Howard stars as Bears beat Lions to earn first win of the season

Here are a few takeaways from the Bears’ 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions, which improves them to 1-3 on the season.

1. Jordan Howard should start at RB from here on

Howard’s 111 yards on 23 carries gave the Bears their first 100-yard rusher since that Matt Forte guy did it last year against the Packers in Week 1. He would’ve had an even bigger game if not for a few good runs called back due to penalties, but even so, he more than proved that he deserves to be the featured back for the Bears going forward.

Whether it was converting busted plays into positive yards, making decisive cuts and bursting through holes, or shedding tackles by keeping his legs moving, Howard gave the Chicago offense something that it has lacked all year.

Additionally, he had three catches of 21 yards and aggressively picked up blitzes in the passing game, which should encourage the coaching staff to continue giving him the lion’s share of the snaps even when Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey return.

The Lions aren’t exactly dominating against the run the way that the Packers are (42 rushing yards/game), of course, but Howard’s emergence in this game was not just about his stats. His vision, power, and natural ability to find holes absolutely must be utilized in order for this offense to be its best.

If Dowell Loggains fails to give a healthy Howard 20 carries in any game, he should be fired immediately.

2. Offensive line continues to improve

For the second straight week, the offensive line managed to keep Brian Hoyer relatively clean. They did allow two sacks and a few pressures that required Hoyer to move in the pocket, such as on his TD throw to Eddie Royal, but for much of the game, the veteran QB had plenty of time to stand and deliver from the pocket.

The Sitton-Whitehair-Long interior line continues to be stout, and after a brutal first couple of games, Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie have shown some improvement, though they continue to need help from running backs and tight ends in pass-protection.

Sure, the Cowboys and Lions aren’t exactly have the Denver Broncos pass-rush, but the Bears should still be encouraged by the efficient numbers their backup quarterback has been able to put up behind this line. Add to that Howard’s big game in his first start, and the Bears’ offensive line could be rounding into the form we envisioned when Josh Sitton was first signed.

3. Secondary keeps on making plays despite challenges

Once again, the Bears’ front seven could not consistently get to Matthew Stafford, aside from a couple sacks from Akiem Hicks and Cornelius Washington.

Fortunately, despite not always having much help, the Bears’ corners came up big in this one. Bryce Callahan, who was moved into a starting role on the outside in place of Jacoby Glenn, turned Golden Tate, a very respectable receiver, into a non-factor.

And Marvin Jones, who is coming off of a 205-yard, 2-TD game against the Packers, did not find the endzone on his five catches for 74 yards.

Aside from limiting Stafford to just 213 yards, though, the Bears young defensive backs just continue to find the ball. Glenn’s interception saved the Bears from at least giving up a field goal at the end of the first half as he jumped a blown route by Golden Tate, and Deiondre’ Hall, despite playing limited snaps, came out with another huge pick as the Lions looked to eat into a 17-6 deficit.

I seem to say it every week, but you have to admire how well these Bears corners have played overall despite the injuries to their unit and the lack of protection they’ve received up front. Of all the issues the Bears have had, somehow they’ve managed to be among the least of them.

4. Slowly but surely, Kevin White is coming on

It’s a shame that White was hobbled in the second half, because he really seemed to be having his best game as a pro.

All told, the box score doesn’t tell the whole story, as the rookie receiver finished with six catches for a modest 55 yards. That said, White likely could have had a bigger game had he been able to finish the contest, as Hoyer was targeting him early and often.

His physicality with the ball in his hands was evident as he violently fought for yardage on a sideline catch-and-run in the second quarter. And he also showed off some improved route-running, on one play setting up his defender with his speed before stopping and coming back to Hoyer for a tough catch.

The other notable thing about this latter play was that it happened to come after a tough drop incompletion in which White fought for possession with a Lions defender only for the ball to touch the ground before he could fully control it. It was a great sign that Hoyer felt comfortable enough to keep looking his way despite that miscue and that White rewarded his trust by making a difficult catch.

Provided that White’s ankle/lower leg injury isn’t serious, the arrow seems to be pointing up for the raw, yet talented receiver.

5. Play-calling still an issue

While the Bears did manage to win behind Hoyer’s two TD passes and Howard’s solid game on the ground, the fact that they only managed 17 points against an average-at-best Lions defense is still troubling.

The Bears seemed to dominate the game, outgaining the Lions 408 yards to 263 yards and getting 23 first downs to the Lions’ 16. And yet, going into halftime, the Bears only led 7-3, and that was only because Glenn picked off Stafford with the Lions closing in on a field goal at the very least at the end of the second quarter.

While his game plan this week ultimately culminated in the Bears scoring enough points to win this game, this victory does not mean that Dowell Loggains should be immune to criticism. For example: is there a reason that the Bears continued to over-emphasize throwing the football early in the game, calling only 16 runs to 25 passes in the first half?

Why was White, who appeared to be healthy at the time and in the midst of a strong game, standing on the sideline on a 3rd and 8 in the second quarter?

And what on Earth compelled Fox and Loggains to pull Howard from the game on 4th and short in favor of Bell, who showed earlier in the game that he is bereft of speed and is little more than a warm body at this point?

Perhaps the only substantial difference between this game and the first three contests was that the Bears managed to pull out the W. At the same time, can we really argue that the Bears’ offensive problems were solved outside of starting a running back that can effectively run the football? While we’ll take the win, I don’t think we can.

Other notes:

-Though it ended up not mattering in the end, that punt return TD from Andre Roberts with under two minutes to play was inexcusable. From the illegal formation by the Bears to the fact that no one tackled Roberts despite the Lions’ leaving him unprotected as they went for the punt block, that play exemplifies the terrible fundamentals and preparation that have marred this season so far.

-Nick Kwiatkowski could start to see more snaps than John Timu after the latter struggled repeatedly to tackle ball-carriers in space. While he did have a great goal-line stop in which he perfectly timed a blitz and blew up a run play, his execution does not match his instincts consistently. Meanwhile, Kwiatkowski has shown how dynamic he can be at the point of attack, particularly in stuffing Dwayne Washington in the first half today.

-I’m not sure how much of this is about play-calling or Brian Hoyer’s inability/reluctance to throw the ball down the field, but Jeffery only putting up three catches for 46 yards is not great for the Bears’ offense. In Hoyer’s two starts, the Bears’ best offensive threat has eight catches for 116 yards (14 yds/catch) after catching nine passes for 201 yards (22.3 yds/catch) with Jay Cutler at the helm.

I know there’s some speculation that Cutler may not get his job back when he returns from injury, but given how limited this offense can appear without him, I don’t see how that’s logical. I think I know who Jeffery might like as his quarterback. After all, only with Cutler does he get opportunities like this…

-After not contributing much last year due to injury, Eddie Royal has been a godsend for the Bears this season. His leaping grab of a high Hoyer throw underscored the type of play-making this team missed last season. He’s quietly been one of the best players on this Bears’ squad so far.

Khari Thompson

I'm currently a graduate student studying biology at the University of Notre Dame that follows sports (especially the Bears and Bulls) less like a hobby and more like a second job. Also a fan of all things dinosaurs. And Tolkien. Twitter: @kdthompson5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *