Bears rookie RB Howard to carry load vs. Lions

BY foxsports • September 28, 2016

CHICAGO -- Rookie running back Jordan Howard knew he would get an opportunity to carry the ball for the Chicago Bears if he stayed patient and worked hard.

However, Howard never imagined that his moment would arrive so soon. The Bears' fifth-round draft pick out of Indiana is expected to make his first start Sunday against the Detroit Lions because of injuries to teammates Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey.

"It definitely is kind of weird," Howard told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I wasn't expecting injuries like this. I've just got to take it in stride and lead the way Jeremy and Ka'Deem would."

The Bears (0-3) could use a burst of energy from their rookie running back -- or anyone, for that matter. Chicago is one of only four teams without a victory, joining Cleveland, Jacksonville and New Orleans.

Then again, the Lions (1-2) have not fared much better. But whereas all three of Detroit's games have been decided by seven points or fewer, the Bears have been outscored by a whopping margin of 83-45.

Throw in Detroit's recent dominance against division rival Chicago, and it's easy to see why Jim Caldwell's club is favored by about a field goal on the road. The Lions have won six consecutive games against the Bears and have not lost at Soldier Field since Oct. 22, 2012.

Meanwhile, the Bears have lost 11 of their past 12 home games dating to the end of the 2014 season.

A sprained thumb could force Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to miss his second consecutive game Sunday. If Cutler is sidelined, as expected, veteran Brian Hoyer will try once again to breathe life into a quiet offense. The Bears rank third-to-last in the league with an average of 15 points per game.

Howard hopes to help as the primary option in the backfield. He has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in limited action (12 carries for 67 yards). He also has caught six passes for 56 yards.

In the Bears' passing game, Alshon Jeffery has averaged 19.4 yards per reception but still is searching for his first touchdown. Kevin White, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller also have notched double-digit receptions.

As the Bears' offense has struggled, so has the Lions' defense. Detroit has allowed 28.3 points per game, which is 27th in the league.

Lions safety Glover Quin said he and his teammates needed to play faster and stop thinking so much.

"We've got to come out and just play," Quin told the Detroit Free Press. "We've got to fly around, attack and just play. And when you play fast, a lot of times, playing fast with great effort can cover up some mistakes. Sometimes guys may have mistakes, but if you're playing fast, sometimes you can cover it up.

"So that's what we've got to do. Play fast, stop second-guessing ourselves or trying to play perfect or whatever it may be and just fly around and be aggressive and let the chips fall where they may."

The Lions' offense has encountered no such difficulties in finding its rhythm. Thanks largely to the efficiency of quarterback Matthew Stafford, Detroit is fifth in the league in scoring with 27.0 points per game.

Lions running back Theo Riddick has emerged as a dual-purpose threat. He is tied for second among running backs with 16 receptions, and his 130 receiving yards rank seventh among players at the position.

Some predicted the abrupt retirement of Calvin Johnson to derail the Lions' passing game. Yet Marvin Jones has filled in perfectly in his first three games with Detroit. The former Cincinnati Bengal has caught 18 passes for 408 yards, which leads the league.

Chicago's defense could be in trouble if Stafford has time to feel comfortable in the pocket. The Bears have managed only four sacks in their first three games, and they expect to be without nose tackle Eddie Goldman for a second straight game because of an ankle injury. The Bears are No. 10 in passing defense but No. 30 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 142.7 yards per game on the ground.

Perhaps a former Lions player can help the Bears snap the six-game skid against their NFC North rivals. Earlier this week, Chicago signed running back Joique Bell to add depth behind Howard.

Bell played for the Lions from 2012 to 2015. He said his first week in Chicago was a whirlwind.

"Right now, I think they're trying to feed my brain," Bell told the Sun-Times.

How quickly could he become comfortable in a new offense?

"We're about to find out," he said.

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