Rookies Adam Shaheen and Tarik Cohen weren’t the only playmakers sitting on the sideline and watching the Chicago Bears’ final offensive drive unfold without them.
Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard didn’t see the field during the last-minute drive either, which is more disappointing than it is surprising. Howard has improved his catch percentage from 58 percent to 66.7, but his receiving grade at Pro Football Focus ranks 49th among 50 qualifying running backs. Ouch.
Howard has played on just 89 of 173 passing snaps (or 51.4 percent) since Trubisky took over in Week 5, which is still a higher percentage than Cohen (32.4 percent). Which brings us to a curious playing time split between Howard, Cohen, and Benny Cunningham.
Cunningham (who is up for the prestigious Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award) signed with the Bears as a free agent this offseason after spending the first four years of his career with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. His presence and Cohen’s emergence helped bump Jeremy Langford off the roster. And while Cunningham has missed some time due to injuries, he has brought value to the team as a return specialist and third-down back. Cunningham hasn’t played much this season, appearing on just 89 of the team’s 331 offensive snaps – or 26.9 percent.
However, it’s worth noting Cunningham seems to have carved out a niche role as 57 of his 89 snaps (64 percent) have come on passing plays. And in two games since the bye week, it’s been Cunningham playing on a majority of the passing snaps. Cunningham has been on the field on 56.6 percent of the Bears’ passing plays the last two weeks, beating out Howard (34.2 percent) and Cohen (25 percent).
This split in playing time opens up a new line of questioning regarding the Bears offense. Will Cohen ever develop the kind of pass blocking skills necessary to grow into the kind of third-down back Trubisky needs by his side? What can Howard do to improve his skills in the passing game and evolve into a true three-down back? Are the coaches doing everything in their power to get their young backs up-to-speed? Does GM Ryan Pace need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to evaluating running backs?
When your team is 3-7, questions and concerns are going to pile up. And even though the Bears are strong at running back, the time share between two young backs and a veteran doesn’t allow for much clarity for the future. We’ll continue to monitor this situation as it moves forward in the final six weeks of the season.