisky throwing a season-high three interceptions and posting his lowest rating (33.3) of the year in his return from a shoulder injury, the Bears needed to run.
The offensive line held its ground against Donald and Suh and Howard hit his holes. None of his 19 attempts was for a loss, and he wound up with his first 100-yard game in 364 days. He ran for 147 at Cincinnati on Dec. 10, 2017.
“We got into a good rhythm,” Howard said. “We did some good run schemes and stuff.”
If Howard is frustrated with his role, well, Nagy understands. But more important to him is how his running back has handled it. And to that end, the coach is pleased.
“I’m OK with guys being frustrated throughout the year, because that means they care,” Nagy said. “But you handle it the right way and that’s what he’s done from the very start. And I appreciate that. You tell him … two things — we’re going to get this thing figured out, and on top of that, it’s just going to happen where it’s going to be your time.”
Last week, it was Howard’s time. And he took advantage of his opportunity.
“I feel like winning makes a lot of things easier,” Howard said. “So it’s really easy to deal with. So I didn’t really think about it too much.”
NOTES: The Bears placed CB Bryce Callahan on injured reserve because of a broken left foot. Nagy said Callahan will need surgery after getting hurt against the Rams. Chicago also signed CB Marcus Williams. … WR Allen Robinson (hip) sat out practice on Wednesday.