Chicago Bears

Nagy: Howard still big part of offense

Bears running back Jordan Howard is tackled by Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones on Sept. 23 in Glendale, Ariz.
Bears running back Jordan Howard is tackled by Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones on Sept. 23 in Glendale, Ariz.

Perhaps too much is being made of Jordan Howard’s slightly diminished workload through four games of a 16-game season.

Since Howard became the Bears’ featured ball carrier in the fourth game of his rookie season (2016), he has averaged 17.8 carries a game. This year he’s averaging exactly 16, so it’s not as if the Bears have him packed away in mothballs.

But Howard did receive a season-low 11 handoffs in the Week 4 trouncing of the Bucs, while complementary, change-of-pace running back Tarik Cohen carried 13 times.

“Again, (it’s) game plan specific,” said coach Matt Nagy, who’s heard a lot of questions about Howard’s role in his offense since he was hired in January. “There can be advantages within the personnel, you know. Without me getting too crazy with the specifics of that, if we want to put [Howard] in the game and use him for a certain advantage, we’ll do that, and that could be on first, second or third down. There are other times where it doesn’t fit that way. It just so happened this past game that Tarik got more plays, and he was productive.

“This is not going to be an offense where it’s just one person, and it goes through one person. I don’t necessarily believe in that. It’s great when you have everybody fulfilling different roles, and it’s hard for the defense when you do that.”

Like any bell-cow running back, the more Howard gets the ball, the happier he is, but he insists he’s fine with the allocation of work, even against Tampa Bay. But sometimes that’s difficult to believe coming from Howard, who’s a man of few words.

“With a game like that, you don’t have nothing to complain about,” Howard said of the Bears’ 48-10 victory. “You’ve just gotta be happy about a win. So we really got nothing to talk about [regarding] the game. I wasn’t frustrated. I was happy. We won. You see how much we won by? So there’s not really nothing to complain about.”

But does he want a bigger role? Will there be a Howard-heavy game in the future?

“Whatever helps the team out,” he said. “It’s not my job to worry about that. It’s just my job to go out there and play and do the best I can to help the team out.”

After averaging 5.2 yards a carry in a spectacular rookie season in which he rushed for 1,313 yards, Howard’s average fell to 4.1 last year. Howard still managed 1,122 rushing yards, but he’s off to a slow start this season, averaging only 3.2 yards a carry.

But Nagy insists Howard will not be the odd man out in the Bears’ offense.

“Jordan understands what we’re trying to do as a team,” Nagy said. “And he also understands, and we’ve talked, that he has a major part of this offense. He has a big-time role. But if it’s an advantage to us to go a different direction for [a specific] game or for that play or that series, we’re going to do that. As long as our guys understand that, we’ll be in good shape. And Jordan is good with that. He understands it.”

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