Rookie running back Jordan Howard has breathed new life into the Chicago Bears rushing attack.
When Howard took over as the starter in Week 4, the Bears ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing. After two weeks riding the 6-1, 222-pound rookie, Chicago's run game now ranks 19th in the league.
That's a 10-spot jump in the rankings following back-to-back 100-yard outings by Howard, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season.
Let's take a closer look at Howard and the Bears rushing attack the past two contests.
Our first snap is a zone run by Howard (blue) up the right A gap. The four blockers in front -- LT Charles Leno, LG Josh Sitton, C Cody Whitehair and RG Kyle Long -- form a wall at the point of attack, driving the defensive line to toward the right hash.
The offensive line drives the entire defensive line right of center, which creates a wide cutback lane for Howard.
TE Zach Miller (orange) seals the edge defender, while the offensive line has effectively cut off five interior defenders. This gives Howard a one-on-one situation with the strong safety.
Howard puts his shoulder down and runs over the safety, leaving the defender on his face as he breaks the tackle.
The broken tackle allows Howard to pick up an extra five yards at the end of the run.
Howard takes the handoff on a stretch run right. Notice the offensive line has a hat on every Colts front-seven defender.
The safety (yellow) over-pursues, leaving a wide lane inside for Howard. The lane is made possible Long (orange) and Whitehair (red), who are able to seal off their respective defenders on the move.
Howard bursts through the hole, leaving the safety in his wake, for a 57-yard gain. Notice Long, who finishes his block five yards outside the numbers.
This is a stretch run left. On the play-side (red) Whitehair, Sitton and Leno luck up their respective defenders. Yet the key to this play is on the back-side (orange) where Long gives a subtle chest punch to the weak-side defensive tackle. This allows RT Bobby Massie to slide in front of the defender and execute the reach block, thus cutting off back-side pursuit.
At the point of attack, Leno seals the edge defender, with Whitehair and Sitton locking up the inside linebackers, giving Howard a clear path to the corner. Massie (red) slows up the back-side pursuit, while Long (orange) peels off to pick up the safety.
Howard is able to reach the corner for a 12-yard gain.
Howard takes the pitch left. Out in front, every Colts interior defender is accounted for.
Leno (red) catches the charging linebacker and pushes him outside. Out front (orange) Sitton (71) and Whitehair (65) continue to drive defenders up the field, which allows Long (yellow) to swing behind and serve as a lead blocker for Howard.
Howard cuts back inside and follows Long for an 11-yard gain.
Howard takes the handoff on a stretch run left.
The play bottles up on the edge and Howard is unable to turn the corner. He slows down, shifts his weight back inside and cuts behind Whitehair, who is driving the pile toward the sideline. Notice Long (orange) who is able to fend off the defender while still working up-field.
Howard shoots through the gap and picks up 22 yards. Notice Massie out in front, touching up the linebacker to create extra running room for the running back.
TE Logan Paulsen (red) motions into the backfield and lines up off-set right.
Leno seals the left side and Long picks up the backside linebacker. Paulsen dives at the legs of the weak-side defensive tackle. At the point of attack, Whitehair and Sitton (orange) double team the DT.
Sitton peels off for the linebacker but the edge is shut down, which causes Howard to hesitate. Paulsen is unable to cut off back-side pursuit, so Howard is in a tough spot here. Notice the big drop step he takes, trying to figure out where to go.
Instead of trying to force the play, Howard stays patient and rides behind Whitehair until he's able to gain outside leverage, which gives Howard the crease he needs to break toward the sideline. The play goes for 16 yards.
On this zone run, Howard is again unable to turn the corner, as Detroit's defense does a good job of setting the edge.
Howard again saddles up on Whitehair and rides the rookie center through the hole. Notice Sitton (71) is able to turn the defender away from the hole. On the inside (red) Long and Massie seal off the rest of the front seven.
Howard waits until he finds a lane toward the sideline. He gets a good block on the cornerback by WR Cameron Meredith, which allows Howard to turn the corner.
Howard races up the field for a big gain.
The film shows some very impressive play from Chicago's offensive line the past two weeks. Granted, Detroit and Indianapolis do not present the toughest of tests but the improvement from the Bears front five is undeniable.
Many folks, including myself, questioned the waiving of Matt Slauson this past off-season but it's clear that, with Sitton at left guard, the Bears have one of the most athletic offensive lines in the league.
Massie can't pass block a lick but he has good movement ability, as does Leno, who has been outstanding at the second level. Sitton and Long have played like All Pros, with Long using his extreme athleticism to excel in zone sets.
Yet arguably the most impressive Bears blocker has been the rookie Whitehair, whose ability to maintain power and leverage while on the move is off the charts. Throughout this film session, Whitehair was solid as a rock and finished snaps to the whistle, which often created open running room late in the play.
Then we have Howard, whose vision and patience is the stuff of a veteran runner. He consistently finds the open hole and, when it's not there, he's willing to wait for a crease to open up. You almost never see him put his head down and try to jackhammer his way through a hole that isn't there. Instead, he finds a blocker he can piggyback until something develops.
He's also extremely light on his feet, which allows him to make quick, agile cuts through small seams. And when it comes time to finish the play, Howard can drop the boom on defenders. His ability to fall forward on every play is uncanny.
This run game is no joke. Howard is the full package and Chicago's athletic offensive line appears very well suited for the current zone-blocking system.
If the rushing attack continues to develop, Howard could gain north of 1,200 rushing yards his rookie year.