Matt Nagy is an offensive coach, no question about it. When the Bears brought him to Chicago, the expectation was he’d install a dynamic offense to put points on the board. We’ve seen some of that with creative plays like “Willy Wonka” and “Santa’s Sleigh,” but through three seasons with Nagy at the helm, it has seemed like the focus has been in the passing game. On the field, the results have been mixed, to say the least. That’s left more traditional football minds in Chicago to wonder whether a decent dose of power running in the City of Broad Shoulders could help the Bears score points.
So when Nagy joined the Under Center Podcast last week, host Ken Davis was frank with his question: “Do you hate running the football?”
“No, not at all,” Nagy said. “Not at all. I understand what city I'm in and where we're at with Chicago and defense and running the football. But I think that that's-- you have to be able to run the football in this league to be successful, set up the pass. And that's our goal, is to get better in every area.”
Nagy went on to explain why a workhorse-type back like David Montgomery averaged just over 16 carries per game last season, despite fans clamoring to see him toting the ball over 20 times.
“Depending on what the game is, what's happened in the last couple of years and why some of David's carries— which aren't low— haven't been quite as high, is, a lot of guys get in four minute mode in the fourth quarter. That's where they get those extra four or five carries, which can bump them up into the top five, you know, with 20 rushes a game. That's our goal. We want to be able to have the lead so that we can continue to give him the ball. So he has the touches because, you know, just seeing him run the football, that guy in four minute mode, it takes more than one guy to bring him down.”
Nagy’s right, too. Montgomery’s carries aren’t low compared to the rest of the league. In fact, he ranked No. 4 across the entire NFL in rushing attempts last year with 247. The only guys who carried the ball more than Montgomery were Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Josh Jacobs.
It’s also true that the Bears entered the fourth quarter trailing more often than not. And when the Bears were leading, Nagy was spot on with his estimate that Montgomery would receive an “extra four or five carries.” Of the 15 games Montgomery played in last season, there were nine games where the Bears trailed heading into the final quarter. In those nine games, Montgomery averaged 14.3 carries. But in the six games that the Bears took a lead into the fourth quarter, that number jumped all the way up to 19.6 carries per game.
Whether running the ball more often earlier in games would help the Bears build a lead is another story. But at times last year the offense was so out of sorts that nothing appeared to work effectively, regardless of the balance between run and pass. Again, Nagy reiterated that he would love to run the ball more— when the game script allows it— and whenever Montgomery doesn’t receive 20+ carries in a game, it’s nothing personal.
“He's one of my favorite players on the team,” Nagy said. “I love this work ethic. He cares so much. He's I guarantee you every single day he's out here working and and he wants to have a great year. He's motivated.”