Whether it’s Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback, the Bears are going to have to help them out by running the ball.
The Bears found success at the end of last year. David Montgomery ran for 598 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s final six games. Over a full season, that would’ve been monstrous production, but the first nine games happened too. In those, Montgomery failed to reach 90 yards and only averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry twice.
That’s not necessarily Montgomery’s fault. Injuries and inconsistencies along the offensive line are largely what put the Bears in the Nick Foles-era tailspin. The Bears have been aggressive in fixing issues with depth and top-line talent, but there’s still a matter of actually being productive in the rushing attack over a full, 16-game season.
It may have been unrealistic to expect Juan Castillo to fix the running game out of the gates, considering they didn’t have an offseason program or a traditional training camp. By the end of the season, it was clear that the coach’s message was getting through and he had nearly every player competing at a level they had not yet reached in their careers. The Bears emphasized a bigger, more physical style of player at the line of scrimmage, with the idea that Castillo can coach them up. With a projected rookie starter at left tackle and questions on the right side of the line, he’ll have to do just that.
It’ll be up to Montgomery too.
While he has excelled at breaking tackles and showed some breakaway speed last year, the third-year back has had his fair share of missed assignments. Now it’s time for him to take the next step and be one of the truly elite running backs. There are signs that Montgomery is prepared for the next step. Chris Emma reported Montgomery has been working with a speed coach who has estimated the running back took close to two tenths of a second off of his 40-yard dash time.
Speed was one of the biggest concerns about Montgomery entering the league. While he has had a few big runs, the Bears haven’t generated nearly enough — they ranked 21st in explosive run rate according to Sharp Football Statistics. Even when they were rolling on the ground, they were only 15th.
It won’t be just Montgomery. The Bears have quite a bit of talent in the backfield with Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert added this offseason. The hope is that Tarik Cohen can be as explosive as he looked before he was injured last year, but that will likely take more time.
Dalton’s two best seasons came when the Bengals were in the top half of the league rushing the ball. For the most part, they were at least a top-20 rushing team, whereas the Bears have had a tough time even cracking the top 25 the last two seasons. And generally speaking, successful rookie quarterbacks have also had successful running games. RGIII may have had the best rookie season ever, but it came with the league’s top rushing offense. Seattle was third in rushing in Russell Wilson’s rookie year. The Panthers were third when Cam Newton was a rookie, the Cowboys were second for Dak Prescott.
(The Chargers were barely in the top 20 for Justin Herbert last year, but we can consider that to be the exception until proven otherwise.)
Whoever is carrying the rock, the Bears need them to be the driving force of the offense. Montgomery showed flashes that he can be that kind of player last year, now we need to see more.