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Why Didn’t Jordan Howard Fit Nagy’s Offense?

In the wake of the Jordan Howard trade, Robert S dives into the film room in search of answers. What causes an RB to “not fit” in an offense?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Jordan Howard trade last Thursday provided Bears fans with a Rorschach test — some saw GM Ryan Pace get poor value for a productive RB while others saw Pace get what he could for an RB that didn’t fit.

But why didn’t Howard fit the Nagy offense? What will Nagy and Pace look for in the draft? I look to answer just that in this film breakdown!

As usual, if the videos don’t show up on your platform simply look for the italicized portion of the paragraph, it’ll be a link to the video I’m referencing.

Nagy’s offense is designed to get players into space, meaning he wants RBs that identify holes quickly and burst through them for big yards. Howard identifies holes well, but struggles to burst through them — he needs to get through this hole much cleaner than he actually does.

Cohen on the other hand (who I’ll use for comparison throughout this breakdown) shows us what a “burst-y” RB does for Nagy’s offense — once Cohen realizes that this play is going nowhere, he spots the LB (#50) leaving his gap and bursts through the now-vacated space for 10 quick yards. These are exactly the kinds of plays that Nagy wants his RBs to be able to make.

Howard’s limitations in the passing game also hurt him in the running game — take a look at the Giant’s formation before and after this snap. The Bears OL opens up three holes here (middle, left, right) but the Giants fill each with a player. Howard is left with nowhere to go.

By contrast, Cohen’s ability as a receiving threat forces defenses into no-win situations — this play shows every Rams lineman but Westbrooks (#95) rush the passer, giving Whitehair an easy path to the second level. They think we’re passing. A big gain created by RB versatility.

And for those of you who like to mention how bad the run blocking was for Howard, you’re right — it was definitely an issue. Plays like this one are all over Howard’s 2018 tape, with defenders bursting through the line like it isn’t even there. Not much Howard can do in these situations.

But what if you’re quick enough to simply run past in-breaking defenders? This play shows not 1, not 2, but 3 different rushers get let through the line so the lineman can block downfield. Long pulling away from #44, for instance, allows him to pancake #36 and open the hole. RB elusiveness allows Nagy much more blocking-scheme flexibility than he gets with Howard.

(Side Note: Kyle Long was a total road grader last season. Bears averaged 4.9 yards/carry with Long and 3.5 without him, per JWood of DBB)

So what will Howard’s departure cost the Bears? Primarily plays like this — here Howard identifies his lane, cuts hard, and pushes the pile forward in classic fashion. It’s old school power running at it’s core. Whoever our starting RB is in 2019, you won’t see this from them often.

But whatever we stand to lose in the power-running game will be more than made up for by gains in the passing game — Cohen’s route on play action here annihilates Lawson (#24) for an easy TD. Having RBs that can run routes like this helps exploit bad matchups for big arial gains.

Burst, speed, and versatility — Cohen has it, Howard didn’t. Nagy needs RBs that can take advantage of any space the OL supplies, even if it’s just a small crease (like shown above). RB pass-catching ability is also key, backing defenses off of the LOS and opening up more room on the ground. For Nagy’s offense to work like he wants it to, these traits are simply mandatory in an RB.

And this is honestly why I’m happy the Bears traded Howard — the more I study, the more I see how mutually beneficial a parting of ways is for each side. Nagy will get to play his game while Howard will (hopefully) get to play his. I wish him the best, he was a great Bear and truly our only bright spot in a horrible 2016-2017 season.

But this brings up a big question: Which RB do the Bears have their eyes on in this upcoming draft? That, unfortunately, is a question I don’t have the answer to. For hints, check out Bears Over Beers’ work on RBs or Jacob Infante’s six RBs to keep an eye on.

But what do you think? Do you agree with my analysis? Did Nagy and I miss a part of Howard’s game? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!