Bears

Jordan Howard’s negative runs aren’t new, but Bears’ response to them is

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USA Today Sports Images

Jordan Howard’s negative runs aren’t new, but Bears’ response to them is

Following a 13-carry, 68-yard showing in the first half of the Bears’ overtime loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, Jordan Howard disappeared from the gameplan, carrying only three more times for a total of eight yards. 

Getting away from the run isn’t new for Nagy, especially as it relates to Howard. Still, Sunday represented only the third time this year Howard has averaged more than four yards per carry — though, for what it’s worth, those three games have all been defeats. 

Nagy pointed to the Giants doing some different things defensively to shut down the run in the second half, which is valid. It’s also valid that, on the first running play the Bears called in the second half, someone on the offensive line missed an assignment, allowing Dalvin Tomlinson to come into the backfield untouched and drop Howard for a loss of three yards. 

That was one of those plays Nagy referenced when he said “there are some times where we could have Walter Payton back there and he’s not getting any yards.” 

Five of Howard’s 16 runs went for zero or negative yards against the Giants, with no single reason behind that issue. It’s been a problem all year, too: 39 of Howard’s 178 rushing attempts this year have gone for zero or negative yards (22 percent). That’s about one in every five times Howard runs the ball he doesn’t gain any yards or loses yards. 

“Just as a group, as a unit we’ve got to do better,” running backs coach Charles London said. “It’s a breakdown somewhere. It’s a back missing a cut, maybe a block here, a block there. So it’s collective as a group and we just gotta do a good job of every guy knowing their responsibility and making sure that we correct that.” 

But interestingly, Howard ran for zero or negative yards on 21 percent of his total carries in 2016 and 2017, too – years in which he became the first running back in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons to begin his career. The average yards to gain when Howard had a zero/negative yard run in 2016-2017 was the 8.3 yards; in 2018, it’s 7.2 (which is the sign of a better offense as a whole). A higher percentage of Howard’s zero/negative runs came on first down in 2016 and 2017 (69 percent) than in 2018 (64 percent). 
So while Nagy may be hesitant to stick to running the ball when Howard loses yardage on first down, that’s always been a part of his game, to an extent. 

Perhaps, then, Howard’s negative runs are under a greater spotlight because Nagy is quicker to try something else than the previous regime. And that runs against conventional wisdom, especially when starting a backup quarterback. 

“I don’t care about that, no,” Nagy said. “The conventional side of it? No. I don’t — no, I don’t worry about that. I don’t care about that. I really don’t.”

Not caring about conventional wisdom has led to the first-place Bears’ offense being healthier in 2018 than it was with as the focal point in 2016 and 2017, years in which this team won a total of eight games. That doesn’t mean Nagy isn’t looking for a fix to the run game — he very much is — but with every passing week, it looks less likely that fix will come before the end of the season. 

“As we go here, you can't be one-dimensional and we're going to keep plugging away,” Nagy said. “My confidence is not where it needs to be right now, but I feel like I'm in a good spot right now, we are at a good spot as coaches and we know that we got to get better.”

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Bears rookie WR Riley Ridley motivated by older brother, family name

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USA Today

Bears rookie WR Riley Ridley motivated by older brother, family name

Bears fourth-round pick Riley Ridley knew what to expect coming into the NFL thanks to his older brother Calvin, the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver.

Their family bond kept them close even as they played for rival colleges and now competing professional teams, and they both take a lot of motivation from the name on the back of their jerseys.

The two receivers came together on camera for the Bears’ “Meet the Rookies” series.

“We do what we do, not just for the family, but for our name, our brand,” Riley Ridley said. “We want to take that as far as it can go. That Ridley name is strong, and that’s how we view it.”

Ridley opened up about growing up with his mother raising him and his three brothers. He said he’s going to be his own biggest critic and do everything he can to help his teammates.

His brother Calvin added some color to the image of Riley that’s starting to take shape.

“Very funny, really cool, laid back,” Calvin Ridley said. “He’s a different person on the field. I would say he has a lot of anger on the field — very physical.”

Matt Nagy should find good use for that physicality in the Bears offense, plugging Ridley in a wide receiver group already deep with young talent.

Ridley doesn’t seem like the type of player who will allow himself to get buried on the depth chart.

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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