It’s the sixth week of the NFL season and the Chicago Bears sit at an impressive four wins and one loss. Their season features some familiar storylines to Chicago fans, for instance: The defense is starting to increase their aggressiveness and it’s showing on the field. There was a QB controversy during the past few games that led to a change in the position. However, there's a void when it comes to one of the most familiar "Bears football" DNA traits, that the lack of a running game.
Not the lack of yards, as the Bears have struggled with finding its signature running attack since last year, but the lack of overall attempts. During the Bears four wins, they have abandoned the running game entirely at times, preferring to use feature back David Montgomery as a pass catcher and pass blocker. Through the first five weeks of Montgomery’s rookie season, he carried the ball sixty-nine times with thirteen targeted passes. The first five weeks of 2020? Sixty-three carries with twenty-three targets.
While the running attempts have gone down slightly in its totality when compared to 2019, when we look deeper, a more worrisome image appears. During the first five weeks of 2019, the Bears were struggling to find how they would use the then rookie Montgomery. His first game he only carried ball six times, then in his third game, twenty-one times, followed by eleven times the game after. It was clear that the Bears offense and running game were trying to figure out how to best proceed forward with the departure of pro bowler Jordan Howard. In 2020, however, this has not been the case. Montgomery is not a rookie and Matt Nagy has been vocal in consistently wanting the running game to be an important phase of the Bears offense. What has been the result? A strong attempt at getting the ball to Montgomery in the first two weeks, followed by three weeks where his carry count dwindled to fourteen carries and ten carries the past two games. When asked about the wide disparity in rushing attempts, Matt Nagy says playing from behind has forced his hand, "“As far as the carries go, we want to be able to get him to twenty carries. I’ve told him, twenty carries is a lot of carries and if you look at it by quarter, sixteen going into the fourth quarter is a high amount of carries and touches, because then in the fourth, if you’re winning you get another four carries and you reach that twenty in four minute mode. What’s happened is we’re not—we’re the opposite, we’re playing from behind in two-minute mode so he’s not getting carries, he’s getting more protections and catches. But in a perfect world, let’s get him twenty carries and see what he can do with it.”
Matt Nagy does have a point, the Bears have had to play from behind in all but one of their four wins. The issue is, what happened to the run game before the Bears get behind by more than one score? The Bears seem to still abandon the run in those times and in a league where not even twenty points is an insurmountable lead, you would think that being behind by one score would not lead to an abandonment of the run but a more aggressive offense that still tries to keep the defense honest with a mix of passes and runs. With that being said, Coach Nagy has still been assertive in wanting the run game to blossom and facing a running defense in Carolina that ranks twenty fifth in yards per game, the Bears may have a perfect opportunity to do just that.