Hub Arkush: Bears know they have to run to win

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) runs against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) runs against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Chicago.

 
By Hub Arkush
harkush@profootballweekly
Updated 1/14/2019 7:03 PM

Pop quiz time folks, what was the one common denominator the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints all shared in their divisional playoff games that has all four now getting ready for conference title games next weekend?

All four clubs were dominant in the run game.

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Patrick Mahomes may be the story in Kansas City but last Saturday the Chiefs rushed for 180 yards on 33 carries, including 25-129, 5.2 from Damien Williams while Indianapolis ran just 14 times.

The Rams went further, rushing 48 times for 273 yards with both Todd Gurley and O.J. Anderson going over the century mark while their defense limited the NFL's top running back, Ezekiel Elliott to just 22-47, 2.3.

New England ran as well as we've seen them run in years, 34-156, 4.6 with rookie Sony Michel nailing 24-129, 5.4, 3 TDs, and they held the Chargers to 10-19 on the ground.

Closing out the weekend New Orleans rushed 31-137, 4.4 and limited the Eagles to 16-49, 3.1.

It's not a coincidence people -- running the football and stopping the run will always be a great formula for winning in January and February. So it was neither a surprise or coincidence that a fair amount of Ryan Pace's and Matt Nagy's season wrap-up news conference on Monday was spent discussing the Bears issues with the ground game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The conversation started with a question to Nagy about Jordan Howard's future with the team and what was interesting was Nagy's choice not to answer the question.

"For me just dealing with all of our players on our team, you know, that's for me what I think has been the unique part to this first year together on all sides, offense and defense, getting to see who these players are.

"And so you know, everyone talks about the run game; it wasn't as good as it should be, and the offense can be better. Without a doubt, no doubt.

"So I'm really excited. I'm not there yet, but I'm excited to get with the coaches here the next couple weeks and start really evaluating these guys and seeing the why part."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In fairness while Nagy never mentioned Howard in his answer it wasn't clear whether he just got sidetracked and forgot, or if it was intentional.

When asked for obvious reasons -- Nagy coached him to an NFL rushing title in 2017 -- whether the Bears would consider signing Kareem Hunt, while neither gave any indication the Bears would consider it neither Pace or Nagy ruled it out either.

Pace gave the too soon to say side of the story, "I think every one of those is unique. Everyone is different. All the circumstances are always different.

"So we're not even there yet, you know what I mean.

"I know what he is as a player, obviously, from watching him. Matt knows a little bit more about him as a person but we're not even close to that point."

While not yes, clearly not no either.

Nagy also refused to take the bait but did have this to say about Hunt.

"There's one thing right now with Kareem, and that's worrying about him as a person.

"You know, I talked to Kareem (about a week ago), and as completely wanting to know how he's doing. We had a good conversation.

"Here's a kid that I spent a year coaching on offense. It's a tough situation. I wanted to see, making sure that he's okay, but understanding, too, the situation that happened is unfortunate for everybody, and he knows that. The only thing I cared about when I talked to him was literally his personal life, how he's doing, and it was a good conversation.

"There's more to it than the football."

So all we actually learned on this subject is Nagy was emphatic in his understanding his running game must get better to take the next step. But if Jordan Howard is an integral part of that plan the head coach either forgot to mention it or just forgot the question he was answering.

And while it's hard to envision Kareem Hunt in navy and orange, it can't be ruled out yet either.

• Hub Arkush, the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at harkush@profootballweekly.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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