While the rest of the football world was marveling at Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard was toiling away in Chicago on a losing team.
“I think this time a year ago many people, even here locally, knew little about Jordan,” Bears coach John Fox said. “But he’s a young man that after about Week 3 or 4 last season, he had good success on a not very good team.”
Howard was a fifth-round pick (150th overall) out of Indiana. He went to play for the Hoosiers after UAB closed its program after the 2014 season. (The Blazers since re-started.)
Howard, who didn’t start until Week 4 last season, rushed for 1,313 yards on only 252 carries and scored six touchdowns. He averaged 3.0 yards after contact, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, which was tops among the rookie class. Elliott and Baltimore’s Kenneth Dixon averaged 2.9 yards after contact.
“I think our line did a good job of blocking for him,” Fox said. “I think that’s going to be a big factor in any game including this Sunday.”
The yards after contact is a concern for the Falcons.
“We talked about Jordan Howard being a strong runner where he gets yards after contact,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “For us and our tackling, it’s got to be on point to make sure the 4-yard run doesn’t become a 7-yard run.”
Tackling is a little off early in the season because teams don’t tackle much in the offseason or in practice. If the Falcons miss tackles against the Bears, Howard will be off to the races.
“Historically, the first game, tackling is the main issue for every team in the league, and playing a back like him is going to be (tough),” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “It’s going to take more than one guy. We’ve got to be fundamental, and that’s get the guy on the ground.”