The Value of David Montgomery: Volume I, Run Game

| January 31st, 2023

After four productive years in Chicago, David Montgomery is now a free agent, which leaves the Bears in the difficult situation of trying to figure out how much they are willing to pay to keep him around. On the surface, he has the case to command a sizable contract. Since entering the NFL, Montgomery has 915 carries (6th in NFL) for 3,609 yards (10th) and 26 rushing touchdowns (15th). Montgomery has also contributed 155 receptions for 1,240 yards and 4 touchdowns, bringing his rookie contract totals to an impressive 4,849 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.

Of course, volume stats don’t tell the full story, so this week I want to take a closer look at David Montgomery’s performance to see if we can get a better idea of how good he is, and thus how large of a contract he might be worth. We’ll start today by looking at his contributions in the run game, follow-up tomorrow with a look at his role in the passing game, and finish with an examination of what a realistic free agent contract could look like.

Advanced Rushing Statistics

Volume stats are nice, but to really understand a player’s value, we need to examine their efficiency. Thankfully, we have a whole host of data available to us, including a number of advanced statistics.

Before we look at the data, I want to mention that RYOE is Rushing Yards Over Expected, which is based on both the position and the movement of all 22 players on the field at the time of handoff. Basically, it projects how many yards an average NFL running back would get in a given carry based on historical data, and then compares how that specific running back did on that play. RYOE % is then the % of carries where a back exceeds the expected rushing yards.

The table below shows how Montgomery fared in a host of advanced rushing statistics compared to 48 running backs with at least 90 carries in 2022. Khalil Herbert’s statistics are also shown for good measure. All RYOE stats are pulled from Next Gen Stats, while yards before run, after run, and broken tackles are from Pro Football Reference. Any values in the top 25% (top 12) are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red.

A few thoughts:

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Dannehy: Bears Should Prioritize Offensive Line

| January 26th, 2023

There is no foolproof method to build an NFL team, but as the Chicago Bears head into a crucial offseason, they should prioritize strengthening their offensive line.

As the debate about offensive line vs. wide receiver rages across the Twittersphere, it’s important to take a step back, look at what the Bears have on their roster and how they can best maximize that talent. That starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who has flaws as a passer, but has shown great touch on deep balls and is as electric a runner as there has been in the league, at any position.

Playing his first two seasons behind a subpar offensive line hasn’t allowed Fields to showcase his ability as a passer. At Ohio St., he did most of his damage from inside the pocket – his 4.4 speed was seen as a bonus. But there haven’t been clean pockets to work from in Chicago, which has made evaluating the quarterback that much more difficult.

When the Bears have kept the pocket clean, Fields has shown the ability to go through his progressions and make the right read. Furthermore, it allows the team to open up his greatest asset as a passer: the deep ball.

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2023 Off-Season Primer: Plenty of Money, Plenty of Needs

| January 10th, 2023

The 2022 season is finally over, meaning it is time for fans to shift their attention to the off-season, that magical time of year when every team turns all of their weaknesses into strengths and enters training camp as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

I kid, of course, but the offseason is a time to improve the roster, and the Bears showed this year that they need plenty of roster improvement. To give us an idea of what might be possible in the next few months, I want to take stock of where the Bears currently are. We’ll explore:

  • Who is still under contract vs. entering free agency.
  • What upgrades are needed.
  • What the salary cap situation looks like.
  • What players could be eligible for extensions.

Current Depth Chart

Let’s start by looking at who the Bears currently have under contract for 2023. This is based on players currently signed as of January 9.

As you can see, the roster is going to undergo a significant overhaul this offseason for the second year in a row. As of right now, there are only 41 players on the roster, and many of them are fringe guys who may not make the team next year.

(Quick side note: there are 2 players that did not fit on this depth chart: TE Chase Allen and safety Adrian Colbert. I didn’t want to add a 3rd string just for them, and they’re practice squad guys who likely won’t factor into the 2023 roster anyway).

Though the Bears can at least pencil in a “starter” at most roster spots, many of those players should not be starting in 2023, and the team should be looking to add new starters at the following positions this offseason:

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Dannehy: Handling of Fields Leaves Big Picture Questions

| December 28th, 2022

The Chicago Bears can’t possibly know if Justin Fields is capable of winning games for them if they don’t give him the opportunity to at least try to do so.

While many storylines have been about Fields’ inability to take the team down the field for wins late, those arguments have mostly ignored the positions in which the Bears have put the quarterback. The 2022 season has, essentially, been the organization asking Fields to make it look good without much support.

We saw it again last week.

The Bears had a chance to make the game interesting when on the last play of the third quarter, Fields uncorked a strike 44 yards down the field for Velus Jones Jr. Trailing 21-10, the team had life.

Then, it didn’t.

The Bears proceeded to run the ball three straight times before calling a pass play that relied on Fields threading the needle short of the first down marker. The Bears didn’t let Fields open the offense up again until the outcome of the game was already decided.

The next drive began with a swing pass that lost two yards (do they ever gain yardage on those plays?). On second-and-12, they ran the ball for no gain and relied on Fields to save them on third-and-12.

They got the ball back again, trailing 21-13. They proceeded to run the first two plays then asked Fields to make magic happen on third-and-13.

It isn’t as if the running game was working. After the first drive, David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert combined or 30 rushing yards on 18 carries. Montgomery has averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry in just two games this season. Herbert wasn’t quite up to speed after missing a handful of games on IR.

Fields is the straw that stirs the drink. Yet, with the game on the line, the Bears decided to go with what wasn’t working and ignore what could have. What about calling play action passes? RPOs? Rollouts? Anything that might have a chance to work because the traditional running game was not.

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Dannehy: Kyler Gordon Breakthrough a Great Sign

| December 21st, 2022

For much of his rookie season, most of the talk surrounding Kyler Gordon has been about players the Bears could’ve had instead. But Sunday was a big step for the kid, as he prepared to close out an inconsistent but improving rookie season. While his coverage issues have been problematic at times, the Bears got exactly what they’ve wanted from Gordon this week, as he took the ball away twice against Philadelphia.

The Bears almost immediately slid Gordon into the slot corner position in the defense. They did so because it is a playmaking position in their scheme; he might not be able to stick with the league’s best wide receivers in coverage, but if he can attack the ball, the team will be happy.

Gordon will get better in coverage, and he already has, but he Bears might not need him to be a top cover corner.

By now, we all know and should accept that Jaylon Johnson is a high-level coverage corner. He gave up quite a bit against the Eagles, but almost everything he surrendered was earned through tight coverage. The Bears will still want him to make more plays on the ball going forward, but Johnson is proving to be a good starting corner.

Jaylon Jones might be the real key to the secondary going forward. He too struggled in coverage early this season, but has been especially sticky in recent weeks.

If the Jaylons can man the outside of the Bears defense, it will free Gordon to focus more on taking the ball away. If Sunday was any indication, the Bears just might have something.

Wide Receivers Matter

As sticky as the Bears were in coverage last week, Jalen Hurts still managed to throw for more than 300 yards simply because his wide receivers made plays on contested passes.

While Hurts deserves credit for delivering great passes, the Eagles have two high-level wide receivers who have made their quarterback’s life much easier. While we can pinpoint potential solutions to most of the Bears problems, wide receiver is a tricky one.

The hope was that Darnell Mooney would take another step this year, but that didn’t really happen. The Bears traded what looks to be the 33rd pick and will almost certainly be in the top 35 for Chase Claypool who has done very little.

While both would benefit from better offensive line play – an issue that has often destroyed the team’s passing game – there is little question that neither are stars or even close to the likes of A.J. Brown and probably not even DaVonta Smith.

What also hurts is 2022 third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. looking absolutely unplayable simply because he can’t hold onto the ball. If Jones Jr. can’t make more of an impact than Nsimba Webster, they can’t include him in any future plans.

There isn’t an elite wide receiver prospect available early in this year’s draft and it seems rather unlikely that the team would use its other second round pick on the same position it used its first second rounder on. The free agent market doesn’t look all that promising either.

While they’ll probably add a draft pick or a cheaper veteran, the Bears are likely stuck without a true game-changing wide receiver for at least another year.

Sanborn Injury a Bummer

While some Bears fans have already put the young linebacker in the Hall of Fame, the team very likely needed to see more from Jack Sanborn in order to guarantee a starting spot for him in 2023.

It will be interesting to find out what the Bears evaluation of Sanborn is. Eberlfus has a history of prioritizing speed at the linebacker position and Sanborn (4.73 40) is considerably slower than any linebacker the Colts drafted while Eberflus was their defensive coordinator.

Sanborn has some clear strengths as he consistently showed the ability to get off blockers and make plays while attacking the line of scrimmage. At the very least, he has proven that he should have been drafted.

But that might not be enough for the Bears, especially with Bobby Okereke looming in free agency. Okereke played inside linebacker for Eberflus in 2021 and would give the team a surefire star at the second level. Okereke would be a clear upgrade, especially in pass coverage, where both Sanborn and Nick Morrow have struggled.

It’s undeniable that Sanborn was improving every week, but is that enough to prevent the team from pursuing a high-level player like Okereke? We’ll find out.

That’s a Bison

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the Buffalo Bills is that their mascot is actually a bison.

While one can argue that William the Buffalo’s blue color makes him clearly a fictional creature, it’s undeniable that they were attempting to make him look like a bison, thinking it was a buffalo.

It’s a common mistake. Personally, I blame Kevin Costner and the movie Dances with Wolves as they regularly referred to bison as buffalo. A buffalo looks much more like a cow than it does a bison.

Maybe the worst part is that the Bills didn’t have to do it this way. The team is named after frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody; they could’ve had a cowboy or an early settler as their mascot. Instead, they picked the wrong animal.

As for the game, I fully expect the Bears to be buffaloed by the Bills.

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Dannehy: “Special, Special, Special, Special Special” Justin Fields.

| November 9th, 2022

It should not be possible for a quarterback to run toward the line of scrimmage, leave his feet for a pump fake, come back to the ground, and then outrace the defense for a 61-yard touchdown.

But that’s what Justin Fields did on Sunday and such plays are becoming a weekly occurrence.

What makes Fields special isn’t just what he’s doing, it’s that so often the defense appears to be in position to make a play and they don’t because he is too good. Perhaps most telling are the comments from opponents. 

Melvin Ingram has been around the block, he said Fields is special five times. Jaelan Phillips called him a monster, Mike McDaniel said Fields is “as dynamic with the ball in his hands as any player in the league really.”

Luke Getsy deserves credit for checking his ego and installing an offense that works for his quarterback. It’s fair to question why it took so long to do that, but that’s old history. The true challenge for Getsy will be coming up with a counter when opponents are able to adjust.

That said, the Bears offense is taking off because of the quarterback.

Did Poles Mess Up?

Imagine if this offense was paired with a top fifteen defense? It isn’t that crazy because that’s exactly what the Bears had prior to the trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith.

When the Bears entered the season, the common thought was that the defense would be good, and the offense would be only as good as Justin Fields. That proved true through the first seven weeks as the team struggled to score points. The defense was still pretty good.

Now they have an offense that looks like an absolute machine, but they’re still not likely to win many more games simply because their defense cannot get a stop.

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Dannehy: Was Lack of Talent Acquisition this Off-Season Intentional?

| October 21st, 2022

It’s hard to pinpoint the most troubling aspect of the 2022 offseason: is it that Ryan Poles didn’t acquire enough good players or that he didn’t even try to upgrade the roster?

Regardless of where the Bears are in their team building process, the goal of the offseason is to acquire good players. That’s it. Simple. While Poles was certainly active, how many players did he bring in that we know are going to start in 2023? Jaquan Brisker is the only lock. Kyler Gordon is trending in the right direction, but the bad has still far outweighed the good to this point.

Poles has referenced the lack of resources when pressed on such questions, but that’s a farce. He could’ve used 2023 salary cap space in 2022 to bring in players. Instead, the team’s second-leading wide receiver is a player who didn’t even make the Green Bay Packers roster last year and their third was the sixth wide receiver on the New York Giants. It isn’t like either of those teams had an embarrassment of riches.

Then there’s Velus Jones, a high third round pick who specializes in gimmick plays and returns – except he isn’t a good return man. Jones is currently averaging 21 yards per kick return and 6.8 per punt return with two – yes, two – fumbles. Oh, and he fumbled a kick in the preseason. Poles complained about a lack of resources, then used one of his best resources on a 25-year-old gimmick player. The very next pick was Abraham Lucas, who looks like a long-term starter at tackle for Seattle.

The biggest investments Poles made in the offense were Byron Pringle at wide receiver and Alex Leatherwood on the offensive line. Pringle caught two passes in three games before landing on IR; Leatherwood has yet to play a snap.

Poles is said to be known for his ability to scout offensive linemen, but it appears as if he had no plan to fix that group last offseason. The Bears are relying on a fifth-round rookie at left tackle, fifth-round second-year player at right tackle, a converted tackle at right guard and backup-level players at center and left guard.

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Dannehy: Fair to Question Luke Getsy

| October 5th, 2022

Once again, Chicago Bears fans are left playing the “chicken or the egg” game when it comes to determining what, exactly, is the problem with the team’s offense. But there certainly is some evidence to suggest offensive coordinator Luke Getsy isn’t getting the most out of his players.

Justin Fields might be bad, but we know he is certainly capable of being much better than this. In his last four complete games of his rookie season, he passed for 975 yards and five touchdowns, with a passer rating of 85.9. Compare that to the first four of 2022, in which he has managed 471 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of, gulp, 58.7.

Fields isn’t even as effective as a rusher. In that same span, he ran for 257 yards, compared to 147 this year.

Somehow, the Bears offense is worse. They went from 27th in scoring and 24th in yardage to 31st in both. They are averaging 33 fewer yards and 2.3 fewer points per game. It is especially concerning when one evaluates Getsy’s performance in the passing game because, well, Getsy came to the team after being a passing game coordinator. It’s supposed to be his specialty.

It’s hard to see a major difference in the supporting cast; it isn’t as if the Bears didn’t have struggles at wide receiver and offensive line last year. And, while I have written several times about the difficulties Fields might have adjusting to an offense he has never played in — especially one that quarterbacks tend to struggle in — at least some of that should be offset simply by Fields no longer being a rookie.

The benefit of the wide zone offense Getsy was set to bring to Chicago is supposed to be the easy throws for the quarterback, but we aren’t seeing those. One can watch any Green Bay Packers game and see several examples of Aaron Rodgers taking a three step drop and making an easy throw for six yards. Do those not exist in Getsy’s version of the offense or is the quarterback not pulling the trigger?

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Dannehy: Bears Defense Could Be Good

| September 28th, 2022

If the Chicago defense is going to establish itself as a good unit, Sunday in New Jersey is the perfect time to do so.

The unit’s numbers are a bit mixed, which probably best describes their performance. The team is 11th in points allowed and 20th in yardage. They’re 9th in passing defense, 30th against the run. That’s all fine, especially considering their talent. But a deeper dive is less encouraging.

They are 17th in points allowed per drive, 22nd in yardage. However, because they’re seventh in takeaways – The Eberflus Effect – they are 11th in DVOA.

At the very least, this defense is mediocre. They have a chance to be better than that. They struggled in the first half against San Francisco and Green Bay and had some issues early against Houston. But they have been lights out in the second half, another effect of having Eberflus at the helm. (A lot of this is due to Kyler Gordon’s second half performances being far superior to his first halves.)

They need to put it together for four quarters. Sunday is a prime opportunity.

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Dannehy: Opener Displays the 2022 Recipe for Success

| September 14th, 2022

If you are hoping, for the first time in your life, to see a Chicago Bears team air it out, the 2022 edition is unlikely to fulfill those desires. But there does exist an offensive recipe for this vintage to succeed and it was almost on full display Sunday. The defense will fly to the football. The offense will generate big plays in the passing game. The Bears will run it a ton. They did two of three successfully against San Francisco and laid the groundwork for the rest of the season, monsoon or not.

With a defensive head coach, the defense is probably going to remain the straw that stirs the drink. While that may bring a collective groan from Bears fans, it shouldn’t. If they can run the ball and Justin Fields can keep making big plays, they will be competitive each week. But perhaps the most interesting part of the postgame reaction, though, was Matt Eberflus saying flat out that the team needs to be better.

There were a number of blown coverages that Aaron Rodgers is going to take advantage of in Week Two, assuming his receivers catch the football.

Fields put the team on his back at times, but he also had one horrible interception and barely avoided a couple more – including on his first pass attempt of the game, a screen in which the ball was thrown high with several Niner defenders closing in. He has to learn from those mistakes in a way past young Bears quarterbacks haven’t.

While it was Flus’ first win, the coach wasn’t puffing a victory cigar. He has an eye on next week and the future of the team. We’ll see what’s cooking for the rest of 2022. The recipe looks simple enough.

Herbert v. Montgomery

The hottest take to come from Sunday’s game was that Khalil Herbert is better than David Montgomery. That is a conversation that has more layers than their yards per carry averages though.

There is no question that Herbert was better running with the ball on Sunday. He was decisive and got whatever yardage was available. Montgomery seemed to have a difficult time finding the line of scrimmage at times.

But there is another factor. While NFL GSIS shows Herbert as having the most positive influence on the Bears running game, he was the biggest negative in the passing game. Herbert’s struggles in that regard aren’t just about catching passes. He has also had issues as a blocker.

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