The moment Mark Helfrich was hired as new Chicago Bears offensive coordinator, the buzz began. This was the man who oversaw the direct development of Marcus Mariota at Oregon. With his help the QB became a Heisman winner, a #2 overall pick and now a playoff-winning quarterback in the NFL. Accomplishments like that are why fans drool over the prospect of combining Helfrich with Mitch Trubisky.

After all Trubisky has a number of the same qualities that made Mariota great. He’s athletic and mobile, a down-to-earth worker, and an accurate passer. Helfrich understands the type of offense that can make such a player successful. It’s a matter of just implement parts of it along with head coach Matt Nagy to get the scheme they want.

However, this QB love fest has totally overlooked another fact about the Helfrich hire. He might end up being just as good for Jordan Howard.

Mark Helfrich will reignite underutilized strength of Howard’s game

Oregon ran spread offense concepts at Oregon. One would think that this meant they were chucking the ball everywhere. Especially with a talent like Mariota on the field. In truth though people forget how often (and how well) the Ducks ran the football in those days. From 2009 to 2016, Helfrich produced five seasons where one of his running backs topped the 1,500 yards rushing mark.

A lot of that success came courtesy of the run-pass option. This is where the quarterback is in shotgun and the running back is to his right or left. On the snap the quarterback goes for a handoff. Depending on how the defense reacts he either hands it to the rusher, tucks and runs himself or goes for play action to a receiver. It can be a maddening style of offense to defend, particularly if the running back is good running out of shotgun.

It just so happens that Howard is just that. Pro Football Focus revealed that the two-time Pro Bowler is highly productive when given the ball from that alignment.

Year Alignment Carries Yards YPC TD
2016 Shotgun 94 657 7.0 0
2016 QB Under Center 158 656 4.2 6
2016 Behind fullback 31 118 3.8 5
2017 Shotgun 35 178 5.1 4
2017 QB Under Center 241 944 3.9 5
2017 Behind fullback 85 277 3.3 2

 

In other words Howard has averaged a whopping 6.05 yards per carry running out of the shotgun formation. The fact the Bears only did it 35 times in 2017 despite having a mobile QB like Trubisky for 12 of those games? That’s criminal negligence.

Helfrich and Nagy almost certain to correct this problem

What makes Howard so good in this style? One thing about is not speed or agility. That’s often a big misconception. Running out of shotgun requires a back that has both vision and decisiveness. They have to be able to see the hole and not hesitate getting downhill. Otherwise the defense will get into the backfield and likely make a stop for a big loss. Howard has no such problem.

Both Helfrich and Nagy are huge proponents of the run-pass option style of offense. Given the success its seen for the Philadelphia Eagles en route to the Super Bowl, it is easy to understand why. Howard is already dangerous as he is. If the Bears can maximize one of the things he does best? That’s a scary thought.