Film Study: Five takeaways from the Bears’ 24-10 win against the Vikings

SHARE Film Study: Five takeaways from the Bears’ 24-10 win against the Vikings
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Bears running back Jordan Howard scored twice against the Vikings in Week 17. | Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

One of the most encouraging developments for the Bears’ offense is that they have established running back Jordan Howard in the last five weeks.

Howard produced his best game of 2018 in the Bears’ 24-10 victory Sunday against the Vikings, running for a season-high 109 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

‘‘We did a great job running the ball all day to keep them honest,’’ quarterback Mitch Trubisky said.

That’s true. Howard’s success changed the game.

Here are five takeaways after watching film of the Bears’ 12th victory this season:

Here comes Howard

In the last five games, Howard has run for 399 yards and four touchdowns on 88 carries. He has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in those games, nearly a yard more than his season average.

The Bears’ offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against the Vikings, but Howard also finished his runs. He ran over cornerback Holton Hill on his six-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Howard also showed some elusiveness on the Bears’ second play from scrimmage. He sidestepped Anthony Harris in the hole before turning Harrison Smith around downfield en route to gaining 42 yards. It was his longest run this season.

‘‘We just want to keep defenses off-balance,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘We don’t want them to tee off on the run or the pass. Just keep being efficient and staying out of third-and-longs.’’

Making them pay

The 49ers tried to beat Trubisky with zone coverages that he didn’t see much of on their previous game films. That limited his options downfield.

The Vikings, though, stayed aggressive, and it opened the door for the Bears to send a message.

‘‘When you get single-high [coverage] and they’re pressed up on the outside, we’ve got to make teams pay so they can’t stack the box against us,’’ Trubisky said.

In this case, Trubisky completed a 40-yard pass to receiver Taylor Gabriel to the Vikings’ 1 on a third-and-seven play in the second quarter. Gabriel beat Hill in single coverage, and Trubisky stood strong against a blitz that featured two linebackers.

The Vikings also blitzed Trubisky on his 22-yard completion to Kevin White on a third-and-six from the Bears’ 16 and on his 16- and nine-yard completions to rookie Javon Wims for third-down conversions on the Bears’ 16-play, 75-yard scoring drive.

‘‘Mitch had a great game,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘He was a leader of the offense. He’s been really, really strong in regards to [being] consistent with his progressions and his reads on third down the last two games.’’

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A full(er) back

Part of the Bears’ plan for Howard involved the use of reserve offensive lineman Bradley Sowell at fullback.

Sowell reported as an eligible receiver eight times against the Vikings, and he was in a three-point stance every time in the backfield. The Bears ran the ball on seven of those plays, gaining 28 yards.

Sowell’s final play at fullback was Howard’s three-yard gain on third-and-two from the Vikings’ 12 in the fourth quarter that came off a direct snap, but it was nullified by Trubisky’s illegal-motion penalty.

Howard had an 11-yard run in the second quarter in which Sowell took out Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson. Overall, Wilson had the most problems with Sowell.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Sowell ran a route down the seam after Trubisky made a check at the line. He eventually threw a deep incomplete pass to receiver Josh Bellamy, but Sowell actually drew two defenders in coverage.

In the Bears’ victory against the Rams, Sowell caught a touchdown pass on a play called ‘‘Santa’s Sleigh.’’

‘‘We’re going to try to squeeze out every little bit of ability from every single guy on our team,’’ Nagy said after the game. ‘‘I don’t care who are you are or what you do, we’re going to find a way to try and make it happen.’’

More trickery

There was another play against the Vikings that highlighted Nagy’s philosophy. Backup linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski caught a pass for a two-point conversion on a play called ‘‘Lollipop.’’

As usual, it was a play full of moving pieces. The Bears overloaded the right side with Charles Leno Jr. and Sowell, with Kwiatkoski lined up behind and between them. Tight end Adam Shaheen handled the left edge.

Trubisky’s play-fake ran through cornerback Prince Amukamara. Trubisky said Nagy called a timeout to ensure Amukamara had enough time to run back and forth in the backfield four times.

‘‘It tired him a little bit,’’ Trubisky said with a smile. ‘‘But he said he’s the most in-shape person on the team, so I guess that’s why we used him there. It was a great distraction, a big two-point conversion and a heck of a catch by ‘Kwit.’ ’’

The play wouldn’t have worked, though, if Howard hadn’t blocked defensive end Danielle Hunter, who had a free rush. Kwiatkoski and Sowell were the only ones to run routes in the end zone.

It’s a play Nagy said is from Andy Reid’s playbook; Reid just never ran it. The Bears actually did in the preseason against the Chiefs.

In that case, quarterback Tyler Bray completed a pass to fullback Michael Burton, who was in Kwiatkoski’s spot, for a 10-yard gain on third-and-three. Receiver Garrett Johnson, an undrafted free-agent signee at the time, handled Amukamara’s role.

A shutdown effort

The Bears’ ability to limit Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to 39 yards on 11 carries was the starting point for their defensive success.

But the secondary also held Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen to three catches for 38 yards. He averaged more than seven catches a game this season.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller blanketed Thielen in coverage during his most notable play of the day, an incompletion on third-and-six from the Bears’ 27 late in the second quarter. It led to an animated conversation on the sideline between quarterback Kirk Cousins and Thielen. Cousins didn’t have time to throw and didn’t like Thielen’s route.

‘‘Those are conversations he and I have,’’ Cousins said after the game. ‘‘Adam’s my guy. He’s the best. I want to have more of those conversations.’’

Still, it was a conversation that exemplified Cousins’ disconnect with Thielen for much of the game. The Bears’ combination of rush and coverage stopped Thielen.

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