If the Chicago Bears want to defeat the Minnesota Vikings this week, they’d be wise to lean on Jordan Howard.
Through nine games, it has become abundantly clear that the Chicago Bears are replete with offensive weapons. Every week it feels like a new player emerges as the hero that particular week. The Bears put opposing defenses in the unenvious position of having to pick their poison. With so many options, it’s tough for those defenses to shut down the Bears offense completely.
Despite that, there has been one player who has yet to have that signature game. Surprisingly, it is the player who has been the lone offensive bright spot in recent years. Of course, I’m talking about Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard. The much talked about running back for the Bears has seen a drop off in production this season.
He’s on pace for about 200 fewer carries than last season and is averaging nearly one yeard less per rush this season. While he is on pace for the same number of touchdowns as last year (9), fans know Howard hasn’t quite gotten going yet. And so has Matt Nagy.
In fact, after Howard scored the game-clinching touchdown against the New York Jets, you could hear a mic’d up Nagy (listen below at the 3:15 mark) promise to Howard that he would get him going.
Well if Nagy wants to get Howard going, Sunday night against the Vikings might be the best time to do it. The Vikings defense, although they struggled to start the season, have started to hit their stride. Most recently they sacked Matthew Stafford 10 times, just before last week’s bye.
The Vikings have an incredible ability to get to the quarterback with a fast, strong, and athletic front-seven. So it’s imperative that the Bears do not find themselves in 3rd and long situations. If the Bears give the Vikings repeated opportunities to pin their ears back and get after Mitch Trubisky, it is going to be a long night for the Bears. Especially with how great Mike Zimmer is as disguising his coverages.
What better way to put your quarterback in manageable 3rd down situations than to have your workhorse pound the ball early. Now I’m in no way suggesting a return to the John Fox gameplan, but Nagy must strike a proper balance of passes with runs and short passes which he utilizes as de facto run plays.
Establishing some semblance of a run game early will not only help keep the pressure off of Trubisky (literally and figuratively) but it will also open up the play action passing game, and allow Trubisky to take those shots down the field that Nagy loves so much.
Ironically, on Sunday, it will be nearly 41 years to the day when Walter Payton, on November 20, 1977, rushed for 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field in the infamous “flu game.” Payton scored the only touchdown for the Bears in a 10-7 win.
Will Howard rush for 275 yards on Sunday? Not likely, but the good news is he doesn’t have to. In fact, he doesn’t need to come anywhere near that total. He really only needs to have an average game for him by historical standards. If he can do that, it will have a big impact on what Nagy is able to do, and would go a long way in securing a crucial victory for Chicago.