Roquan Smith will face his toughest test early into the 2018 season for the Chicago Bears
Over the past couple of weeks, the New England Patriots have started to build an identity. They are a team that lives off of quick passes to their running backs.
The Patriots lead the league in passes to their running back by a decent margin. Why wouldn’t they when it makes so much sense?
James White is the number two running back in yards above replacement catching out of the backfield. James White, Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey are the most efficient pass catchers at running back. Not bad company.
Check out his route charts over the past two weeks.
They are not afraid to take shots down the field with White nor are they afraid to line him out white. However, you can see that he is best at taking passes behind the line of scrimmage and extending them for yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
So far into the season, the Chicago Bears have been the best team in the NFL at allowing receptions to running backs. A lot of that has to do with Roquan Smith.
Given the speed of Smith, the team would designate him to chase backs out into the flats more often than a player such as Danny Trevathan.
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This shows in our cornerback report in which each target has been tracked. So far, Roquan Smith has been targeted 24 times in the passing game, while Danny Trevathan has seen just 15 targets.
However, at the same time, Roquan Smith is allowing 4.3 yards per target while Danny Trevathan is allowing 12.2 yards per target.
Teams are not necessarily testing Smith. They are just using short passes to the running back to suffice for the run. When you think about it, 4.3 yards per target is not a bad per carry rushing rate.
Still, teams are just now establishing quick passes to the running backs, and most teams do not have linebackers fast enough to hold backs to that low of a clip. That is where you see the efficiency from the Bears in this area. They are turning running back passes into a result similar to run plays, while other teams exploit slow linebackers with it. This is thanks to the speed and tackling of Roquan Smith.
The New England Patriots, of course, are ahead of the curve in exploiting teams with their running backs like this. That is why they lead the league.
Still, now they face the top running back stopper in the NFL so far. While this is a strength for the Patriots, it will be interesting to see how much they go to the option, as well as what kind of success they may have.
Smith was one of the many who did not have a strong game against the Miami Dolphins. If he can bounce back, and keep James White in line, the Bears are going to hang in this game. This will be a big game for the rookie.