According to NFL’s Next Gen stats, the Pittsburgh Steelers had eight or more men in the box on only four of Jordan Howard’s 23 runs on Sunday. None of Tarik Cohen’s 12 rushing attempts came against a loaded box, either, per those numbers.
That seems to go against conventional wisdom. The Bears have struggled to find consistency passing the ball, so why wouldn’t an opposing defense load up the box and try to shut down a running game that racked up 216 yards between its “thunder” (Howard) and “lighting” Cohen?
“They were in a lot of split safeties, playing Tampa 2 a lot, and they thought that was the best answer to stop us and they stayed in it,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “And (I) thought that we did a really good job up front.”
Perhaps that was Pittsburgh betting that its front seven — led by linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Cameron Heyward, but without defensive end Stephon Tuitt and linebacker T.J. Watt — could shut down Howard and Cohen without needing extra help. Or, as Loggains admitted:
“At the end, I don’t know that teams respect us enough right now to say hey, they can put a 12-play drive together and go score on us, and we’ll bleed them out and see if they’ll make a mistake.”
That’s what happened in Week 2, when Mike Glennon completed his first six passes but threw a debilitating interception on his seventh. The Bears fumbled five times on Sunday but only lost one, while Glennon was picked off once (and it could've easily been twice).
But not facing loaded boxes has actually been a bit of a trend so far for the Bears' offense: 26.67 percent of Howard’s runs have come with eight or more men in the box, the 25th-highest percentage among running backs with at least 20 carries. Only 12.5 percent of Cohen’s attempts have come with eight or more men in the box, too — the sixth-lowest percentage in the same group.
How the Green Bay Packers scheme against the Bears offense in a short week will be interesting, given the Packers have lagged against the run (4.5 yards per carry, 24th) and pass (7.6 yards per attempt, 21st). Would they try to sell out to stop the thing the Bears do well — run the ball — or try what the Steelers did and drop into zone coverage and hope Glennon makes a mistake?
The answer to that question will be key in how much success the Bears’ offense will have Thursday night at Lambeau Field.