End of season evaluation: Jordan Howard

Chicago Bears (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) /

With the start of the offseason comes an excellent time to begin evaluating each player in 2018. Jordan Howard is up next

This series will dig into each other player and decide whether they met, exceeded or failed to perform up to expectations. Did Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard do as expected?

When looking at the career numbers of Jordan Howard, it is safe to say that this is not the year in which he had planned to have. Before the season he was projected for 240 carries and 1,025 yards by Mike Clay. He ended up with 10 more carries, at 250, but finished with just 935 yards. He was projected to catch 29 passes for 197 yards, but finished with 20 for 145 instead. Adding in that his stats have decreased every season he has been in the league does not have Howard trending in the right way.

However, there is a fair question as to how much of that is to his responsibility.

This season brought a new coaching staff, a new offensive line coach and some new pieces around him altogether. When going back through his 2018 tape, it became pretty clear that it was not necessarily his play that had gone down as much as it was the situation around him.

Offensive Line Struggles

To start, his offensive line never got its footing as a run blocking group. Early into the season, the team went with Eric Kush at left guard. As we wrote at the time, he had struggled, especially in the first three games of the season, as fans impatiently waited for second-round rookie James Daniels to emerge.

In Week Four Daniels was able to emerge, but he only rotated snaps. The Bears slowly eased their rookie in, and once he was ready to start full games on his own Kyle Long was sent to the IR. Eric Kush was called on again, but he also was banged up, and the team saw Bryan Witzmann take his place.

Here is a review of the first start from Witzmann.

With a rookie guard who wasn’t trusted to start the year and a third-string guard who was not on the roster to start the year the Chicago Bears were in a tight spot on their interior. There was a huge drop off in production the second Long left the lineup.

The Chicago Bears finished the season ranked 28th in adjusted line yards. They rated 18th in stuff rate and 22nd in power rate, but a lot of that has to be attributed to Jordan Howard. Howard was able to break tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and turn losses into small gains.

Last season he averaged 2.52 yards after contact per carry. This season that number is 2.72. Howard has more yards after contact this season, but fewer yards in general.

While they shuffled their starting guards, they could not find consistency running off of their tackles either. Bobby Massie graded out well below average, and Howard averaged 2.8 yards per run running to the left tackle, although his most successful runs came when he cut back and broke outside of the left tackle.

Howard ranked third in the NFL in the least amount of time behind the line of scrimmage. Howard was plowing straight downhill, but he was pushing into fronts that looked like this, and this.

When the Chicago Bears decided to run power, they were outmanned. The Bears were also without Adam Shaheen for most of the season. This put a more prominent role on Michael Burton, Dion Sims and Ben Braunecker. The issue with these three is that they provide no passing game value, while Shaheen has former basketball player upside.

When these three were on the field, the Bears were calling out that they were running the football. In that regard, teams would stack the box, something that Matt Nagy was good at avoiding. However, when the box was stacked against the Bears weakened line, it got ugly.

When Michael Burton was on the field, the Chicago Bears ran the ball 82% of the time. That resulted in a 25% run success rate and just 1.2 yards per carry. Talk about running into a wall. When Dion Sims was healthy they had a 59% rushing rate and a 45% success rate averaging 3.6 yards per carry. They ran the ball at the same rate with Ben Braunecker for a 36% success rate and 2.3 yards per carry. This is an blocking issue, not Howard.

Passing game usage

Another question that has to come back to Matt Nagy, along with being predictable running the ball with a full back on the field has to be his usage with Howard in the passing game. In the first two games of the season, Jordan Howard was targeted nine times, at least four in each game, averaging 29 yards per game.

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Then, in the final 14 games, he was targeted three times just once. He was targeted once 11 times, and zero times once. None were designed for him. From Week Two on Howard averaged under seven receiving yards per game. 

Whatever it was that happened, something switched and the team wholly isolated Howard out of the passing game. It is very curious considering Howard was showing well in his first two games.

Pass Blocking

Howard was almost perfect as a pass blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, he had two hurries allowed on 96 blocking attempts. Howard also did not commit a single penalty.

Areas to improve in 2019

To say that if the offensive line and tight ends clean up that Howard will be back on track is a small touch too lazy, although there is some truth to it. Keep in mind; the Bears were a 51% success rate team with Kyle Long healthy.

Still, Howard can take some of these issues into his own hands. One of the biggest things for Howard will be finishing. Howard is a sturdy back, as shown by his broken tackle ability.

However, there were a few occasions near the goal line where Howard was close to the end zone and could not finish off the run. Sometimes he set himself up with first and goal at the one and did finish off runs. However, other times he was stuffed at the one and had one fumble at the one-yard line.

Howard had one fumble all season, so that cannot be considered a significant issue. However, his ability to finish runs can be.

Check out the two play sequence here against the New York Giants. First, Howard gets off into open space. It is a cut back of off the left tackle, where some of his best runs come.

He gets rumbling down hill but Curtis Riley comes in to cut him off and stuff the run short. With his size and speed, he needs to find a way to shrug off that tackle from a safety who has missed a few this season.

It set up this play, though with Howard even closer to the goal line. Howard cuts inside where he meets Alec Ogletree. Howard gets an initial push, but Ogletree has friends come in and Howard is stuffed and pushed back.

These runs are scattered throughout the tape of Howard. It is not to say he is soft, and these tacklers are making good plays as well. However, it does seem that with Howard priding himself off of his power and vision that he should be able to smell the end zone and have the ability to find it, rather than set up closer attempts at the goal line.

Final Grade: B-