Three yards and a cloud of dust? No, but Bears better establish the run against Atlanta

The Bears will have to rely on Jordan Howard to carry the load for the offense. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Don't expect the Chicago Bears to be ultra conservative when their regular season begins on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is way too competitive to simply abandon the vertical passing attack just because his group of suspect wide receivers will be without Cameron Meredith, who suffered a devastating knee injury two weeks ago.

No, quarterback Mike Glennon will be asked to throw the football against the defending NFC North Champion Atlanta Falcons, but Glennon's success in the pocket will depend on Chicago's ability to win at the line of scrimmage and run the football.

It sounds like a cliché, but the Bears' best defense against Matt Ryan is keeping him off the field.

Atlanta averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game last season -- Chicago's offense tied for 28th with 17.4 points per game.

The Falcons went 12-1 when they scored 30 or more points in 2016.

Of course, Atlanta's former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, left after the Super Bowl to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Ryan -- entering his 10th NFL season -- knows the offense well enough to not skip a beat. That helped him win last year's league MVP award.

And Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones is back to full strength -- a development that is likely to terrify defensive backs across the league.

None of this bodes well for the Bears -- no matter how improved their defense may be -- but Atlanta's offensive firepower can somewhat be offset with a strong performance in Week 1 by Chicago's run blockers and second-year running back Jordan Howard.

"I think we're going to be a run-oriented team," Bears coach John Fox said on Monday. "I think we were a year ago, even with all the things that happened to us at quarterback. I think we'll continue that. I feel better about our depth, especially in the offensive line at this point. I think I feel better about our depth at the tight end position, which is a key element. Everybody in the league can see, we kept the fullback [Michael Burton]. In some personnel groups, that's a helpful thing for your run game. How we're able to establish that just helps us as a football team move the ball."

Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing yards (1,313) last season behind only the Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott.

"I love that [Fox said we're going to be a running team]," Howard said. "Any time we run the ball, I'm very excited about that. We'll use the run to set up the pass, so we're going to work hand in hand.

"I'm definitely ready to carry a big load. I also don't have to do it by myself -- we got a lot of help around me. There's really no pressure."

Not entirely.

Last season's backup running backs Ka'Deem Carey (injured reserve) and Jeremy Langford (waived) are gone. The Bears now have a stable of smaller tailbacks behind Howard on the depth chart -- veteran Benny Cunningham (an experienced kickoff returner) and rookies Tarik Cohen and Taquan Mizzell (claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens).

Cohen was sensational in the preseason, when the Bears wisely ran him between the tackles just to put on tape for the other 31 teams to take notice. But the ultimate plan for Cohen is probably to get him the ball in space and turn him loose. Asking Cohen (5-foot-6) to repeatedly take a beating by running inside really isn't the best use of his talents. Cohen showed over and over in practice that he has electrifying speed when he reaches the second and third levels of the defense.

So, Howard's unique ability to move the pile and keep the clock moving may be the No. 1 key to victory (or respectability) this weekend at Soldier Field.