INDIANAPOLIS – When did one of the main focuses of improving the Bears become the running game and talent at the running back position?
As coach Matt Nagy pointed out this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Bears were better in the ground game last season than they were throwing the football.
The Bears were 21st in total offense last year and 21st throwing the football, while they were 11th running it and third in time of possession.
Where would the Bears have been last season if they hadn’t done as well running the ball?
What the Bears do need to fix is their No. 27 ranking in average yards a carry, which would have been worse if Mitch Trubisky hadn’t averaged 6.2 yards a pop.
Jordan Howard wasn’t awful at 3.7, but he wasn’t anywhere near good enough, and Tarik Cohen was fine at 4.5, but one would expect him to be better.
The key question at the moment should be: Do the Bears need to make changes at running back, or just additions?
As Nagy explained Wednesday, “with our running game, you guys know from talking all year long that that was a point of emphasis that we wanted to improve as the season went on.
“That’s not just the players. That’s us as coaches, too, trying to figure it out, and as the year went on we had a little bit more of an identity of what we liked and what we didn’t like.
“We still need to get better there, but there’s other areas, too, that we need to improve, and I start with myself in regards to that with the run game and all different areas.”
On the subject of Howard, Nagy said, “I think what you saw with Jordan was when people talk about Jordan and I get asked the questions on Jordan, you see with our identity as an offense, it’s just not an offense where you’re gonna get 25 to 30 carries necessarily all the time or every game where he can expect that.
“For any running back, whoever you are, when you get those opportunities, you’re gonna get more chances to make plays happen.
“We were all figuring out together, including Jordan, how we’re going to make this thing go. And he wasn’t the only one. Our other running backs, too, you guys could see that as we went.”
That sure sounds to me like Nagy is focused a lot more on addition than he is subtraction, and the idea that Howard still won’t be a lead back for the Bears this coming season may be premature.
People went nuts mid-week when a rumor circulated in Indianapolis that the Bears were looking to deal Howard.
What didn’t come with it was an answer to why, and for what.
All I will add to that – while not naming the author of the report because I’m about to dis him – is the next rumor that particular scribe gets right will be among the first.
Clearly, there is no love affair between the Bears and Howard.
But Cohen is a third-down back and wide receiver option, not a No. 2 back.
And if what the Bears aspire to have is a two-headed monster like Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans, which I believe they would love to have, Howard is as good or better of an option for the Ingram role than Ingram.
What the Bears need is a running back who is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball – whether it’s running or catching passes.
And whether that back or Howard is one or two is irrelevant. Todd Gurley and Kamara are the only backs in the NFL who can star in either role.
Trading Howard with no known back to replace him and for most likely less than he’s worth makes no sense.
What they need is to pair him with a back, who, anytime he’s even, he’s leavin’.
Do that, and the Bears will have the ground game they want.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.