Football

Long Journey to the Middle – Bears Positional Report Cards: Running Backs – Running in Place

Jordan Howard was sent packing. Tarik Cohen, gem of the 2018 draft, planted his flag as the next Darren Sproles-esque gadget back. Ryan Pace maneuvered ahead of his counterparts in the middle rounds to select David Montgomery, the quiet, no-nonsense, blue collar worker back that was going to excel immediately in the system. Pace also signed veteran Mike Davis on the cheap, seemingly because of fit and personnel package and depth. Then came Cordarrelle Patterson, the do everything secret weapon.

2019 was supposed to be the season the Bears rushing attacked returned to great heights, the season the team got back to its Chicago football reputation of pounding the ball on the ground and using that rushing attack to unleash Matt Nagy’s offense.

2019 did not go to plan.

The Good

Umm…right. Well, there was that one game that Mitch did his best LEEEEEROOOOOY JEEENNNNKKIIIIINSSSS and thrashed the Cowboys for 64 yards. That is to be considered good, I think. But, uh, he’s not a running back.

Montgomery did have his moments, rushing for 889 yards on 242 carries for the season which was highlighted by a 135-yard, 1-TD effort (and 5.0 yard per carry average!) in the heart breaking loss to the Chargers at home. Monty also hit the century mark in the season finale, totaling 113 yards and a TD (albeit against a lot of backups).

Cohen chipped in much more via the passing game, helping the offense where he could with 79 catches on 104 targets for 456 yards, good for 2nd, 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively…which will be an indictment when we get to pass catchers tomorrow but we’ll count it as “good” today.

The Bad..and Ugly

Strap in, dear reader.

To call the rushing game “bad” is a bit of an understatement. The coaching staff/Nagy told us they had their pieces, they were going to fix the underwhelming rush attack from 2018 (buoyed by QB  Mitchell Trubisky‘s 421 yards). We’ve already been over the additions to overhaul the group, which saw only Cohen return from 2018. The results were an unmitigated disaster, as the team rushed for under 1,500 yards as a group, averaging 91.1 yards/game. Chicago had a 3.7 per carry average. The Bears scored all of eight rushing touchdowns on the year. EIGHT! Per AP Style standards I can’t even use numerals for that low of a total.

These totals put them in the bottom of the league for rushing all around, 26th or worse in every category I just listed. You watched it. You probably assumed as much, but hot damn that’s fucking terrible. This team regressed by over 500 yards overall, 30 yards a game, and scored HALF as many rushing touchdowns.

So what happened?

Well, the offensive line was not what was expected and not even really close. The play calling was all over the map as well, seeing the Bears call all of FIVE run plays in the gut punch Week 1 loss to Green Bay..at home…by one score. FIVE RUN PLAYS. This would be a tough theme, as Nagy would get far too pass-happy or lean on the pass in games like the stinker against New Orleans where he abandoned it all together. The Bears ran the ball 395 times in 2019, sticking them in the lower third yet again, while it’s also worth pointing out that no other team rushed as much as they did for fewer yards. The Pittsburg Steelers were very similar, but the totals of the other teams near them in attempts are all 300-500 yards (NOT feral hogs, unfortunately) MORE than Chicago.

Montgomery was fed a decent amount with his 242 carries for a rookie season, but beyond that the division of work is alarming. Cohen only had 64 rushing attempts all season, with the damn QB coming in 3rd as Mitch saw 48 (and most of those were in the latter half of the season as things spiraled to hell). Free Agent additions Patterson and Davis saw a COMBINED 28 carries. Patterson seemed to be the choice short yardage back early on, which was curious at best but really it was fucking batshit insane. Nagy lost his damn mind. Poor Mike Davis never got a shot, and the team mercilessly cut in early November so that Pace could at least recoup a compensatory draft pick.

Not great!

 Any Hope?

I don’t know, man. The Bears have a lot to fix on offense, and the goal should be to get more out of the run game first and foremost. I know everyone wants Trubisky to be a star, but he needs help to even get to an even baseline. The offensive line and play calling must be better, and this team needs a third actual running back that can pick up short yards and block. They have their lead man and pass catcher and their gadget man, as Montgomery, Cohen and Patterson should all be back. They just need to figure out how to use them all properly, which I’m not so sure this regime is capable of. I’d expect them to skip RB completely in the draft and find their fourth back on the market this March. Or maybe they can just use a defensive tackle for the dirty work. Just do better.

Final Grade: D+

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