Last week in this space, we wrote Matt Nagy’s commitment to the run game was “fine,” which at the time was accurate, and that the solution for the Bears’ woes on the ground was not to blindly run the ball more.
Then Nagy called 54 passing plays and only seven running plays in a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. He looked skittish to call runs after the first play of the game, on which the Bears missed a block and Tarik Cohen was tackled after gaining just one yard.
The solution this Bears offense needed was not to call the fewest running plays in franchise history.
“I know we need to run the ball more. I’m not an idiot,” Nagy said Monday. “I realize that. Seven rushes and the minimum amount of times, I totally understand that. You need to do it.”
Nagy said that lopsided run-pass balance was partly the product of wanting to pass to open up the run — but the Bears weren’t effectively throwing the ball, with Mitch Trubisky averaging a comical 3.4 yards per attempt prior to some garbage time empty calories. Nagy, too, said the lack of successful run plays led him to call more passes, which he thought would produce better results (again: 3.4 yards per attempt).
The Bears’ run game is officially in crisis. This was not supposed to happen in 2019, not as Nagy and Ryan Pace worked in tandem to overhaul their running back depth chart. Gone were Jordan Howard and Taquan Mizzell and Benny Cunningham, in were Mike Davis and David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson and Kerrith Whyte Jr.
This was supposed to be the personnel the Bears needed to run the ball in tandem with continuity on the offensive line, save for flipping James Daniels to center and Cody Whitehair to guard.
Nagy knows he needs to find a solution. Here’s one suggestion: Just feed Montgomery the ball.
This is something Olin Kreutz brought up on the Football Aftershow edition of the Under Center Podcast on Monday: Montgomery is at his best when he’s running the ball on consecutive plays. The numbers back him up.
Of Montgomery’s 71 rushing attempts this year, 21 have come immediately after he ran the ball. We’ll eliminate four plays at the goal line, which accounted for only three yards but two touchdowns.
On those 17 runs following a run not at the goal line, Montgomery is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. On the season, he’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry.
It’s a small sample size, and the majority of those plays have been in the fourth quarter of games the Bears controlled (wins over Minnesota and Washington). But if Montgomery is able to have success on plays when the opposing defense knows a run is coming — as is the case in those four-minute drives — why can’t he have success on less predictable downs?
It’s a question worth exploring inside Halas Hall this week. The Bears didn’t trade up to draft Montgomery just to have him get two carries in the worst loss of Nagy’s tenure. He needs the ball more, and he needs to take advantage of those opportunities (and not fumble when he does get one).
It’s may not be in Nagy’s DNA to be a pound-the-rock coach, but that does not excuse him for abandoning the run after a few ineffective plays. Patience is necessary, and that patience needs to turn into trust with Montgomery.
After all, it’s not like this offense is working without feeding a guy the Bears identified as an ideal fit in this offense six months ago.
“With this run game, right, it’s about productive plays,” Nagy said. “… Right now we’re not having productive plays in the run game any way you look at it.
“… I want positive plays. I want plays — and part of the patience is that as well. There’s no doubt about it, there’s gotta be more patience. But every game is a little bit different based off the defense you’re seeing and then how your O-line is blocking and the schemes of the plays that are working or not working that game.”