Bears

For Matt Nagy, rookie running back David Montgomery checks off all the boxes

For Matt Nagy, rookie running back David Montgomery checks off all the boxes

If it hadn’t already been there, the writing on the wall showed up when the Bears sent running back Jordan Howard to Philadelphia via trade in late March. With few other offensive needs to address and a deep class at the position, trying to find Howard’s replacement in the 4th round was not much of a shock. What was a bit surprising, though, was the path Ryan Pace and co. took to get there, trading three picks (No. 87, No. 162 and a 2020 fourth) to the Patriots for the 73rd pick (plus No. 205, a sixth). 

Trading up for a running back sounds almost taboo in 2019, but given some hindsight -- the Rams traded up to grab Memphis’ Darrell Henderson just 3 picks before Montgomery and FAU’s Devin Singletary was taken by the Bills one pick after -- it’s clear that the Bears were hell-bent on not missing out on one of their draft board’s highest-ranked guys; it’s a luxury well-built teams are able to afford. The Bears’ interest in Montgomery makes sense - not only does he fill what Matt Nagy’s offense looks for from a 3-down back, but his reputation as a high-character guy in the locker room will be welcomed with open arms at Halas Hall. 

“He's about as real a person as there is,” Matt Nagy said during his post-draft press conference on Saturday night. “Very authentic, very passionate.

“Everything that he talked about was extremely passionate. And there was a story behind it. There was a why. And I believed everything he said.” (Nagy also gave reporters the cliche about how Montgomery is the first guy to arrive and the last guy to leave, but in this case, it might actually be true.

Matt Campbell, whose first year as the Iowa State head coach came during Montgomery’s freshman year, was quick to chime in on the Bears selection too: 

The Bears have already focused much of the offseason on improving a unit that finished the season 19th in running DVOA, though from all accounts it sounds like Montgomery will have plenty of chances to compete with Mike Davis for first team reps when camp rolls around at the end of July. 

“It's about mismatches,” Nagy said. “You're using running backs so every running back has his own strength as far as what route he can run. Whether it's a vertical route down the field, he's a bigger target or he's super fast. Some running backs you can put them in empty and they are better in shallow crosses or better with reading routes, and it's not a vertical route or a post route where they beat you with speed.”

“When you have guys that can play all three downs, it's nice for the play caller and it's nice for the offense."

Nagy referred to Montgomery as a three-down back multiple times during the half hour press conference on Saturday night. Though it’s more of a compliment than an analysis at this point, it speaks to just how excited Nagy is to add this type of wrinkle to an already-innovative offense. 

“The biggest thing is that you just see who he is as a football player,” Nagy said. “The amount of times that he makes defenders miss inside the tackle box, he extends runs with his sheer power. He has a tremendous ability to feel when that next guy’s coming.” 

Throughout the draft process, Montgomery’s style of running was often compared to Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt. Both were coached by Campbell, who was the head coach at Toledo prior to his time at ISU. Nagy certainly sees the comparison.

“Yeah there are some similarities for sure,” he said. “You look at him and the size of them and you see how they run between the tackles. They’re physical - they run angry, both of them, and I think the other connection is just the background of the coaches they both had too.

“He’s going to be his own person, I think that’s the best part about David is that in the amount of talks that we had with him, you get to dig into who he is and he’s going to be David Montgomery - nobody else. I think that’s really important, we love that about him, and I’m excited to see where it goes.” 

2019 NFL Power Rankings, Week 3: Bears make small jump after after thrilling win over Broncos

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USA TODAY

2019 NFL Power Rankings, Week 3: Bears make small jump after after thrilling win over Broncos

Chicago Bears fans were one second away from hitting the panic button in Week 2's game against the Denver Broncos. Fortunately, Eddy Pineiro proved why he won the summer kicking competition and booted a game-winner as time expired, restoring hope in the fanbase and around the NFL that this team still has the ability to win games with good defense and good-enough offense.

Still, the Bears aren't playing elite football, and their standing in this week's power rankings is proof of that. Did they move up? Yes, a little. But they're still not among the NFL's top contenders.

The Patriots and Chiefs lead the way once again, but there's a new top dog in the NFC entering Week 3. Check it out:

2019 NFL Power Rankings, Week 3

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

QUARTERBACKS: D

Two over-arching concerns here as the Bears search for answers following Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos: 

1. Trubisky averaged 4.4 yards per attempt (16/27, 120 yards) despite Matt Nagy committing to a good run-pass playcalling balance. Trubisky handed off 28 times and threw 27 times a week after that balance was wildly out of whack. 

2. Trubisky was not sacked, with the Bears’ offensive line and offensive scheme neutralizing the Broncos’ elite pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and wasn’t under duress as much as he was in Week 1…and yet, didn’t produce much in the way of positive results. 

One other point: The Bears’ only touchdown drive consisted of eight running plays and one passing play, with that passing play resulting in a Broncos penalty and fresh set of downs near the goal line. 

So while Trubisky, at least from the eye test, looked better than he did against Green Bay, the actual results from Sunday’s game don’t show much progress other than him not throwing an interception. And that was with two of the things that failed the Bears' in Week 1 being much better. 

And as Nagy argued, again, it’s not all on Trubisky. He needs more help from his receivers on certain plays, and credit Denver’s defense for making a few good plays (like safety Justin Simmons’ pass break-up on a deep ball to Tarik Cohen). And what Trubisky did on his final throw of the game to Allen Robinson was impressive. 

But things were set up much better for Trubisky on Sunday and he still didn’t do much. Also: Yes, it came against a defense coached by Vic Fangio, who knows Trubisky well. But the NFL is a copycat league. Every defensive coordinator in the league will see what Fangio did against Trubisky — with a less-than-full strength defense, no less — and try to replicate it. 

It’s still early in 2019, but Trubisky and Nagy need to find answers. Fast. 

RUNNING BACKS: B

David Montgomery had a workmanlike 62 yards on 18 carries, though those numbers are skewed by Montgomery attempting three carries from the one-yard line as he tried to get the Bears their first touchdown of 2019. Take those goal-line carries out and Montgomery averaged a little over four yards per carry, which sounds about right. His shiftiness, patience and contact balance all make him an productive, if not explosive, member of this offense. That's exactly what the expectations were for Montgomery before the season began. 

Tarik Cohen carried four times for 18 yards after not having a rushing attempt in Week 1, though he lost nine yards on a reception while trying to do too much as the Bears’ offense got bogged down deep in its own territory. 

Mike Davis has apparently entered the Taquan Mizzell zone of being a running back who doesn’t touch the ball much (three carries) but every time he does, there’s an amount of consternation on social media that doesn’t equal his role in the offense. 

One other note here: Credit Cohen with some good pass protection on the Bears’ game-winning drive, picking up a blitzing Josey Jewell and giving Trubisky a chance to make a throw (though he then dropped a pass shortly after). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Fangio made sure to keep Allen Robinson from having a big game, with veteran corner Chris Harris doing a fantastic job of muting his impact until the final offensive play of the game. Without knowledge of the ins and outs of the routes expected from these players, it’s hard to have a full picture of just how well or poorly Mike Furrey’s unit played when they weren't targeted much. Trubisky missed an open Taylor Gabriel on what should’ve been a shot-play-turned-chunk-play, but Gabriel and Anthony Miller were targeted only three total times. 

Patterson’s 46-yard run was the Bears’ most explosive play of the season, and sparked the team’s first touchdown of the season. Gabriel followed with a 14-yard run, too. 

TIGHT ENDS: C+

Trey Burton played his first game of 2019 but the Bears are still bringing him along slowly. 

“I think you could see as he got in there and stuff, he did as best as he could,” Nagy said. “We'll monitor him to see where he's at. Volume-wise, rep-wise, he's not what he was last year, so we'll work through that. But I liked the week of practice that he had and we just want to see him keep growing there at that position.”

Adam Shaheen caught all three of his targets and showed some impressive toughness to pick up a first down on a third and long late in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit both the Bears’ offensive game plan and the five guys up front for keeping both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — who combined for 26 1/2 sacks in 2018 — quiet throughout the afternoon. The biggest game-wrecking play either made was when Chubb brought down Trubisky late in the fourth quarter and was mind-numbingly whistled for roughing the passer (the Bears, of course, were happy to get that officiating break). Trubisky was not sacked and was only hit twice on 27 drop-backs. 

This group’s run blocking was better, too, though not perfect. The commitment to running — especially with Montgomery — seemed to help Harry Hiestand’s unit get in a better rhythm than they were in during Week 1. While this group didn’t win in the trenches on every play, it produced some excellent downfield blocking on a screen to Cohen in the second quarter and then on Patterson’s gazelle-like dash in the third quarter. 

Left tackle Charles Leno was whistled for two penalties four plays apart in the third quarter — one an illegal use of hands that was legit, and the other a holding penalty (Nagy said the penalty was the result of a point of emphasis by officiating crews this year, even if it didn’t appear to be a blatant hold). Those were the only two penalties assessed to the Bears’ offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Losing Bilal Nichols to a wrist injury in the first half was a blow for a unit that needed all hands on deck to rotate during the second half, but credit this group for hanging tough with a four-man rotation. Akiem Hicks played 66 snaps (80 percent), an incredible testament to his conditioning and desire to stay on the field. Nick Williams, the six-year veteran, recorded his first career sack. 

Eddie Goldman was whistled for roughing the passer when he landed on Joe Flacco, a penalty that was the correct application of a bad rule. When asked after the game if he could’ve done anything different on that play, Goldman said: “Yeah, not land on him. … I mean, that’s the rule.”

Still, that’s a penalty the Bears probably won’t hold against Goldman. The Bears’ front did their part against the run, with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combining for just 3.8 yards per carry. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack took advantage of a bizarre one-on-one matchup against rookie tight end Noah Fant and dropped Flacco for his first sack of 2019 (and 11th in nine games against the Broncos). He played well, generating eight pressures, per Pro Football Focus, but was among the players who looked gassed at the end of the game — Mack was on the field for 71 snaps (87 percent). 

Leonard Floyd did well against the run and was flagged for a ridiculous unnecessary roughness penalty in the in the first quarter (there was no other way he could’ve tackled Fant after blowing up a passing play). He didn’t have a sack but did get after Flacco for a hit. 

Aaron Lynch had a tackle for a loss and read a pass to the flat well, breaking it up right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. His TFL helped stem some of Denver’s momentum after Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith played all 82 defensive snaps and combined for 21 tackles and only one missed tackle, per PFF. Trevathan had a pair of effective blitzes and Smith made a handful of big tackles. 

CORNERBACKS: B+

Kyle Fuller’s interception near the goal line nearly was a game-saving play — that is, until the Bears’ four-minute offense sputtered and gave the Broncos the ball back to drive back downfield against a gassed defense. Courtland Sutton didn’t make his first catch until early in the fourth quarter, while Buster Skrine affected a couple of Flacco’s drop-backs with well-timed and well-executed nickel blitzes. 

Prince Amukamara, though, was whistled for a pair of penalties. And Fuller was beat on a quick out route in the end zone by Emmanuel Sanders for Denver’s go ahead two point conversion with just over 30 seconds to go. The Bears' plan was to play off coverage, it appeared, and keep everything in front of them and make tackles. That plan, for the most part, worked until this defense wore down as its snap count reached the 70's and 80's in the altitude and heat of Denver. 

SAFETIES: B

Eddie Jackson flew around the field and, anecdotally, had his hardest-hitting game since joining the Bears in 2017. He also made a couple of important plays on Flacco throws down the stretch as the Bears tried to muster the energy to keep the Broncos out of the end zone. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played every single snap, too, though he only made one tackle while missing another, per PFF. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

What other grade could this be? Eddy Pineiro banged in a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired, but let’s not overlook the rookie also connecting from 52 yards earlier in the game, too. Pat O’Donnell ripped a career long 75-yard punt and also drilled a 61-yarder, helping flip field position in both instances. 

This wasn’t all perfect, of course — Buster Skrine’s offsides penalty was horrendous, leading to the Broncos converting a two-point try instead of missing a game-tying PAT. But come on. Pineiro hit an absolutely massive kick for the 2019 Bears. That relegates everything else to minutiae. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy may have lost the chess match to his former defensive coordinator when it came to the Bears’ passing game, but he did more than commit to running the ball — he committed to some well-designed running plays. A well-executed toss sweep to Patterson and a fancy flip to Gabriel chewed up 60 yards in the span of three plays, powering the Bears from their own 32-yard line to the Broncos’ five-yard line. 

Give Nagy’s scheme some credit, too, in making sure Miller and Chubb didn’t make an impact. Things have to be better passing-wise, and Nagy will need to find answers knowing the rest of the NFL has plenty of tape on ways to slow down his offense. 

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