ATM: Offensive Improvement Starts Up Front

| September 25th, 2019

One of the most important assessments Ryan Pace made this off-season was that the running backs – and not the offensive line – were to fault for the running game’s struggles in 2018. Through most of three quarters Monday night, he looked dead wrong.

Then one possession clinched the game and provided hope that the offensive line can regain the form it showed in 2018. The Bears had run for just 50 yards. Their defense was tired after forcing yet another turnover. They didn’t just need a score, they needed time.

The guys up front came through.

David Montgomery ran for eight yards on the first play. Four on the next. He looked bottled up on the third play, but was able to find a hole after a cutback for 25. After a pass for eight yards to keep the drive alive on a third-and-five play, the Bears were able to drive to the 20 to get inside the range of an injured Eddy Pineiro who clinched the game with a 38-yard field goal.

Not All Trubisky

While most of the negative attention early in the season has been focused on quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the offensive line had been arguably the worst part of the team through two weeks.

Coach Matt Nagy took a lot of heat for not calling more running plays in Week 1, but the Bears weren’t getting any push. The same was mostly true in Week 2, as the offense averaged 3.8 yards per carry outside of one explosive run.

Through two games, Montgomery was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry with a long run of 12 yards. What makes that especially concerning is that teams weren’t even thinking about stopping the run. Montgomery faced a stacked box on just 8.3% of his carries, according to NextGen Stats, the 10th fewest in the league with most of the guys below him having quarterbacks with names like Mahomes, Brady, Wilson and Goff.

The end result was a lot more long yardage situations. In 2019, 19.4% of Trubisky’s pass attempts have come on third-and-eight or longer, according to ESPN. That is up drastically from 8.9% last year.

It isn’t just struggles against the run, either. Trubisky was the most-hit quarterback in Week 1, despite getting rid of the ball quicker than all but six quarterbacks, according to NextGen.

The line had its fair share of struggles against a talented Washington front too. The first two possessions both included penalties on the line (one declined) and sacks — the kinds of negative plays that kill drives.

The first possession that didn’t include an offensive line penalty or sack was taken 67 yards for a touchdown.

Another penalty — holding on Cody Whitehair — pushed the team back on their last drive before halftime, but Trubisky made a brilliant throw to Taylor Gabriel for a touchdown on third-and-17.

(The line was fine for most of the second half. The Bears went conservative and a horrendous interception gave Washington life.)

But, in Summation…

When the Bears needed the offensive line to take the game over, they did just that.

It’s a young unit, one that was among the best in the league last year. There’s no reason for the Bears line to struggle like it has and the final drive against Washington should give us hope that those struggles have ended.