Chicago Bears Takeaways: Week 16

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

2.) Jordan Howard STILL isn’t being used correctly

I write about it every week, but apparently OC Dowell Loggains isn’t reading BearGogglesOn. The Bears have an elite power back, but they can’t figure out how to use him effectively (hint: give him the ball more).

Maybe Loggains was paying attention to how the Redskins used their power back, Robert Kelley? With the 4th quarter half over, Kelley had 18 carries. At the time, Howard had just nine. Kelley was averaging an even 4.0 yards per carry, which is decent, and the Skins kept running him up the middle. Howard was averaging almost seven yards per carry, but the Bears kept benching him for Jeremy Langford (seven carries).

For some reason, Loggains just doesn’t know how to use Howard correctly. By correctly I mean, how every other NFL team utilizes their big running backs. You run them 20+ times a game to wear down opposing defenses and then take advantage of their weariness in the 4th quarter. This isn’t a new strategy. It’s been how power runners have been used since… Forever.

Loggains refuses to feature Howard, despite him being one of the top five backs in the league this year (stats below) and 2nd best rookie in the NFL this year. On Saturday Howard finished with 119 rushing yards on 18 carries for an average of 6.6 ypc, another exceptional game.

It may seem like I’m nitpicking between 18 and 20 carries, but half of Howard’s carries came in the last few minutes of the game when things were already decided. Howard got just nine carries in the first 55 minutes of the game and then nine more in the last five minutes when it didn’t matter anymore.

I could see if Howard had some glaring flaws in his game, but he has become a reliable pass blocker and had a couple of nice blitz pickups this week. His receiving skills are a work in progress, but he caught two of three targets on Sunday. For the record, the one he dropped was low and behind him and Howard had two catches called back due to penalties.

The fact that the Bears found one of the best running backs in the league in the 5th round could be impressive, except that Howard was the 3rd string back to start the year and may never have even gotten a chance had Langford and Carey stayed healthy. It reflects poorly on the Bears ability to judge talent that Howard (5.1 ypc) was behind Langford (3.4 ypc) and Carey (3.9 ypc) on the depth chart for the first three weeks of the season.

One would think that after seeing Howard play, the Bears coaching staff would realize their mistake and start featuring Howard, but they keep compounding their mistake by not using Howard enough. Going into the fourth quarter, Howard had just one more carry than Langford for some unknown reason.

The Bears coaches haven’t figured it out yet, but Langford isn’t good. He averaged 3.6 ypc last year and is even worse this year at 3.4. His last touch of the game perfectly summed up the Langford experience. He caught a screen pass on the last play of the game, his ankle was brushed by a Skins safety, and he went down without a fight. That’s what he does when he gets the ball, he goes down on initial contact almost every time. Howard on the other hand, fights for every yard whenever he gets the ball. He’s bigger, stronger, almost as fast and most importantly doesn’t give up on initial contact.

I could understand if Langford brought something to the table that Howard doesn’t, but he’s at best equal as a pass blocker, he had plenty of drops in the passing game last season (one of which cost the Bears a win), and is much worse running between the tackles or in short yardage situations.

Maybe the coaching staff is trying to prove they were right having Langford as their top back to start the season? Maybe it’s stubbornness and not stupidity that’s driving their decision to keep benching Howard for Langford?

I guess I would prefer it being a stubborn streak instead of the alternative, but whatever it is, it needs to end by week one of next season. Howard is by far the best running back on the roster and needs to start being used correctly with 20+ carries every week.

To give you (and Loggains if he’s reading) an idea how impressive Howard has been this year, here is how he ranks in some key rushing categories:

  • 2nd in yards per rush (5.1) behind just LeShon McCoy (5.5)
  • 3rd in runs of 10+ yards
  • 3rd in runs of 20+ yards
  • 3rd in runs of 40+ yards
  • 3rd in rushing yards per start (98.1)
  • 4th in first down runs (despite 53 fewer carries than the 3rd place RB, DeMarco Murray)
  • 2nd in fumble percentage (.01% behind Frank Gore)

Let’s hope Loggains and Fox see this!

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

3.) Cameron Meredith is a legit starting WR

I wrote last week about how Meredith is earning some playing time in 2017 and he backed it up with another strong performance on Saturday. Meredith led the Bears with nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. It’s the second consecutive week that Meredith had nine catches, over 100 yards, and a touchdown.

The former college QB continues to impress and seems to be getting better every week. Meredith gets open consistently and unlike most of the Bears receivers, can actually make difficult catches in traffic.

As a former undrafted free agent in 2015, Meredith has made a ton of progress in his development. In just under two seasons, Meredith has become the Bears most trusted receiver. He has ideal size (6’3, 207), good enough speed (4.49), and reliable hands, but it’s his route running skill and ability after the catch that has separated Meredith from his fellow inexperienced Bears receivers.

For the year, Meredith leads the Bears in catches (62), yards (827), and receiving touchdowns (4) which I don’t think anyone predicted before the season. With questions about whether the Bears re-sign Jeffery, whether Kevin White can stay healthy, whether Eddie Royal gets cut, and whether Josh Bellamy can catch the ball… Meredith is the one receiver the Bears can count on to produce next season.