Matt Nagy Rediscovered Secret to Unleashing Jordan Howard Jan 1, 2019 12:09:48 GMT -5 via mobile AlexM, weneedmorelinemen, and 4 more like this
Post by jusnixx on Jan 1, 2019 12:09:48 GMT -5
Jordan Howard has been through a lot in the 12 months since the Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy. From the start, he was labeled a poor fit in the incoming Kansas City offense, and trade rumors swirled leading up to the NFL Draft. Nagy stood by his top running back publicly at every turn, even as Howard’s yards per carry dipped down to three early in the season. Questions about his long term future in Chicago persisted as his production came up short of years’ past, but in the final five games of the season, Howard seemed to find new life. He racked up 399 yards and four touchdowns over that span, helping the Bears’ offense develop a more physical tone as they head into the playoffs. Related Jordan Howard's late-season surge proves Bears don't need change at RB The key to Howard’s late-season turnaround wasn’t anything he did differently. It was his head coach rediscovering how to best use the physical running back.
Nagy changed the Bears rushing scheme back to what made Howard so successful in his first two seasons. Under John Fox, the offense employed an almost purely “zone” running game, a type of blocking which allows the running back to follow the flow of his offensive line, read his keys, pick a lane before attacking upfield. The Dowell Loggains offense alternated almost exclusively between inside and outside zone runs, and Howard used his elite vision to set up blocks and make the most out of every yard his offensive line created for him. When Nagy took over, he tried to diversify the running game with more “gap” scheme plays, which is a more downhill style of rushing where the blocking opens up one specific lane for the running back to attack. These runs tend to involve a pulling offensive lineman to lead block in the designated hole, and they are not built for a running back to make any type of cutback. Nagy tried to plug Howard into the gap scheme running game, and it proved to be a poor fit for his playing style.
According to Pro Football Focus, Howard averaged 2.9 yards per carry on gap scheme runs this season, compared to 4.1 yards per carry when running zone. As the season went on, Nagy seemed to realize the issue and correct it. Over the first eight weeks of the season, Howard ran zone on 58.9 percent of his rushes, according to PFF. From Weeks 9-17, his runs were 74.3 percent zone. Across the final four games of the year, over 84 percent of Howard’s carries were zone runs. It was most clear in Week 17, when PFF charted him with two gap scheme runs compared to 20 zone carries, including his longest rush of the season.
At some point, Nagy figured out how to get the most out of his top running back instead of trying to force him into a rushing scheme he wasn’t fit for. The offensive line also looks more comfortable blocking the types of runs they were built for in the previous offense. This in-season adjustment shows the maturation of the first-year head coach. Nagy rewarded Howard for his patience, and Howard is rewarding him with a strong running game to carry the Bears into the playoffs.