How have the Chicago Bears running backs fared through the quarter point of 2018?
With the Chicago Bears on bye at the quarter point of the NFL season, it is a good time to look into some stats and trends to see whether or not a player has lived up to, or failed to meet expectations. Today, we will grade the two Chicago Bears running backs.
Jordan Howard is on pace for 812 yards and four touchdowns. Last year he ran for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns. That is a pretty steep drop off. Fortunately, he is also on pace for 40 receptions for 312 yards. Both would be career highs over his 29 receptions for 298 yards.
Tarik Cohen is on pace for 556 yards to go with 56 receptions for 676 yards. Last season Cohen had 370 rushing yards, with 53 receptions for 353 yards. This, on the other hand, would be a big step up for the second year back.
Of course, extrapolating out a four-game sample size isn’t going to lead to too much success. What do some of the context stats tell us that may help predict their success moving forward?
Efficiency tracks yards per step taken. This came as a surprise to see Jordan Howard ranked 37th in this area. Howard is regarded more of a north and south downhill runner, and with that, you would expect strong efficiency.
Players around him include Peyton Barber and Alex Collins, and a player ahead of him in this area is Tarik Cohen, which could be surprising considering he moves laterally and cuts backfield often. However, he is producing more on a per-step basis.
Time Behind the Line of scrimmage
Howard’s lack of efficiency gets even more interesting when seeing that he ranks 12th in average time behind the line of scrimmage. This is where you would expect him to rank if not higher because he is that downhill runner.
Tarik Cohen, on the other hand, has the longest average time behind the line of scrimmage of any back in the NFL. These stats make a lot more sense than the efficiency stats.
Yes, Cohen can be explained by his play potential to make up for steps take behind the line. However, Howard is a compelling case considering he is getting north and south but is not efficiently doing it.
This goes back to a post from the site last week, where we saw the Chicago Bears offensive line rank well in getting past the line of scrimmage, but struggling to break runs into the open field. This appears to be where Howard is losing his efficiency.
Updated this week and the Bears now rank 21st in second level yards and 23rd in open field yards.
In that post, four areas were mentioned to help the run game, and a couple of them were deployed against the Bucs.
1. Run Jordan Howard more from the shotgun
Howard has been better in his career, and this season from the shotgun. They have run the ball with Howard out of the shotgun 30 times and 34 from under center. Unfortunately, that was aided by Howard have seven of his 11 rushes come from under center in Week Four.
2. Run Jordan Howard off of the tackle more
Through three weeks, Charles Leno had done well in the run blocking game. They were not getting into the next level up the gut, and it looked like it was time to test Howard off of the tackle. In Week Four, they started to go there.
In Week Four, two of his best runs were off of the tackle. Expect more of this to continue.
3. Continue to use motion and fake jet sweeps, but start to incorporate more jet sweeps so that they are not predictably decoys
This is going to take more than one week to see the effect, but they deployed this plan against Tampa Bay. Taylor Gabriel got a carry and turned it up for ten yards. The team also used a new formation with Michael Burton and Howard next to Cohen to toss it to Cohen and used Chase Daniel near the goal line.
It does not show on the stat sheet, but these mixed looks will help get Howard going sooner than later.
4. Look into starting James Daniels over Eric Kush
As getting to the second level and breaking bigger runs has been the issue, a move from Kush to Daniels is the solution. The Bears used last week to dip the toes of Daniels into the water and see how he would fare. Daniels stood out and should get the start next week.
The big difference between Kush and Daniels is athleticism. Daniels can pull and get into the second level with much more ease. This will help break Howard runs, and break screens in the passing game open more than they have been.
Given that the team started to deploy three of the four things needed to get Howard going, it is tough to have pessimism towards his end of the season run. However, he has not lived up to expectations so far, and that will have to reflect in his grade.
Cohen is on statistical pace to be much better than last season, but his breakout game aided a lot of that in Week Four. Whether or not he can branch off of that remains to be seen. Still, it is tough to get too negative on his grade either as the group has flown steadily with their ups and downs.