The Right Combination: Jordan Howard gives ground game a boost

The Right Combination: Jordan Howard gives ground game a boost

Jordan Howard gave the Bears a big lift during Sunday's 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions

The rookie from Indiana rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries, marking the first time a Bears running back surpassed the century mark this season. 

Howard also helped the team's air attack, catching three passes for 21 yards. With Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey injured, Howard's expanded role will likely continue next week against the Indianapolis Colts. 

First and Final Thoughts: A chance to seal it at Soldier

USA Today

First and Final Thoughts: A chance to seal it at Soldier

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thought on Week 14

J.J. Stankevitz: Can we give some love to Sherrick McManis for the work he put in on Sunday night? A guy who’s been labeled as a special teams ace, and not much else, stepped in for an injured Bryce Callahan and played well for 36 snaps against one of the best offenses in the NFL during the second half. The Rams targeted McManis four times, per Pro Football Focus, and he allowed three catches for 18 yards – and, notably, only one yard after the catch. McManis was sent on a blitz five times by Vic Fangio and pressured Jared Goff on three of those plays.

This isn’t the first time McManis has made an impact on defense this year – he had a tremendous game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 – but consider this: The 36 defensive snaps McManis played on Sunday were more than he played during the entire 2017 season (31). If the Bears are without Callahan for any period of time – Matt Nagy said the Bears should know more about his foot injury by Wednesday – McManis will have to take on an increased role the likes of which he hasn’t had since 2015, when he played 29 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps. But after seeing what he did against the Rams on Sunday night, perhaps he’ll be up for the task.

Paul Aspan: Akiem Hicks is the absolute MVP of this team. He made the biggest play of the game, helping to force the INT to Kyle Fuller right after the offense committed a pretty brutal turnover of its own. Nothing new that Hicks is making key plays on a weekly basis but he might be the most unheralded DT in the league. With all due respect to Aaron Donald and the likely defensive player of the year season he’s having but what Hicks is doing in a mostly 3 technique & 1 technique this season is some of the most disruptive of a DT playing that far inside the line and me thinking shades of Warren Sapp.

Cam Ellis: We place some sort of arbitrary value on 100 rushing yards, as if it's *that* more impressive than 99 or 98 or 97. It's dumb. With that said, it's nice to see Jordan Howard get over 100 yards -- and against a stout Rams defense, no less. This year surely hasn't played out like Howard envisioned it would, and just because he didn't get moved at the deadline doesn't mean his future in Chicago is set in stone. If the Bears are going to roll into the playoffs with this defense-first mentality, they'll need a run game along side it. Watching Howard rumble between the tackles was enjoyable to watch. 

First Thought on Week 15

Stankevitz: The Bears know as well as anyone that if you give Aaron Rodgers an inch, he’ll take it a mile. Even after losing to the woebegone Arizona Cardinals and firing Mike McCarthy, the Packers still have that inch in the NFC playoff race – at 5-7-1, they’re only one game behind the current six-seeded Minnesota Vikings, who fired offensive coordinator (and former candidate for the Bears’ coaching job) John DeFilippo on Tuesday. While the Vikings have the tiebreaker over the Packers, it’s not inconceivable to see Minnesota’s season flame out along with the sagging playoff hopes of the Eagles (6-7), Panthers (6-7) and Washington (6-7). And you know who shouldn’t be counted out? Aaron Rodgers.

If the Packers are able to beat the Bears this week, their final two games are eminently winnable: At the Jets, and home against the Lions. Winning out means an 8-7-1 record and, potentially, a trip to Chicago for the wild card round of the playoffs. The Bears would do well to drive a stake into the Packers’ heart this weekend and remove the specter of Rodgers from playoff contention once and for all.

Aspan: No letdown. Sounds ridiculous after that performance but it’s still Aaron Rodgers in a place he apparently feels pretty comfortable in at soldier field. The Bears should drive a stake into the heart of the Packers for their own well being, especially considering what happened week 1. Factor in the Seahawks win over the Vikings you can start making your plans for a Chicago playoff game in January. The only question is how many. 

Ellis: Rogue Aaron Rodgers is the most dangerous Aaron Rodgers. Just ask the Falcons. 

Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run


Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run

Prior to Sunday night’s Bears-Rams game, if you were told Mitch Trubisky would throw three interceptions in his own territory, you probably would’ve through the Rams would win in a laugher. Giving one of the best offenses in the NFL, if not the best offense in the NFL, three short fields — including one in the red zone — seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Only it wasn’t. The Rams managed three points off those three turnovers, which stands as arguably the biggest reason for the Bears’ 15-6 win. 

“We want to go out there and get it back as fast as we can so (the offense) can have a little momentum going in the right direction,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “So there is an emphasis on making that play off a turnover.”

Today’s film breakdown looks at how the Bears’ sudden change defense clamped down on Los Angeles. 

First turnover came when Mitch Trubisky overthrew Josh Bellamy, with cornerback Marcus Peters picking off the pass and returning it 48 yards to the Bears’ 15-yard line. 

The Rams handed off to Todd Gurley on the first play after taking over possession. Vic Fangio dials up a blitz for safety Adrian Amos (red arrow), who comes unblocked and doesn’t seem worried about the prospect for a play-action fake and turns his attention right at Gurley. Meanwhile, linebacker Roquan Smith is matched up against tight end Tyler Higbee (blue circle/arrow).

Right after Gurley takes the handoff, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Smith are all holding the point of attack at the line of scrimmage (blue circle). The only one who doesn’t is outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (yellow arrow), but Gurley is too close to the line to cut outside, especially with Amos chasing him from the back. 

Smith sheds Higbee and gets to Gurley first, with Amos getting his hands on the running back shortly after. Gurley gains one yard, bringing up second and nine. 

After that gain, the Bears drop eight into coverage in an effort to keep everything in front of them. This is a good call by Fangio, who trusts his defense’s ability to make a stop on third down. Goff isn’t pressured and picks out Brandin Cooks for a gain of five, bringing up third and 4. 

Khalil Mack wrecks the Rams’ playcall here with a tremendous pass-rush move on right tackle Rob Havenstein. Mack starts wide and cuts inside across Havenstein’s body, while Gurley (yellow arrow) runs a route and isn’t available to help chip Mack. 

Help comes from right guard Austin Blythe, but it’s too late to keep Mack away from Goff. 

Goff can only heave the ball away while Mack is draped over him, resulting in an incomplete pass and a 27-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein. 

These are the only points the Rams score off a Bears turnover all game. 


The Bears’ other two defensive stops off turnovers were simpler, relatively speaking. The second turnover came when Trubisky was picked off by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman with 19 seconds to go in the first half, which gave the Rams the ball on the Bears’ 49-yard line. After Gurley was whistled for an illegal shift on the first play, Goff completed a short pass to set up a Hail Mary that was picked off by Eddie Jackson to end the half. 


What happened after Trubisky’s final interception was probably the second-biggest play of the night (behind Goldman’s safety). With the Bears leading by nine midway through the third quarter, Trubisky was picked off when he sailed a pass beyond Trey Burton into the waiting arms of safety John Johnson. 

With the ball on the Bears’ 27-yard line and a chance to make it a one-score game at worst — and, at best, cut the Bears’ lead to two — Goff drops back and stares down receiver Josh Reynolds (yellow arrow) almost from the start of the play. Kyle Fuller is matched up on Reynolds in off coverage (blue arrow). 

As soon as Reynolds makes his cut, Fuller jumps the route — even before Goff throws the pass. The result is Fuller’s seventh interception of the year, tying him for the NFL lead. Fuller felt like he didn’t bait Goff into the throw, he just identified the route and jumped it, which might have something to do with the extraordinary amount of film study he puts in each week


Being successful in sudden change opportunities is part scheme and part attitude, and the Bears not only have the right scheme for these situations but collectively the right attitude. 

“Where I see teams or sides of the ball that can get into trouble would be when you have a bunch of individuals that all of a sudden get upset or angry that, ‘We got a couple stops here, and now you just give the ball right back to them,’ and they start pouting when they go back out to the field,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And we don’t do that.” 

Bears opponents have only managed 40 points on 20 drives that began due to an interception or fumble — and that’s with the average starting point of those drives being the 50-yard line. The Bears have forced more turnovers and punts (10) than allowed field goals and touchdowns (eight, with the other two drives ending on a turnover on downs). 

For a team with an offense that remains under construction, this is a massive reason why the Bears are 9-4 and tantalizingly close to their first NFC North title in eight years. And it’s a major reason to believe this team could legitimately make a deep run into the playoffs next month. 

“Not one time this year have we had — and it could have happened a few times, I go back to the Arizona game, the defense was playing really well, the offense wasn’t — and not one time did that defense complain about the offense not playing well,” Nagy said. “And that I think is speaks volumes to the character of these guys.”