Through the first three weeks of the regular season, the Chicago Bears offense has been a rudderless ship drifting aimlessly in a sea of disappointment.
Under coordinator Dowell Loggains, the Bears rank 27th in total offense, 30th in scoring and 23rd in passing. Yet most concerning is the club's 30th ranked rushing offense.
In 2015, the Bears had the 6th most rushing attempts in the NFL. Former coordinator Adam Gase's commitment to the run, even when it wasn't overly effective, took pressure off QB Jay Cutler, resulting in one of his best seasons as a pro.
This year, Chicago's 53 rushing attempts rank dead last in the league. The Bears are averaging 4.0 yards per carry as a team, which ranks 18th in the NFL, so the run game has been productive. Yet Loggains has channeled his inner Mike Martz and has been completely pass happy through three weeks.
As a result the offense has struggled, looking downright inept at times, and the Bears are 0-3.
Chicago has fallen behind early in each game and Jeremy Langford has struggled, so it's somewhat understandable why Loggains has abandoned the run game, but that has to change going forward. With Cutler on the shelf and the defense down six starters already, controlling the clock with the run game will be critical if the Bears are to win any games this year.
Langford suffered a sprained ankle in Dallas and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. His injury opens the door for rookie Jordan Howard.
The fifth rounder has carried the ball just 12 times this season but he's averaging a healthy 5.6 yards per carry. Against the Cowboys, Howard provided a spark to Chicago's dormant offense, ripping off a 36-yard run on his first carry. He ended the game with 9 carries for 45 yards and added 4 catches for 47 yards.
Howard showed power between the tackles, good burst on stretch runs and he was dependable as a pass catcher. He also demonstrated his light feet in the open field, which is rare for a running back of his size (6-0, 222).
In the team's search for a workhorse running back, Howard is by far the best option, so he should see the majority of the backfield reps going forward.
Yet this won't be a solo gig for Howard, as head coach John Fox prefers a committee approach.
Fox was asked yesterday if he felt Howard can handle a full workload. He responded: "I think there’s guys in the league that do. Remember, Jordan is a rookie that we’ve seen for three real NFL football games."
That's not a strong endorsement from your head coach but it might not matter. Langford is down and Ka'Deem Carey missed last week's contest with a hamstring injury. Just by attrition, Howard becomes the bell cow, especially if Carey is out for an extended period.
That's exciting for Bears fans, as Howard has the look of a legitimate No. 1 running back. Yet there are concerns.
First, Langford looked outstanding against the Cowboys in a secondary role. Just like he did backing up Matt Forte last year, Langford excelled as a change-of-pace back. He averaged 10.3 yards per carry in the game and had a first-down reception as well. The committee approach with Langford and Howard - whose skill sets are on opposite ends of the spectrum - showed a lot of promise against the Cowboys. That will be shelved for the time being.
Carey is a strong runner but he doesn't have the same speed and big-play ability as Langford. He doesn't provide as much upside as Langford but Carey is one of Fox's favorite players.
Remember, Carey has no value on special teams and he's nothing special as a receiver or in pass protection. Yet he's maintained a roster spot the past two years due in large part to his downhill running style, which Fox loves. When Carey returns, he will be a big part of the running-back rotation.
Second, the main reason Howard fell to the fifth round in this year's draft was due to injuries he suffered his junior year at Indiana. He missed four games and parts of three others with knee and ankle injuries in 2015. He then immediately suffered a hamstring injury after joining the Bears, which forced him to miss most of the OTA programs.
Based on his recent injury history, giving Howard 30-plus touches a game could be a recipe for disaster. He's also not yet adept in pass protection, so he could struggle on 3rd downs.
For those reasons, don't expect Howard to become the next Adrian Peterson.
Before pumping the brakes on Howard, Fox went out of his way to talk about the team's other running back, Raheem Mostert, when asked about the backfield.
"When you kind of look at our depth chart, you see a guy active, Raheem Mostert, who I don’t think is a household name here in Chicago," Fox said. "Our guys will keep coaching them and they’ll keep trying and we’ll come up with 46 active guys for next Sunday."
That 46 will surely feature Howard atop the depth chart but expect him to rotate with Mostert or Carey, whomever is healthy, on game days. Howard has a bright future in Chicago but the Bears aren't about to put the entire onus of the offense on a rookie running back's shoulders, if they can avoid it.
Looking ahead to when Langford returns to the field, the Bears will have the makings of a potent 1-2 punch at running back, one that might finally force Loggains to execute a balanced offensive approach.null