There were a number of similarities between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, one of which was the one-two punch at running back both teams executed to near perfection.
The Patriots used power back LaGarrette Blount, who finished the regular season with 1,161 rushing yards and led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, James White stole the show as a dangerous, nearly unstoppable threat out of the backfield due to his speed and pass-catching ability. White set Super Bowl record withs 14 receptions and 20 points scored in the championship game.
Atlanta's combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman helped their high-powered offense all season long and the duo averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the Super Bowl.
Given the rushing success of both the Falcons and Patriots, can the Chicago Bears follow suit and commit to a dual-running-back attack?
Let's break it down.
The emergence of Jordan Howard in his rookie year makes him the starter going into 2017, barring any injury in the off-season. Behind Jordan are Jeremy Langford, who is entering his third season, and Ka’Deem Carey, entering his fourth.
Head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will lean on Howard, hopefully, but we could see both Carey and Langford play significant roles in the offense next season.
Howard showed his prowess as a bruising ball carrier who always falls forward, an instinctive trait for a runner with his power. He was also one of the better backs in the league in terms of yards after contact.
He got the attention of his teammates with his play as a rookie.
“I just read Jordan Howard’s No. 2 in the league in rushing,” said Kyle Long at the end of the 2016 season. “And you have to run the ball to win in the NFL, so I’d say, Jordan Howard is kinda the hare out their in front of us leading the pack there, which you can do from a personal standpoint, because you can see he wills himself to get four or five extra yards every time he’s got the ball.”
Howard finished the 2016 season averaging 5.2 yards per carry, which was the third highest average in the league, while his 1,313 rushing yards were second most, behind only Ezekiel Elliott. What was even more impressive was Howard averaging 3.0 yards after contact and breaking 40 tackles on the year.
The physical runner will be the featured back in the offense for a team that will likely try to find its quarterback of the future this upcoming off-season.
Langford can be a quick, change-of-pace back who can spell Howard on occasion and be a threat in the passing offense.
In his rookie year, Langford was impressive playing behind veteran Matt Forte. The Bears let Forte walk believing Langford could take over and be the team's featured back.
Injuries stalled that process for Langford in 2016, as he played in only 12 games and recorded just 64 attempts in his sophomore season.
He was the highlight of a 2015 draft class that has been hammered by injuries.
“It’s really that  class, it’s really [about] availability, and unfortunately there’s been a couple things that sidelined them for different reasons,” said GM Ryan Pace. “I think even Jeremy Langford, you know, [we had] high expectations for him. I think he’s going to be a good player. But I think this ankle injury hobbled him early and I honestly think it affected him this season.”
For Langford to have an impact in the offense going forward, he needs to become a more consistent pass catcher out of the backfield, as that will likely be his main role for as long as Howard stays healthy.
Then there is Carey, who showed some flashes during his sophomore season in 2015, spelling Langford and Forte. The hard-running Carey also found a role on special teams and was named one of the league’s best blockers on kickoffs via Pro Football Focus.
With these three running backs, do the Bears have the makings of a multi-threat backfield that can rival those of the Falcons and Patriots? We'll soon find out.
If the Bears do bring in a young quarterback to groom, they will rely heavily on the run game, giving Howard the bulk of the carries.
Yet both Langford and Carey will be crucial, as Howard won’t be able to handle all of the snaps in what should be a run-heavy approach. If Langford and Carey make the most of those snaps, it would provide a huge boost to Chicago’s offense and take a lot of the pressure off an inexperienced signal caller.
Finding success on offense, particularly with a young quarterback, starts with a dependable, dynamic rushing attack in the NFL. The Bears have the pieces in place, now they just have to follow suit and put it all together.null