LAKE FOREST – Normally my weekly study of the Bears’ game tape is to make notes on the play of each individual player and grade their performances.
But the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the Giants demanded a different drill.
Watch the tape and you will see that the Bears dominated the Giants over the first 30 minutes of their 30-27 loss Sunday everywhere but on the scoreboard on the strength of their best rushing performance of the season.
At halftime, the Bears led the Giants, 14-10, had outgained them, 156 yards to 103, including a 106 to 43 rushing advantage, and dominated time of possession (19:39 to 10:21).
The Bears’ first touchdown drive went 70 yards on 10 plays, including seven rushes for 46 yards and a long of 22 from Jordan Howard that was the key play on the drive.
The second first-half TD drive was nine plays for 74 yards, including eight runs for 39 yards with a 25-yarder from Howard to start the drive.
Howard finished the half with 13 carries 68 yards (5.2 average), and Tarik Cohen had eight for 30 yards (3.8 average).
The offensive line was slightly better than average blocking the run with three carries for negative yardage and four more for no gain, but that left 19 plays on which they made at least small creases, and Howard and Cohen were outstanding putting on a thunder (Howard) and lightning (Cohen) show.
Watch the tape and you’ll see there is nothing wrong with Howard physically, as he ran with great power and burst, and he bounced several runs stuffed at the hole for nice gains outside in vintage Howard style.
So why did Nagy choose to stop running the football in the second half?
Asked about it Monday, he said, “I would’ve loved to be able to call more runs, but they did a pretty good job getting into our backfield and stopping the run.”
A reasonable answer, but you won’t see that on tape.
The Giants did take the lead on only four plays to start the second half. Trailing 17-14, Nagy called a Howard run on the Bears’ first play of the second half that lost 3 yards because Giants nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson blew the play up and met Howard in the backfield as he was getting the handoff.
The Bears called two passes and punted.
After the Giants scored again to lead, 24-14, there was plenty of time with 19 minutes left in regulation, and Nagy again started with a handoff to Howard that gained 4 yards.
At his Monday news conference, Nagy talked specifically about that 4-yard run, saying, “I’m good with a 4-yard run. Give me a 4-yard run all day long.”
But that was it for the running game vs. the Giants. From there, the Bears called 30 straight passes in regulation.
The Giants couldn’t do anything to take the run away from the Bears in the second half because the Bears only called two running plays while dropping back to pass 30 times.
In overtime, needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win, the Bears handed the ball to Howard on their first play, and he got 7 yards.
After that run, they then called seven more plays, five of which were definitely passes, and it’s hard to say what the other two plays were as Daniel fumbled on both of them, although one looks like a pass and the other like it might have been a handoff to Taquan Mizzell.
The Bears’ last 10 runs of the first half went for 25, 0, 4, 1, 4, 4, 0, 1 (TD), minus-2 and 11 yards, so the Giants’ defense didn’t take the run away then, either.
I’m guessing none of us could care less about the ground game if they could win a Super Bowl without one, but everyone including Nagy has opined that’s unlikely if not impossible.
So what is Nagy’s aversion to running the football?
You won’t find the answers in the game tape. There they look like a pretty good running team when they’re willing to give it a try – in spite of an offensive line that still needs to get better blocking it.
Obviously, there is still much for us to learn about the Bears’ rookie head coach and his RPO offense.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.