Let’s start with a pop quiz:
You’ll get the answer near the bottom of this article. Anyways, let’s get to it:
There’s no simple fix for the Bears’ run game in 2020. There’s not much room to dramatically improve the offensive line, with 80% of its starters returning. David Montgomery isn’t going anywhere. A new tight end or two may help a bit, but the point is, the core of this offense that averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2019 (fourth-worst in the NFL) will be back in 2020.
So the only place for the Bears to really go in search of a run game fix is with their coaching. And Matt Nagy’s firing of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (and replacing them with Bill Lazor, Clancy Barone and Juan Castillo) felt like a tacit acknowledgement of where the problem can be fixed.
In talking about not having a run game coordinator, the first name Nagy brought up was Castillo, who previously coached with Nagy for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“(Castillo’s) expertise in football is second to none,” Nagy said. “And so I have a lot of respect for him and how he does things. Just the last several weeks that we've been together talking scheme-wise, it just feels really good. I just appreciate a lot of simplicity of where he’s at and the consistency too. So it will be fun to get going on that.”
It’s notable the only coach Nagy hired this winter who he’d previously worked with was Castillo, who’s had stints as a run game coordinator/offensive line coach with the Eagles (1998-2010), Baltimore Ravens (2013-2016) and Buffalo Bills (2017-2018). Perhaps Nagy believes he’ll be less likely to abandon his run game if he has more trust in the guys overseeing it.
Barone, too, has coached tight ends all over the league but also has experience as an offensive line coach, including with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos a few years ago. Lazor’s experience is with quarterbacks but the Cincinnati Bengals did rank eighth in rushing yards per play (4.7) in 2018, his last year as offensive coordinator there.
“I’m doing a lot of listening and I think now is the time to do that so we can collaborate, figure out what went wrong last year and let’s fix it,” Nagy said. “Let’s be about solutions.”
Those solutions, though, are neither simple nor obvious. Remember that question at the top of the article? Here’s the answer:
A (David Montgomery running from the shotgun): 115 carries, 478 yards, 4.2 YPC, 3 TD
B (David Montgomery running from under center): 127 carries, 411 yards, 3.2 YPC, 3 TD
The Bears’ run game needs a complete overhaul, not just a few tweaks, and there’s not a clear solution with the roster currently in place. Can Castillo & Co. give Nagy the run game he needs, and then can Nagy trust it on gamedays when he’s calling plays?
We’ll find out in September, but those are two of the most important questions for this team to answer in 2020.
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