Bears

Jordan Howard says problems catching the football started in high school

Jordan Howard says problems catching the football started in high school

Much has been made of Jordan Howard's struggles as a receiver through his first two seasons in the NFL. Despite securing 72 percent of his targets in 2017, his drops came at the worst possible time. Most notably, Howard dropped a potential game-winning pass with 12 seconds left against the Falcons in Week 1 last year.

Howard must prove this season that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy if he's to have any chance at posting numbers similar to what Kareem Hunt did with the Chiefs in 2017. Hunt ran for 1,327 yards (the most in the NFL) and added 455 yards as a receiver. He caught 53 of his 63 targets.

In order to become more consistent as a receiver Howard first has to fix his technique (hand placement) which, according to the third-year runner, is an issue that dates back to high school.

“It started being a problem in high school, just not having my hands in the right position,” Howard said via the Chicago Tribune. “I didn’t work on it that much in college because we didn’t really throw to the backs that much. But I’m going to fix it.”

Howard has no choice but to fix it. He's too important to the offense to be limited by a deficient pass-catching skill set.

Like anything else, the more he works on catching passes and the more Chicago emphasizes to Howard how productive he can be if cleans up that part of his game, the more likely he'll become one of the league's better all-around backs. Furthermore, if Howard establishes himself as a receiver, defenses won't be able to assume a running play is coming every time he's on the field.

And that will make Nagy a very, very happy play caller.

Bears win with 'different' Mitchell Trubiskys as Vikings fade to the playoff brink in MNF loss to Seattle

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USA TODAY

Bears win with 'different' Mitchell Trubiskys as Vikings fade to the playoff brink in MNF loss to Seattle

No matter what your opinion of Mitchell Trubisky – franchise quarterback, ascending young guy who just needs time, just a guy, the Bears flat-out got the wrong guy – Sunday’s 15-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams provided confirmation of that assessment of the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft:

Trubisky was abysmal in the first half: 9-of-20 passing, 59 yards, 2 INT’s, passer rating 12.5.

He was “ascending” in the second half: 7-of-10 passing, 51 yards, another INT but a TD pass, rating 74.1.

He was sometimes just a guy: “I think I just need to be better all the way around,” he said afterwards.

Whether the Bears got the right guy? Well, Pat Mahomes is third in the NFL with a passer rating of 115.2 for an 11-2 Kansas City team. Deshaun Watson is ninth at 100.9 and had led 9-4 Houston to nine straight wins before Sunday’s home loss to Indianapolis.

But the Bears have won Trubisky’s last four starts, albeit with a bit of help from the defense on Sunday, even if he has dropped down to No. 22 with his 92.1 passer rating. And he is No. 7 in ESPN’s more comprehensive quarterback rating, so if there are issues with what he is or isn’t, those don’t extend to his head coach, who didn’t view Sunday as any kind of “setback” in Trubisky’s development.

“Not when you win,” Matt Nagy said. “He made some plays when we needed to. For him to be able to keep learning, there’s gonna be some bumps in the road. You can’t throw for 350 yards every game. That’s just not gonna happen in this offense in Year 1. That’s not gonna happen.”

Just a little what-if?

These sorts of what-If’s are easy to find, but whimsical just the same:

Would Ryan Pace have stayed put at No. 14 in the 2014 draft, as Phil Emery did – or would the trade-inclined Pace have jumped over the No. 13 Rams and made sure Aaron Donald’s career went through Chicago?

Of course, running back Todd Gurley was waiting in the green room when the Bears’ turn came at No. 7 a year later, and Pace opted for soon-to-be-former-Bear Kevin White.

Fading Vikings

The NFL may have been cringing at a second straight prime-time game in which offense was largely absent and the winners relied on the time-honored 5-yards-and-a-cloud-of-sod.

But the Bears weren’t cringing at all as they watched the Minnesota Vikings lose 21-7 to the Seattle Seahawks for their third loss in the last four, beginning with the Bears last month.

The Bears clinch the NFC North with a win in any of their final three games. The defeat dropped the Vikings to 6-6-1 and into a position where the only way they can beat the Bears for the NFC North title is to sweep their final three while the Bears were losing theirs, including Game 16 in Minneapolis.

The Vikings still stand as the No. 6 playoff seed at the moment, which would make them the wild-card opponent for the Bears (No. 3) as records now sit. Minnesota with six losses and a tie has a teeny edge for that No. 6 spot ahead of seven-time-losers Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington.

But underneath all this were the Seahawks dominating the Vikings in this Monday Night Football game with a throwback 214 rushing yards on 42 attempts, vs. Seattle’s 22 pass plays – this after the Bears ran 35 times for 194 yards, vs. 31 pass plays in mauling a Rams team with an offense touted as one of the hood ornaments for the “modern” NFL.

 

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For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

Taking a step back from last night’s Bears win, consider this: 

The only touchdown scored in a game featuring two first-place teams, one of which has the NFL’s best offense, came on a play with exactly zero running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on the field. Four of the five eligible receivers were defensive linemen, and the other was an offensive lineman. The play started with a run fake to a 332-pound defensive tackle and ended with a pass to a 312-pound offensive tackle.

Call it gimmicky, call it cute — use whatever slightly-veiled critical term you want. It worked on a night when the Los Angeles Rams, a team that averaged 35 points per game, wound up in the end zone once. And that was when Eddie Goldman dropped Jared Goff for a safety. 

“If it wouldn’t have worked, you all would be ripping me right now,” coach Matt Nagy said of “Santa’s Sleigh.”

Nagy hasn’t shied away from not just thinking outside the box in his first year as a head coach. He’s scored touchdowns with two quarterbacks on the field (“Willy Wonka”), a defensive tackle carrying the ball (“Freezer Left”) and a 5-foot-6 running back throwing the ball (“Oompa Loompa”). The Bears converted a two-point conversion against the Vikings with Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris lined up as half of a diamond formation on one side of the field. Safety Eddie Jackson and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan have played offensive snaps, too. 

But the process matters just as much as the results of these plays. And Nagy isn’t just calling these plays just to give his players a morale boost or because he’s showboating in the face of decades of conventional wisdom. There’s a method to his madness, if you will.

“As a quality control coach, when you’re up in the booth and you’re trying to tell the D-coordinator that those four numbers are coming in, and I don’t know if they necessarily prepare for that,” Nagy said. “So I always tell you guys, any advantage you can get — and now you gotta be able to make sure it’s something that you feel like you can be worthwhile and not foolish. There’s that balance there. And so the other part of it too is our guys love it. They enjoy it, they have fun, they’re working. Maybe we’ll stay away from them for a few weeks and come back to it later.”

The other part of these plays: Players believe in them. Bradley Sowell, who caught the touchdown on “Santa’s Sleigh,” made mention of Nagy getting criticized for the first time a play was designed to get him the ball (a pass that should’ve been picked off in the end zone against the New England Patriots). 

“He tried it with me earlier in the season and got flack for it,” Sowell said.  

The Bears trust that these plays are going to work, and that Nagy believes his players can get out of their comfort zone to execute them. That’s why we’ve seen Hicks scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants or Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel faking a read option before popping a pass to Taylor Gabriel for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“If you have a ‘why’ behind why you do it, then it makes sense,” Nagy said. “They’re not all gonna work. There’s gonna be some where I’m gonna be standing up here and you guys (the media) are gonna be saying ‘you’re an idiot.’ But that’s inevitable. I’ll accept that. They’re working right now and the guys like it, so keep going.”

One other interesting aspect of “Santa’s Sleigh” is that Nagy said the play wasn’t devised just because Hicks had scored a touchdown on “Freezer Left” the week prior. Getting the Rams to bite on the play fake to Hicks was important, of course, but when the Bears line up with six offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and a quarterback on the field, the natural thought is they’re going to run the ball. Making sure the Rams respect Hicks’ running ability — which is an absolutely wild thought to type — was important, but not the reason why the play was drawn up. 

“You could do whatever you want to do,” Nagy said. “It’s endless. There’s so much good stuff you can do.”