On what’s expected to be a brutally cold day in Chicago that will test the quarterbacks and receivers, the Bears have the workhorse running back the Green Bay Packers lack.
After carrying the ball only seven times in the loss at Green Bay in Week 7, rookie running back Jordan Howard has averaged 20.2 carries over the past six games. Chicago won two of those games, with Howard carrying 26 times for 153 yards and one touchdown in the win vs. Minnesota and 32 times for 117 yards and three touchdowns in the win vs. San Francisco.
“Jordan’s a good player,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday. “Just watching the tape, he doesn’t waste any steps, he’s decisive with his reads. He’s very comfortable running the football in their offense. He has good forward lean. He’s a really good young running back.”
Only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for more yards than Howard among rookie running backs, though Howard has Elliott beat on yards per carry. Other than the San Francisco game, Howard has averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry in each of the last six games, including 5.9 vs. Minnesota, 6.7 vs. Tampa Bay and 6.6 last week at Detroit.
Bears coach John Fox said Howard weighs 235 pounds – considerably more than the 222 pounds he’s listed at. Considering the weather and that Matt Barkley will start at quarterback in place of the injured Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, the Bears likely will ride Howard’s broad shoulders.
“I think those are options,” Fox said during a conference call. “I kid my friends that I’m going to come back as a weatherman because they don’t keep your record. I think right now, they’re calling for that (type of cold). You prepare for everything. The same weekend y’all played at home a couple weekends ago, we played San Francisco in similar conditions. I think you just adapt. Our guys did a pretty good job, just like the Packers did in that environment against Houston. You’re used to throwing it but you lean a little bit on things that don’t test your ball-security as much. I think Mike will do the same thing. You just adjust to what the conditions are and what’s working, just like any game.”
The Packers’ running game has suffered without the impact provided the past three seasons by Eddie Lacy (injured reserve) and James Starks (ineffective). Green Bay’s best running back has been Ty Montgomery, but he’s never carried more than nine times in a game (vs. Chicago in Week 7 and Seattle last week). Can a player who’s trained for years as a wide receiver hold up as a 20-carries-in-a-game type of back?
“That’s a question you really grow into,” McCarthy said. “He’s definitely a durable player. You look at just the way he’s built. The factor of the matter is he returns kickoffs, too. I think that tells you what we think about his ability to run up in there. We’ll see how it goes this week but, yes, I have confidence he can get to that number if he had to.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.