Bears

Matt Nagy reiterates that Jordan Howard will play 3rd downs

Matt Nagy reiterates that Jordan Howard will play 3rd downs

Bears head coach Matt Nagy stated in late July that he believes that RB Jordan Howard can play all three downs. Nagy doubled down on that statement on Friday, with a CBS Sports report coming out, with Nagy again stating his belief in Howard. He went on to say that the Bears are still committed to using Howard on 3rd downs. 

The fact that Nagy has made this declaration so many time certainly makes it seem like he is serious, which brings to question what role will speedy, change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen will have if Howard is to be used on a decent chunk of 3rd downs.

We could see Cohen and Howard share the field on many possessions, providing Nagy's creative offense with yet another new look to show to defenses. His belief in Howard is sure to be a confidence boost for the third-year back, who has been plauged by issues with dropping passes in his NFL career.

Howard had a catch percentage (receptions divided by targets) of 58 percent his rookie year, and raised that to 71.9 percent his second season, but neither of those figures top Cohen's 74.6 catch percentage in his lone season. 

Tarik Cohen's rookie season saw him catch 53 balls for 353 yards, compared to 52 receptions for 423 yards in Howard's two seasons combined. But the numbers reflect something else, the difference in opportunity. Last season Cohen received 71 targets in the passing game, compared to 32 for Howard. Cohen deserved the large volume of targets when you consider that he averaged 1.3 more yards per reception than Howard, but there is hope that Howard can become just as effective of a pass catcher, albeit in a different fashion.

He may never develop hands as sure as Cohen, but his rookie year shows his promise in the receiving game. In 2016, Howard only caught 29 balls, but he averaged a monstrous 10.3 yards per reception. No one is expecting Howard to get a 1st down per reception, but even if he simply matches last season's 5.4 yards per reception, a higher share of targets in the passing game will leave defenses in disarray. 

Making sure opposing defenses can't predict the play type based off of the personnel is just one of many things Nagy is trying in his first year in Chicago to spice up what was quite a bland offense in 2017. In 2018, we can expect to see Cohen even line up at wideout a decent amount. One thing for sure, the Bears will be a diverse offense this season. 

Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

The Bears' Week 15 loss to the Packers brings to an end any far-fetched hope that Chicago would complete a miraculous late-season turnaround and sneak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. And while there's still a chance the Bears can finish 2019 above .500, the theme of this year will be disappointment.

There will be plenty of time to nitpick the 2019 Bears and identify what went wrong to derail a club with Super Bowl aspirations over the summer. For now, though, it's worth pointing out a positive development from Sunday's loss that advanced a recent trend of production in Chicago's passing game.

Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller each eclipsed 100 receiving yards against the Packers and continued to provide the Bears with a look at what could emerge as one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL next season.

Miller caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown while Robinson secured seven catches for 125 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky targeted the duo a total of 29 times in the game.

"We are just trying to make plays," Robinson said Sunday after the game. "Anthony Miller is a very competitive dude. He makes plays when he gets his chance. So for me I am just trying to do the same thing; make plays and give our offense a shot to move the ball and score some touchdowns.”

Robinson's big afternoon brings his season totals to 83 catches, 1,023 yards and seven scores. It's the first time A-Rob has gone over 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout 1,400-yard season in 2015.

Miller, who was an afterthought in the passing offense for the first month of the season, now has career-highs in receptions (50) and yards (649). He's averaged 86 receiving yards per game over the last five weeks.

Trubisky's stat line has benefited quite a bit from Miller's recent surge, too. He's averaging 298 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, which spread across an entire season would total more than 4,700 yards.

It's OK to be frustrated with how 2019 turned out for the Bears. The season got off to an unbearably slow start and didn't come anywhere near the lofty expectations fans had when training camp broke. But it's become very clear over the last several games that the Bears have a strong foundation for an explosive passing game in place with Robinson and Miller.

The goal in 2020 should be to make sure the explosive duo is unleashed much sooner in the season.

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Even if it's for only one game, Akiem Hicks' return proved he's the heart of the Bears

Even if it's for only one game, Akiem Hicks' return proved he's the heart of the Bears

When he speaks with the media after games or practice, Akiem Hicks is rarely at a loss for what to say. The defensive tackle isn’t one to mince words, a personality trait that suits him well as one of the Bears’ most vocal and unquestionable leaders. That’s why it was so surprising when he couldn’t properly express how much pain he was going through during the Bears’ 21-13 loss on Sunday afternoon. 

“I would hate to describe it. I guess just imagine bones, doing that, moving a little bit when you don’t want it to,” Hicks said, mimicking the bone-on-bone agitation he felt by aggressively rubbing the knuckles of his two fists together. “That’s part of the game.” 

Hicks made his much-anticipated return on Sunday afternoon, and his impact was felt almost immediately. On the Packers’ first play of the game, Aaron Rodgers dialed up a deep ball to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had a step on his man. Hicks got a great jump on the ball, getting in Rodgers’ line of sight and hitting him right as the quarterback uncorked the heave. It would fall a few feet in front of Valdes-Scantling’s outstretched hands. It was one of two QB hits and four tackles Hicks was credited with on the afternoon. 

“I mean, I’ve been saying that Akiem is the juice, man,” Prince Amukamara said. “He brings the juice to this team. His leadership on the field and off the field. You can even see him and Eddie [Jackson] have a thing where they just feed off each other. We appreciate him coming back.” 

Hicks’ impact on other defensive players was a heavily-discussed topic all week, but it centered more on how he would free up Khalil Mack (one tackle) and Leonard Floyd (one tackle) to create havoc. Instead, it was Jackson who led the team in tackles (6). 

“It was huge, man,” Jackson said of Hicks’ return. “He gets us fired up.”

Hicks clearly struggled with the injury from the get-go. He was taken into the medical tent by trainers on two separate occasions, and at that point wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back into the game. 

He wouldn’t elaborate on what specifically was going on, only mentioning that the training staff did a terrific job working on the fly to make sure he stayed in the game.

“There’s a lot of doubt in that moment,” he said. “You’re in the medical tent, so you’re just trying to figure out what’s going on. And so, they did their best to make sure I was able to play, and I was able to go back out and finish the game, so kudos to our team.” 

Now that the Bears have been eliminated from playoff contention, how the team treats Hicks’ final two games of 2019 will be something to watch for. When asked if he planned on being out there for games against Kansas City and Minnesota, Hicks smiled and chose his words carefully. 

“I love football.” 

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