The strongest pillar of the Chicago Bears’ rebuilding process seems to be lined up deep in the backfield.
With Jordan Howard in tow, Cameron DaSilva ranks the Bears’ running back situation as the fourth best in football. Which, hell ya. Only the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and Pittsburgh Steelers rank higher than the Bears. Or, to put it another way, the only teams ahead of the Bears include one that received 1,599 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns from two players, a second with the league’s leading rusher, and a third with the player who earned Pro Football Focus’ highest grade in 2016.
Now, that’s what keeping good company looks like.
Howard, of course, is the key cog in the Bears’ running game. He finished second in rushing yards (1,313) on 252 attempts, which were the fourth fewest attempts among the 12 backs who ran for at least 1,000 yards in 2016. But Howard’s presence alone can’t justify the Bears’ placement inside the top five. Having a reliable backup in Jeremy Langford helps ease the load. He lost his starting job to Howard in 2016, but was productive in a pinch for Matt Forte in 2015 and could still excel in that role this season. DaSilva also notes rookie fourth-round pick Tarik Cohen as part of the Bears’ depth mix. As the No. 3 back, Cohen will be eased into action via favorable situations – possibly as a change-of-pace back or a Joker who can catch passes and make plays out of the backfield.
Missing in action from DaSilva’s piece are two backs with special teams experience who could be walking a fine line. Ka’Deem Carey started 2016 in a backup role behind Langford, but did his best work under the anonymity of being a special teams ace. Benny Cunningham, whose best work has come as a return specialist, signed with the Bears in the offseason and could be in the mix for that position in Chicago.
It’s worth noting that DaSilva’s rankings don’t take into consideration quarterbacks who run or offensive line play, which speaks volumes towards what he thinks of the Bears’ running back situation. DaSilva does describe the offensive line unit as “not-so-great” even though the interior seems sound enough to allow Howard to gain a bulk of his yards between the tackles.
Would the Bears’ situation be bumped up in the ratings if we took into consideration the offensive line’s contributions? In my opinion, yes. It’s hard to imagine Howard being as productive as he was without some help from the offensive line, and they have recently graded out better than expected. And save for Barry Sanders’ logic-defying and breathtaking runs behind some porous Detroit Lions offensive lines, a running back’s production and an offensive line’s success tend to go hand-in-hand.
All in all, the Bears’ running game is in a good place with Howard at the top of the depth chart and complimentary pieces behind him. With question marks about the team’s not-so-highly-regarded situations at both quarterback and wide receiver, the Bears are expected to lean heavily on Howard and the running game to get things going on offense.