As the dust settles on the Bears dismal 2016 season, one can’t help but feel optimistic about the future potential of a Bears offense built around Jordan Howard.
Beyond the franchise worst record, beyond the fact that the missing the playoffs is becoming the rule rather than the exception in Chicago, and beyond the fact that the Bears look to be lacking any sort of direction, Jordan Howard has to make Bears fans feel optimistic about the potential future of their offense.
For many decades the Chicago Bears offense revolved around a strong running game and a daunting defense. Then came the Marc Trestman era, which saw the Bears slowly but surely abandon those core principals. A coach who’s only professional experience at the helm of a football team was in the Canadian Football League, tried to reinvent the wheel in Chicago. John Fox hasn’t done much to reverse course since he arrived two years ago, but he and Bears General Manager Ryan Pace would be wise to do so.
The Bears offense ranked 28th in the NFL in scoring this past season, averaging just 17.4 points per game. The passing offense, which to be fair never had a fighting chance with the slew of injuries that the quarterback position saw, was ranked in the lower third of the NFL in 2016. Even so, for some reason Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains continued to abandon the running game too early, instead choosing to lean on an injury ravaged passing attack.
The rushing attack as a unit ranked 17th in rushing yards, and 22nd in touchdowns in 2016, but don’t be fooled by those numbers, the rushing game was superb. The Bears ran the ball only 380 times in 2016, that was less than 25 other teams in the NFL. The Bears 4.6 yards per carry rank on the other hand, tells the real story of their production. Bears running backs ranked 6th in the NFL in yardage per attempt in 2016.
You could come to a few conclusions about the Bears when you look at how effective and underused Jordan Howard and the running game were. The first conclusion is the most obvious, John Fox and Dowell Loggains are clueless. How do you press on through a 16 game schedule, go through a series of quarterbacks, and lose 13 games, and never once adapt to the strengths of your personnel, and implement a heavier concentration on a very successful running game? How does Jordan Howard go through all of the offseason workouts, training camp, and the preseason without any serious notice of his apparent capabilities?
Remember, Howard didn’t even play in week one and only got 12 carries combined over the next two weeks of the season. Finally in week four, the light bulb turned on in the heads of Fox and Loggains, and Howard was elevated to the starting running back position. Howard gained 22 yards on his three carries in week two (7.33 yards per attempt), and 45 yards on his nine carries in week three (5.0 yards per carry).
Once finally given the opportunity to take the majority of the rushing attempts over, Howard never looked back. In total Howard rushed for 1,313 yards on just 252 rushing attempts, good for an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Howard’s 1,313 rushing yards was second in the NFL to only Dallas Cowboys’ rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 1,631 yards. Elliott however played the entire season, and logged 322 rushing attempts, 70 more carries than Howard. Theoretically, if Howard ran the ball 70 more times in 2016, at his rate of 5.2 yards per carry, Howard would have finished the season with 1,677 yards.
Howard hauled in 29 catches for 298 yards, good for an average of over 10 yards per reception. The firth round draft pick out of the University of Indiana, has emerged as the brightest part of the Bears future after his monster rookie campaign, finishing up with 1,611 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns for the Bears. Howard finished in the top ten in the NFL in 2016 in rushing yards, yards per carry, yards from scrimmage, and rushing yards per game.
Howard looks, and produces like the future of the Bears offense, and he acts like it too. When asked after the Bears week 17 dismantling by the Minnesota Vikings, how he felt about breaking Matt Forte‘s Bears rookie rushing record Howard said simply, “There’s nothing to really celebrate. We’re not winning. That’s the point of the game.”
With the Bears at a crossroad of sorts after the 2016 season, the direction this spring should be centered around building a Bears offense that compliments Jordan Howard, not an offense that Jordan Howard compliments. Bolster what is an already good offensive line, and make it great. Draft a quarterback in the upcoming draft with the third overall pick, let him come into training camp and take his time and learn, while you have the benefit of an offense built around an upper echelon rushing attack.
Say good bye to Alshon Jeffery this spring, take all of the money that would have went into signing him, and sink it into the secondary to provide a talented front seven with some protection on the defensive side of the ball, and get back to playing Chicago Bears football.