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.
Patrick Mahomes might be the story in Kansas City, but last Saturday, the Chiefs rushed for 180 yards on 33 carries, including 25 for 29 from Damien Williams, while Indianapolis ran just 14 times.
The Rams went further, rushing 48 times for 273 yards with both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson going over the century mark, while their defense limited the NFL’s top running back, Ezekiel Elliott, to only 47 yards on 22 carries.
New England ran as well as we’ve seen it in years — 34 carries for 156 yards (4.6 YPC) — with rookie Sony Michel nailing 24-129 including three touchdowns, and the Patriots held the Chargers to 10-19 on the ground.
Closing out the weekend, New Orleans rushed 31 times for 137 yards and limited the Eagles to 49 yards on 16 carries.
It’s not a coincidence that running the football and stopping the run will always be a great formula for winning in January and February, too. So it was neither a surprise nor coincidence that a fair amount of Ryan Pace’s and Matt Nagy’s season wrap-up press 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 most unique part to this first year together on all sides, offense and defense, getting to see who these players are," he said.
“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.
Nagy coached Kareem Hunt to an NFL rushing title in 2017. When asked whether the Bears would consider signing Hunt, whom the Chiefs released Nov. 30 after video of him pushing and kicking a woman surfaced on TMZ, Pace and Nagy gave no indication they would consider it but didn't rule 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.”
Not yes, but 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.