Bears

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

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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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AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

It may only be Week 15, but Matt Nagy's already winning awards. 

Earlier today, Nagy was chosen as "having done the NFL’s best coaching job in 2018 in voting released Friday by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press." 

AP football writer Howard Fendrich explained the decision, saying,″(Nagy’s) overseen a total turnaround of the Bears in just his first year as an NFL head coach, taking a team that hadn’t finished above .500 since 2012 and turning them into the best of the NFC North. He’s an offensive guru who learned from former boss Andy Reid, and Chicago’s play calling has been creative and fun — and overcome limitations at the QB spot to be good enough to let a superb defense lead the way.”

Nagy's led the Bears to a 9-4 record in his first year as head coach, with a chance to win the division if the Bears can beat the Packers this weekend. 

Nagy came in ahead of Pete Carroll, who finished in 2nd place. Andy Reid, Nagy's mentor in Kansas City, rounded out the top 3. 

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Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

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Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

A thought here after watching Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs tilt, which featured eight flags for either defensive pass interference or defensive holding...

As the NFL makes it harder for defensive players to play defense (and as TV ratings go up), the Bears are one of the cleanest teams when it comes to their opponents’ passing game. They rank second among teams with only eight combined defensive holding and defensive pass interference penalties: 

1. Dallas (5)
2. Chicago (8)
3. Oakland (10)
4. Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers (11)
6. Arizona, Indianapolis (12)
8. Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, Philadelphia (13)
14. Cincinnati, New York Jets, Seattle, Tampa Bay (14)
18. Baltimore, Pittsburgh (15)
20. Los Angeles Rams (16)
21. Buffalo, Minnesota, New England (17)
24. Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, San Francisco (18)
29. Atlanta, Miami (20)
31. New Orleans (23)
32. Kansas City (36)

The Chargers entered Thursday night’s game tied with the Bears with eight holding/pass interference penalties, but where whistled for three during the game — and not all were clear fouls, either. And that kind of stuff can be annoying for defensive players around the league to see. 

“100 percent,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “.. .I’ve seen some things, I’m like come on, man. But there’s some things you can’t control. Control what you can control, and that’s go out there and play ball and to the best of your ability try not to hold or get a flag for pass interference called on you.”

Jackson credited four members of the coaching staff with the Bears’ ability to avoid holding/interference penalties: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson and quality control assistant Sean Desai. From teaching proper technique for being told what to watch out for, this is a well-coached group. Only cornerback Prince Amukamara — who’s usually in press coverage, subjecting him to the most contact — has been whistled for multiple interference or holding flags this year (he actually has half the Bears’ total, with four). 

“It’s a combination of both (coaching and technique) I would say,” coach Matt Nagy said. “The players, technique-wise is a big part of it. You’ve got to be really disciplined in that area. And then I think the other part of it is with the coaching is making sure that they’re watching to make sure to see where they’re at with it. So far, to have that, you want that overall as a team to be the least penalized, specifically in that area, that’s always a good thing.”

Consider it another feather in the cap of the league’s best defense: Even when passing-oriented rule changes and tweaks supposedly make it harder to play defense, the Bears largely haven’t suffered for it. 

“It’s more difficult for the referees, too,” Nagy said. “It’s difficult for them. It’s difficult for the players. There’s some subjectiveness to it. But you gotta try to not be too grabby.”  

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